“I worked in the media industry, which was - and probably still is, to this day - relatively male-dominated. I was navigating moving up the organisation quite well, and someone said to me, “You must act like a man at work to be able to handle the environment you're in.”
That just lit fire in my belly; I thought, is that what the world thinks? That to be a successful female, you have to display manly qualities? It was so disappointing.
It made me realise that even if I felt like we'd made great strides in female representation in the industry and that we were doing good work, we obviously still had so much work to do, to recognise that women bring capability and strengths that are equal to that of the male gender. It made me realise how much we actually needed women who were in relative positions of authority, power, leadership - whatever word you want to put across it - to get really brave and start telling their story, to not only overcome sentiments like that, but to also lead the way for other women to follow that path as well.
In reflection of that moment, I sat and really thought about what is it that women have that’s unique; things like leaning into empathy and looking at things from multiple points of view. Not being quite so linear in our decision-making framework; how we assess a situation and how we think people are feeling. That sense of nurturing and bringing people together, which is seen as a feminine gender trait - and something that I've certainly lent on in my career, in terms of building strong, healthy, authentic, transparent relationships and leveraging them to grow in my leadership capability. That’s not to say that men can’t be strong in these traits as well, but they are definitely considered feminine traits that a lot of women are strong in and use as a bit of a superpower to manage multiple people and stakeholders.
I was able to flip the concept on its head and think, what are the traits that I've got that set me apart? What can I bring to the table, when I’m sitting in a room with multiple people of different genders and personality traits? If you’re with people who are very linear, very data-driven, how do you step into a position that gives a counterpoint to that so that everybody's adding something to the conversation? Because we can all be ruthless when we want to be ruthless, but I think there's a power in leaning the other way as well, to see things through a different perspective.
For instance, my husband recently had to take a period of time out of the workforce, and when he returned, he was coming home to tell me all about how challenging it is to re-enter a workplace after that absence. I just looked at him and said,
“Well, welcome to how every woman that's ever been on maternity leave has felt.”
That feeling like the sand has shifted beneath you and you're not really in control of it. And I know that he’s told that story to every single person who keeps asking him how he was finding the transition; he says, “my wife pointed out that this is exactly what women go through” and for him it’s been a tangible way to think about what he can change about that for everyone who has time out of the work place.
The power of that perspective - of looking at something through the opposite lens – and having the conviction to point it out in a kind way, can really help change big dynamics or ways of thinking. Because it’s a psychological gap that’s happening, here; there needs to be perspective shifts from both sides.
There is actual data that shows that if a man looks at a job description and he can only has experience in like three things, he absolutely applies for it – but women think, oh, I don't have all ten bullet points, I won’t apply. Whenever someone comes to me with a job description, they’re quick to say, I don't have that, that and that – and I have to remind them that no one has everything.
Putting yourself out there is really tricky. But if you don't ask for what you want, if you don't put your hand up for a promotion, if you don't pursue something, you will regret it. What’s the worst thing that can happen? You get a no and you learn from the experience. There’s nothing to lose, other than a little bit of ego; you gain so much more on the flip side.