As featured in The Country Web Number 58 Autumn 2013 edition.
In Australia there is a very public push to get more women into the top boardrooms and into senior executive positions. More and more women are successfully running their own businesses and many women are taking over the major bread winning role in their families.
In my work with women around the country I am aware of the growing power of women in business and yet I am told by these same women that it continues to be a challenge to get their message across, a challenge to be acknowledged, a challenge to be heard in male dominated environments.
We can and often do lay the blame at the feet of our male colleagues but there is more to it than that. Women can be reluctant to put themselves forward for important positions, or to take up opportunities to lead unless they are absolutely sure they are equal to the task on all levels. They also neglect to invest in the personal development that will ensure they are prepared when an opportunity arises. Men on the other hand are more inclined to grab onto the coat tails of any passing opportunity and consider themselves and their future success a very worthwhile investment.
Anne Summers in her recent gender pay gap blog pointed out that this pay gap seems to be permanently stuck around 17.5 per cent for men and women doing the same work. In some sectors it is wider and the trend is that it is increasing not getting less. It is unacceptable, yes?
It is time ladies to step up, stand out and make yourself heard. To do this you must confront the challenges that hold you back.
Feel the Fear
Any time you step out of your comfort zone it is scary. Remember your first day at your first job? Don’t allow nerves to stop you from stepping up. Nerves and fear manifest in different ways for different people.
If you feel you are not ready, acknowledge that you will never be perfectly ready for anything and if you wait until you are, you will wait forever. The best way to learn what is required for a new job or task is to do it.
If you are worried about making a mistake in public, get over it. You learn from mistakes—apologise, correct and move on.
If you hate the feeling of everyone looking at you, or being the centre of attention, you are focussing your attention in the wrong direction. Focus on your message and the people you are speaking to. Think about helping, supporting and encouraging others with your information. This works well for meetings and for presentations; it is not about you, it is about them.
Sometimes nervousness or fear is overwhelming; there are breathing, meditation, hypnotherapy, tapping techniques to help you. Reframe the way you speak/think about your nerves. If you repeatedly tell yourself how nervous you are you will feed your nerves and they will multiply. Acknowledge, accept and work to minimise them.
You can’t get noticed if you are not there. Turn up at business, networking, social and charity events. Family responsibilities can inhibit this so develop a strategy around the events that are important to your career and business development and make sure you attend as many as possible. Don’t just turn up physically, turn up emotionally. Take the time to engage with people, to have a few deeper conversations. Connect people up with each other. Get involved.
Stand out and be remembered
Whether it is a board meeting, a staff meeting, a networking event or a catch-up with an important client, consider the following tips before heading into the room and you’ll have more chance of being noticed and remembered.
- Enter with confidence. Stand tall, widen your shoulders, ground your feet. Walk with energy as you enter the room.
- Breathe. A good deep breath or two makes you appear relaxed and open.
- Sit up, neither forward or back. Stay centred and open.
- Make eye contact as you speak and focus on the conversation.
- Make it easy for people to talk to you. Wear a conversation piece, an interesting jacket or piece of jewellery. If someone comments about your necklace tell them the story of how you acquired it. We connect to others through stories.
Say yes to opportunities
If you are asked to be on a committee, or to give your opinion or speak at an event, do it. I regularly attend conferences to find all male panels or one woman speaker for every 10 male speakers. When I ask why, I am usually told that they could not find the women with the expertise. Now you and I know that this is rubbish. They probably didn’t look hard enough.
But therein lies the problem. The decision makers need to know who you are. You have to put yourself out there to be noticed and when you are offered the opportunity, seize it. Even better, seek out the opportunities and offer yourself.