“Leaders are more powerful mentors when they learn, than when they teach.” Rosabeth Moss Kantor
Unusually, last week I spent more time in the company of business women than I did men. The two primary stakeholders of a client are women, I had a business dinner with a fellow executive colleague, and I spent a day at a women’s technology conference.
While conversations were mainly about business topics such as market forces in healthcare, challenges with Agile transformation, and updates in cybersecurity field, there was time spent on the challenges of being women in technology and women in leadership. So, I’m offering some work hacks for women (p.s. these work just as well for men).
- Don’t offer to take notes. Women are generally wired to be helpful, but positioning yourself as the perennial notetaker makes you the recorder of the meetings, not a participant. If you are asked to take notes, say you’d be happy to take note for half of the meeting, but could [insert male colleague name here] take over for the other half. If you get the “oh, but you are so good at taking notes” then answer “thanks; but it’s only fair that others get a chance to practice and get good at it also.”
- Don’t give up your seat. If you are seated at a full table for a meeting, and a more senior person comes in – do not give up your seat! You arrived in time, you are prepared, stay where you are. Giving up your seat sends a signal that you view yourself as not being worthy of being at the literal and figurative table.
- Everyone is a mentor; it’s just a matter of how good they are at it. Mentoring occurs when we aren’t looking for it – every workplace interaction we witness, even a negative one, is a teachable moment – watch and listen to how other people handle situations and challenges. And it is critically important for women to seek and be mentors. Hint: Choose mentors that are in different fields or have different backgrounds than yourself; you won’t learn as much from someone just like you.
- Address rude behavior – politely. Meeting rudeness with rudeness may just escalate the situation. One common occurrence is people talking over or interrupting others. If this happens, you should interrupt, saying “excuse me, I was interested in what Maria was saying, let’s let her finish please.” People in positions of power cause damage beyond the immediate situation when they are rude. Others see the behavior and think “well, if Vice President X behaves that way and keeps the corner office, maybe that’s OK.”
- Call out inappropriate behavior – appropriately. When faced with comments or humor that are demeaning or suggestive, it’s important to keep your cool. Responding with “I’m confused by what you just said,” or “What did you mean by that comment/joke?” can give the person a chance to take it back or apologize. If they don’t, or accuse you of being over-sensitive, this tells you a lot about their character.
- Get, keep and keep getting skills. There is no substitute for having a valuable skill and making consistent contributions at work. In the 21st century, we need to upskill and reskill more frequently. Take advantage of training opportunities; on the plus side we have plenty of internet content to learn from, from TEDx to MIT OpenCourseWare.
These work hacks become more important if you are a leader; because your behavior will be modeled by others. Think of it as flexing your positivity – this doesn’t mean abandoning constructive criticism or tolerating poor performance – it means demonstrating high standards of professional, inclusive behavior and proving over and over again that this type of behavior gets better results.
“A leader leads by example, not by force.” Sun Tzu
Women hold 60% of the undergraduate and masters’ degrees in the United States, yet they hold only 25% of executive and senior level positions (for more statistics and sources, click here.)
Women are workplace bullies less frequently (31%) than men (69%), however female bullies more frequently target other women. The hypothesis for this is that bullies target people with less power, and women tend to be in less powerful positions.
A perspective from a female who has spent 20 years in technology, including “It’s crucial to know your own worth and empower yourself to approach business situations like the trained, capable problem solver you are.”
Heard a great acronym recently: Being In Total Control Herself. You can figure it out.