(Pic courtesy of http://www.madamenoire.com)
Today is National Women’s Day in beautiful South Africa. A day in which we commemorate more than 20 000 brave women who, in 1956, staged a march to protest against the apartheid government’s ‘pass laws’ which legislated that citizens defined as ‘black’ carry a type of a passport in order to control and further segregate the population. This was especially phenomenal because women from all race groups united for a common cause in a country where people of different races were not even allowed to live side by side.
It is not remarkable that women have contributed to Science, Business, The Performing Arts and every other ambit of the world as we know it. Men and women have the same brain. What is remarkable is that women have made these contributions despite the history of not enjoying the same opportunities as their counterparts, excluded wholly or partly from political participation and being restricted or denied educational and social rights, amongst others. To this day women are still demeaned in certain tribes, cultures and yes, even in the modern corporate world.
Off course, in the corporate world it is more subtle. The skepticism that women are met with whenever they propose a new strategy or about to deliver a speech/presentation, nibbles away at one’s dignity until one day, somewhere between pouring coffee for your peers in the boardroom and being kindly asked to type a document because the secretary is off sick, a woman becomes bitter. I have met a great deal of people who unapologetically believe that reporting to a female boss is a nightmare. I happen to know some of these women and I am also aware that behind many a woman occupying a senior position, lies a fighter that made a conscious decision to push past the challenges: disregard for their abilities, being overlooked for promotions, bullied, not being taken seriously, phones and iPads appearing on laps as you are about to take the podium etc. Does this explain the relentless attitudes of certain women in power? Has their past experiences shaped the commanding manner in which some women conduct business? Perhaps it does, the jury is still out on that…(I welcome your thoughts on the subject matter)
So how do you attempt to shatter that glass ceiling (the invisible barrier that prevents women from career advancement) without having to bring out the worst in you? Here are 6 hints that I hope you will find useful.
A Firm Handshake: Yes, it is unisex. A limp hand denotes self-doubt which means every word you say after the handshake does not sound as credible as you would have liked it to be.
Do not play the Gender Card Unreasonably: While it is a fantastic achievement to have succeeded in construction or a traditionally male-dominated industry, it is not professional to throw it around. You should be proud, but the achievement will sell itself. Don’t be on the fence between a gender battle and a show-off as it might limit you from further growth.
Live the Values of Your Organisation: Above all else, this is the core of the organisation and living it fully and sincerely will begin to see cracks in the ceiling. Great leaders, male or female, embrace and stand for the values of their organisation.
Get A Mentor: Mentors give you the extra nudge when you feel like you want to quit. My mentors are beacons in my life. I would not have accomplished nearly half of what I have without them.
Debunk Perceptions: A feminist would proudly sing the praises of Mary Anderson, a woman from Alabama, who invented the vehicle’s windshield wiper blade in 1903 – in a predominantly man’s world. A male chauvinist might claim that it still falls within the parameters of ‘washing/cleaning.’ Same fact, different perceptions. In business, take the time to explain your view on a matter instead of immediately dismissing someone as prejudiced and walking away. Perceptions are often built on ignorance. Helping someone understand your reasoning debunks perceptions and mends the gender gap. The take home point here is that if you do not confront each situation as it happens, you might be left with an ingrained bitterness that will be much harder to shake off at a later stage.
Dress for Success: Bernie Mac in the movie ‘Heads of State’ puts it perfectly: ‘You got to dress for the job you want, not the job you got.’ The story line is fittingly about an African American man trying to shatter a glass ceiling of his own as he runs for President of the US. In a work environment, dress in a way that commands respect and makes you feel confident. If you feel it on the inside, you will be it on the outside. Invest in a power suit and wear it when you need uplifting. In a separate article, I will go into more detail on corporate dressing.
I salute the female camaraderie and strength displayed in the march of 1956. Their protest song was clear and powerful, “Wathint’ Abafazi Wathint’imbokodo” (Now you have touched the women, you have struck a rock). I share this day with women all over the world. You are rocks designed to withstand anything that life throws at you….and glass ceilings got nothing on rocks!