As women, we face different challenges in the workplace to our male colleagues, particularly in positions of leadership. These range from being held to a higher standard than our male counterparts to having to contend with old-fashioned notions such as choosing between “a career or a child?”. Still, in 2020, women-owned firms are in a minority and we continue to face unequal pay, sexism and gender barriers in the workplace. Just one in three managers in Europe is a woman, specifically 37.6% in the UK according to a report by Catalyst. Overcoming these obstacles can seem daunting, but there are strategies you can use to turn these barriers into opportunities.
Challenge: “It’s hard to balance work with my personal life”
Opportunity: Create the life you want
Something my clients ask me is “Can women have it all?”. You may already know my stance on this and there are additional issues such as would a man be asked the same question? The truth is that everyone regardless of gender can find work-life balance tricky. The key is to create the life you want – so think about your values, your boundaries and how you would like your life to be. Balance is different for everyone. For some they feel balanced working 80 hours a week, for others, it’s working flexibly around the kids. Set intentional, strategic goals for your career and your personal life that work together to create a healthy lifestyle for you and your family.
Challenge: “No-one sees or hears me”
Opportunity: Speak louder and shine brighter
If no one sees you you have two choices, stay hidden or make sure you’re seen. When it comes to shouting about our achievements, many of us are shy. However, now is the time to speak up and show what you’re good at. If you wait, you may never be noticed. I would encourage you to show how you meet the standards and then exceed them, calling out any double standards when you see them.
It can feel really unnatural to step out and speak louder, however, assertiveness can be learned. If you need some help, find a mentor who is assertive, speaks up for themselves and asks for what they want. Ask lots of questions to them, set mini-goals for yourself, and practice. Remember, if you don’t ask, the answer will always be no!
Challenge: “I can’t do this”
Opportunity: Realise that you are enough
How often do we question ourselves, our abilities or our decisions? The biggest challenge my clients face is the ability to acknowledge their accomplishments. If you find that you’re beating yourself up at the end of the day for the things left undone, the imperfections or even the struggle to balance it all, I encourage you to remind yourself you are good enough. Don’t let negative thoughts impact your career and life. Remind yourself daily, if you need to, that you are good enough. Work with someone (preferably a coach or mentor) to understand why this belief exists and then adjust your locus of control. Get feedback from others to confirm your strengths. By tackling imposter syndrome, you will be better able to develop your leadership.
Challenge: “How can I re-enter the workforce?”
Opportunity: Build yourself and others up
Relaunching a career after a long hiatus as a full-time caregiver for children or ageing parents feels challenging. You may need to rebuild your confidence, reconstruct your network, dust off old skills or develop new ones, and catch up on technology.
Identify your unique “superpowers” and make sure they are clearly communicated and leveraged in your role. Organisations are moving at different paces in appreciating the value women offer, so it is important for us to keep doing great work, be appropriately vocal, lift one another and focus on helping others to shine.
Challenge: “I am not strategic enough”
Opportunity: Develop your strategic thinking
Many women are told they are “too aggressive” and/or “not strategic enough.” These women get boxed in, seen as ‘reliable doers’ instead of ‘strategic thinkers’ who can bring others along. I am yet to meet a woman who cannot think strategically – given that all this means is being able to have a mental process to achieve a goal. You only have to look at what a part-time working mum can achieve when she is childfree to see that women are perfectly strategic in their thinking (and doing for that matter!!).
However, I hear women asking themselves “Who am I to…” when it comes to these processes. They don’t want to be seen as ‘bossy’ or ‘aggressive’ in their approach. I tend to remind my clients and friends in these moments that they haven’t got where they are by accident – they are experienced, competent and successful. They have to trust and use their own voice.
If you want to develop your strategic thinking then make sure you can see the issues from different perspectives, understand the impact of decision making on a business and its people. Learn from diverse areas of business, from frontline staff to leaders in other functional areas. This will not only develop your critical and strategic thinking but also raise your profile and strengthen your relationships.