By Anne Houlihan
Fifty years ago, the phrase “women in business” referred to secretaries, low-paid office workers and retail store clerks. Today, more and more women are taking on leadership positions as entrepreneurs and business owners. Women can also be found in government positions, as corporate leaders and in the nonprofit sector. As such, the opportunities for women to lead and influence are greater than ever before. Women in business innovate, persuade, integrate, raise standards, challenge, create policy and ultimately change lives. And much of their success depends on their own level of confidence and self-belief.
While women have made great strides in the last 50 years, many still feel that the playing field in business is not yet completely level. They believe they must work harder, be smarter and put in longer hours than their male counterparts to effectively compete. Whether this is completely accurate depends on the individual and the industry or company she is in; however, women do have unique challenges to overcome to succeed in business — more so if they’re in a male-dominated industry. According to NAR, 59 percent of Realtors are female, so while female agents might not be in a male-dominated position, this doesn’t mean that confidence and self-esteem aren’t important.
No matter what industry you’re in or your role in your company, you can take certain steps to ensure that you thrive as a female employee and reach the level of success you know you deserve. Use the following tips to help guide your career.
1. There is no glass ceiling — only the ceiling you put on yourself
Don’t buy into stereotype that it’s a man’s world. Regardless of gender, each person brings a unique set of valuable talents to the table. If you’re not sure of all you can offer, do a personal inventory of your strengths and areas of expertise. Then ask yourself, “To what level of success should someone with my experience be able to achieve?” Believe in yourself and your experience and you’ll be able to attain whatever success level you just outlined for yourself. And if you should find that your current skills can’t take you as far as you’d like to go, get the additional training you need. Don’t let anything stifle your professional goals.
2. Make being a woman an asset
Women and men are wired differently — no one can deny that. Rather than try to diminish your female attributes, be proud of them and use them to your advantage. Women have numerous natural qualities that make them more adept in the boardroom and in all areas of the workplace.
For example, women tend to have better intuition than men. They understand emotion better. They’re great communicators and listeners. Women tend to multitask with ease. All these traits are essential for leading today’s workforce. Therefore, use these traits to your advantage. If your intuition tells you something isn’t right, speak up, you may just save your company from making a costly mistake. If there’s a misunderstanding during a meeting, use your communication skills to help clarify points. If the male-oriented logical way of thinking isn’t convincing that new client to sign the contract, put your emotional sales pitch to good use. Use your natural feminine traits and watch your success soar.
3. Learn how to play the game of business.
Know what business skills are needed in your company or industry, and sharpen those skills on a regular basis. Such skills can range from contract negotiation to customer service to purchasing to management. If you’re not sure which specific business skills will help you, ask your supervisor for input. Some women are apprehensive about developing traditionally male-oriented skills, such as hard-ball negotiating skills, because they fear they’ll lose their femininity in the process. The key is to just be yourself. Don’t try to fit an image of what you think you’re supposed to be, do, or act like in a given circumstance. When you’re not authentic, you’re not in your power and you fall short. Be true to who you are and you’ll win every time.
4. Project confidence.
People can tell when someone is truly confident. Those who display confidence rise through the ranks quicker, earn respect faster, and lead more effectively — even if they’re not the most knowledgeable person in the company or department. To project confidence, be proud of your expertise, and don’t be afraid if you don’t know all the answers. You can’t be all things to all people, and that’s okay. If you don’t know something, tell the person you’ll find out the answer and get back with him or her later. There’s nothing more powerful in business than the presence of a confident woman.
5. Don’t take it personal.
Some women report that men still talk down to them in the workplace or don’t take them seriously. If this happens to you, try not to allow that negativity to affect you. Most of the powerful and secure men don’t talk down to women and actually want women in the boardroom and everywhere else in the company. They know women have much to offer. Unfortunately, some men are still from the “good ole’ boys club” and are scared of women in business. When you run into one of these types of men, don’t give them any reaction at all. Any negativity they display toward women usually stems from their own insecurity. So stay poised and remember that the comment or action is not about you, it’s about them. The more confident and authentic you are, the more others will respect you.
Whatever you do in life, always be your authentic self and you’ll never go wrong. A lot of women feel they that when it comes to business, they need to be something different than who they really are. But when you try to fit some other image, you’ll hold yourself back. When you step into your own power and just be yourself, that is when your true success comes. So be confident. Trust your instincts. Learn all you can about your industry. And dare to reach higher than you ever thought possible. By doing so, you’ll pave the way for future generations of women and attain the success you’ve always known was possible.