When my friends at The Fordyce Letter suggested that I write an article about specific issues facing women business owners in the recruiting industry, my first thought was, “Okay — I’m a woman. Glad they noticed.” It’s also true that I have owned a successful recruiting firm for almost 20 years. Then I tried for a month to sit down and commit something to paper that fit the bill.
The difficulty for me is that I don’t think in those terms. I was raised in a fairly average middle-class family and we all worked. We were taught the value of establishing a good work ethic and that you could go as high as the next guy if you applied yourself, worked hard and worked smart. Understand, these values were not presented as some sugary “girls can do anything boys can do” philosophy. Gender was literally never factored in. All I ever heard was hard work equals success — period. So when first entering the workforce, it never really occurred to me that being a woman could somehow be a hindrance to achieving my goals.
Women See Things Holistically
Certainly a quick Google search would uncover endless sources to confirm the glass ceiling indeed exists, and there is still gross inequality for women in the business world. In truth, I have faced gender bias in my own career, but by my own choice have never allowed it to become an obstacle or define me. Choose to create your own reality and remember ladies, nobody likes a whiner so get over it. In all honesty I think women have some unique advantages in business.
Women look at things holistically while men tend to compartmentalize. This gives us a major advantage when finding solutions for clients. It’s important to read the entire landscape — both between the lines and behind the scenes. Women also handle interaction differently. The average business woman communicates much more effectively, is typically more accepting of criticism, and is more open to changing behavior. We don’t usually interrupt conversations, don’t talk over others, and we’re more inclusive. Unlike our male counterparts, we are more willing to ask for guidance, admit failure, and are certainly more willing to ask questions.
Behaving In the Board Room
That being said, there are things I see women do which are totally self-sabotaging and, frankly, pretty stupid. For crying out loud ladies, learn to work collaboratively. Stop throwing each other under the bus and be competitive only with your true competitors — not your other female colleagues in the office. Learn appropriate board room behavior. Meetings are not the time to call others out, and if you can’t offer positive, constructive comments, it’s better to not speak at all.
Do not lower yourself to using sex to sell either overtly or through allusion or intimation. You are far more intelligent and creative than that. When you do, you are selling to the lowest common denominator, and your long term results will reflect your efforts. You’ll also eventually be called out on it and someone will expect you to deliver on what you’ve advertised. If you do that, you’ve entered an entirely new profession.
Lastly, don’t bring your personal life into the office. A quick word about your kid’s birthday party or your weekend trip to the beach is fine, but leave your personal problems, politics and drama at home. In all fairness, I have even seen men guilty of this one but frankly, far more often it’s women.
Be Likable; Be Authentic
Ladies, let’s raise the bar and be authentic. Be likable; because “bitchy women” give all of us a bad rap. And hey, if PMS or menopause is truly your issue, don’t use that as an excuse; take the drugs and work through it. Everyone around you will appreciate a kinder and gentler you. If you dress for work in something that will also make you look hot at the club later tonight, you are dressed inappropriately for work. Business attire should be professional and modest. A little mystery never hurts. And it’s Casual Friday, not Freaky Friday. Sweatshirts and cutoffs are for cleaning out the garage, not conducting business. If you’re still not sure how to dress, take your cues from management.
Focus strategically on your goals and then simplify your tactical execution. Less is usually more, and listening is better than talking. Reach out to your colleagues, working inclusively and empowering others. You cannot do it all and frankly, you are not expected to. As recruiters we should know better than most that it takes a village to build a career; you need a good group surrounding you to be successful. Control freaks rarely earn the respect of anyone. Learn to cultivate the strengths of others and build a collaborative, collective team. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you stop caring who gets the credit. Excellent communicators are always admired. Be concise and clear when writing and speaking. Get to the point and dump the drama. Make sure your examples and stories bring others together rather than divide.
You do not have to act like the guys to be successful. You are quite capable of doing that all on your own. You command respect when you naturally behave as if you deserve it. Do not create an expectation for yourself that your gender even matters. Use your strengths but do not let them define you. Above all else remember what I learned as a little girl. Working hard and working smart equals success. Period.