What Women Must Do Differently To Succeed In Business

This blog is a synopsis of a talk that we gave at the Socially Shared Conference on International Women’s Day 2017.

International Women’s Day celebrates the social, economic, political and cultural progress that women have made around the World. It also highlights the inequalities that still persist in many different facets of life – access to education, reproductive health, political representation, etc.

Our concern is with gender equality in the workplace and our mission is to reduce the gender barriers to professional success.

Girls are outperforming boys in education, yet graduate starting salaries for women last year were 6% lower than those for male graduates. Gender pay gap reporting begins this year for organisations employing more than 250 employees, but the gender pay gap in the West Midlands is above the national average at 26%. The UK Government have set voluntary targets for FTSE 350 companies to have at least a third of their Board membership be female by 2020 – it’s currently around 23%.

“Maternity Drain” happens when professionally qualified women go on maternity leave and find alternative employment in lower paid, part-time roles. Great for family flexibility; a waste of talent and potential for the business world.

It’s over 40 years since we had the first legislation in the UK to promote equal opportunity and equal pay for women. So why does gender inequality still persist?

From a historical perspective, we can track back to when gender specialisation first started – around 2 million years ago, our early ancestors started doing cool things like using language, making tools and building fires. As pack-living cave dwellers, the bodies of females were highly valued as a means of reproducing and repopulating the pack. So males took on the roles of hunting and protecting the cave whilst women stayed around the cave ... and did all the other jobs. Male traits developed through selective breeding of competitiveness, aggression and decision-making. Female traits developed that were about keeping offspring alive and maintaining a harmonious living environment.

After this gender specialisation, the pre-frontal cortex – the higher level, thinking part of the human brain developed. So the gender specialisation was already hard-wired in our brains. As time went on men started to meet for trade and commerce; women stayed in their homes. So men built the systems of trade and then also politics, religion and military. All systems built to reward inherently male traits. Fast-forward to the last couple of centuries, great strides have taken place to step away from this polar opposite view of gender differences. But when we are under stress, we tend to revert to type – and to the hard-wiring.

So, regardless of all the evolution and developments that have led to creating legislation that supports equality of opportunity, we are still in a position that there are substantial gender inequalities in the world of work.

For women to succeed in business, they need to develop the flexibility to work under a system that still favours those historical male traits – competitiveness, aggression and quick decision-making, whilst knowing that their inherently female traits perhaps do a better job (showing vulnerability, expressing emotion, creating harmony, being inclusive and making decisions collaboratively). Businesses with a reasonable gender balance outperform those that don’t.

So women need to be able to:

  • Make quick, confident decisions – especially in a crisis, and take the credit for them

  • Know their position in the hierarchy – and not do other people’s jobs, regardless of how helpful they like to be

  • Speak the language of success, with authority and without any apology. Clearly state their needs and make sure they are prepared to defend them and not be disregarded

  • Network – and use their network to help achieve their objectives. Build a strong pack around them.

Confidence plays a huge role in achieving each of these behaviours. Through Career-Mums’ “Spotlight on your Career” coaching service we offer Confidence Booster sessions that aim to support women in business gear up to succeed in a business world where men still have the evolutionary advantage.

Confidence consists of two different strands:

  • Self-esteem – our belief in who we are;

  • Self- efficacy – our belief in our ability to succeed in a given task.

Our Confidence Booster sessions target the part of your confidence that needs bolstering the most, with practical actions that you can make straight away.

By succeeding in the male-ruled business world, women are pushing the boundaries for generations of other women to follow, readdressing the imbalance, updating our neurological wiring and creating a business world that values the traits of both male and female brains in a gender-neutral way. Raise your awareness of unconscious bias and gender intelligence – through awareness we can bring about change, get more women into senior positions and let our businesses flourish.

#beboldforchange is the campaign slogan for this year’s International Women’s Day. Unless we accelerate change, EY estimate it is going to take another 170 years to achieve gender equality. Gender equality is not just a women’s issue.

Find out more about our Confidence Booster sessions and book now.

Career-Mums Partnership support local employers with practical solutions to improve gender balance and help parents return to work following a career-break. Find out more at www.career-mums.co.uk.