As you know, I am completely up for women bursting through the glass ceiling and making their contribution alongside men but as a result of the feedback from writing my e-book on women getting to the top, (downloadable from my website ) it’s more obvious to me now that they can't do it by themselves.
What advice do senior women give?
It was a seminar I gave recently that got me thinking about this. I followed my usual pattern of asking the female audience to tell me what they thought the advice was that the senior women I interviewed for the book, gave. When we reviewed the list I was struck by how isolating and negative some of the guessed advice was. For example:
- •Don't get married
- •Don't tell men what you’re doing, they will pinch it
- •Don't have children
- •Don't share how you are feeling
I was surprised, I hadn't expected this and I asked myself why?
It occurred to me that it's rather a chicken and egg argument. Which comes first, the structure for enabling women to succeed in the work place or the attitudes of the women themselves? Obviously it's a bit of both. But it's very easy to focus on women and say they should be more this and less that, as if there was something wrong with them.
What if there was nothing wrong with working women?
As she says a lot of the focus is in how women perform, I am interested in that too but I can also see that before women are easily promoted to senior roles because all accept they bring something extra, it will be difficult to get any shift at all.
Both men and women need to recognise that without the input of the opposite sex to an endeavour, there is something lacking. And for that to happen there needs to be more understanding and recognition of what the other brings.
This is something that can only be accomplished through thoughtful communication and the modeling of different behaviour. A long and slow process to be sure but it is doable.
A case study
When I was interviewing successful women asking for their advice one of the contributors told me this story:
Zara, a vice-president in a well known investment bank, was pushing for a managing director role. Her work was well known and well received by the promotion committee and she had been nominated by her manager. However, even though she undoubtedly had all the role prerequisites, experience and level of responsibility, the committee couldn’t agree to promote her. After the meeting Zara met with each committee member to ﬁnd out what she needed to do to get her promotion. During one memorable conversation with three senior managers from this group, she discovered that, despite her obvious talent and ability, she lacked sufﬁcient proﬁle and visibility.
Zara, a very quietly spoken woman, responded, “You mean I’m not blowing smoke up my arse like the guys do?” They nodded with some embarrassment. Zara instantly came back with the comment, “Whatever it is I have to do, I’ll do it!”
To her surprise, after some discussion they acknowledged that she would probably lose her authenticity if she did. In that moment these managers realised that they wanted Zara to continue to be her lethally effective self, even if it meant she did it quietly! They agreed to make her a priority for promotion the following year and today Zara is a managing director.
So maybe it does come down to men and women having the kind of conversations that will allow them to recognise what the other is bringing to the party?
The best relationships involve mutual respect and openness to the unexpected and over years there grows an understanding that we can do more together than on our own.