It’s about being in business, not being ‘women in business’

Being in business is not easy, irrespective of your gender. With every second startup failing, there seems to be a smaller chance of becoming successful in the long run. You are going to face many problems which, at the time, will seem impossible to answer and it may even seem as if the world is against you. Statistics show that only a small number of women in major economies, for example 10.4% and 5.5% in the USA and the UK respectively, pursue careers in business leadership and entrepreneurship. Even in more gender equal societies, such as in Norway and France, very few women choose to follow careers in these fields. In fact, only 1% women in Norway head tech start-ups.

Most people want women to be equally represented in leadership positions. This is reflected in the growing number of corporate and government programmes in society as a means to battle gender inequality. If the intention to change is there, as well as a basic social and political framework supporting women in the workforce, then the next step is to look beyond statistics to other factors that contribute to the gender gap of women in business leadership.

One of these factors is the role of stereotypes, which is reinforced by social and cultural norms that underline certain expectations about gender. While it is expected for men to go to work, it is viewed as more of a choice for women. Events exclusive to gender, such as “Women in Business” or “Women in Entrepreneurship”, add to the stereotype that women need help and guidance, as they are perceived to be too sensitive to fight their way to success in business. Therefore it becomes important for women to ask questions such as whether they want to be judged on their abilities and talent or their gender. If they feel that they want to be judged by their talent, they need to set an example so that other women can be inspired to follow.

For example, Sheryl Sandberg, Indira Nooyi, and Oprah Winfrey are top businesswomen, recognised for their talent and abilities — and not due to the fact that they are women. They set examples of how women can pave the way against all odds in society and emerge victorious in business. To be a successful leader, you may need to transform your approach and behaviour. Reading, as well as listening to podcasts and interviews of successful leaders in business, both men and women, may also be constructive. For more help here are some tips which women leaders have highlighted in their autobiographies and blogs:

1. Develop a presence

Learn to command the room. Executive presence is a cultivated behavior where you project confidence, decisiveness and the ability to influence people. To build such a presence, work on your communication. Learn to deliver presentations effectively by studying others and researching best practices. Use clear language, speak with enthusiasm and stay confident. Strengthen your non-verbal communication. Your dress sense should convey professionalism and power, while your posture should remain erect, your handshake firm and your eye contact steady.

2. Choose your context

What is happening to you right now matters only to the extent of the story you chose to build around it. So if your team misses its monthly target, do not consider it to be the end of your career. Instead, analyse the impact, seek improvements and take immediate action. Re-framing situations favorably help you hang in there and reach successful conclusions.

3. Be your own evangelist and public relations manager

Sell the story of your hard work and successes. Let your manager know of your fabulous contributions. However, if the concept of self-publicity makes you cringe, then become a champion for your team instead. This is an indirect way of selling your accomplishments and also your responsibility as a leader.

4. Know your priorities

Do you have multiple priorities in life, say both family and career? That is perfectly fine, and it’s no better or worse than others whose priorities may be health and work. Create time bound goals around your priorities and then choose tasks that energise you. If you enjoy working with people, structure your work goals around teams and delegate solo projects. Manage your day in a way that keeps you enthusiastic and focused on your multiple dreams.

5. Get mentors

Don’t hesitate to learn. Seek the right people of both genders to learn from and make them your mentors and role models. Having mentors will help you gain perspective on the unique set of challenges you may face as a woman leader, as well as being a helpful source of advice when solving problems. Moreover, role models help you aspire to bigger goals and take on larger leadership challenges.

6. Evolve

Know that you need to evolve as a person to be a team leader. What got you to where you are presently will not take you any further. Your past achievements were adequate to bring you your current profile. However, the job profile of team leader is different, and requires you to transform into a person who can fit into and perform in that role. Learning is also an important step to this. Learn, transform and keep evolving.

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Originally published at on March 1, 2017.

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