Women, leadership and what we bring to the table that men cannot.
I think that men and women are built differently, and that’s a good thing. Differences in gender, race, religion, and lifestyle means that each individual can be seen in a unique way. This is especially true of Women in IT.
Although some women in IT choose to hide their femininity in the boardroom, I have always chosen to embrace it. I’ve always been aware of the fact that I bring a different perspective. This difference has sometimes been taken as an infringement in the good Ol’ Boy’s Club, but it almost always brings value once they relax and realize that I am not a threat and can hold my own in technical conversations. And while I sometimes let men lead when appropriate, I can also stand up to them when I need to.
That said, I think it’s still different for women in business. It’s getting better, but there are still times you need to demonstrate your intelligence, self-worth, and power (whereas for men, it’s still automatically assumed they already possess all of those traits, whether it’s true or not).
Be bold and let them know you bring value to the table.
When you work in any business, you must bring value. Work is not a popularity contest. It’s a forum to showcase your intelligence, work ethic, self-motivation, and a solid positive attitude.
To this day, I run into women who think they can get ahead in the game with cleavage and provocative clothes. That may get them somewhere for the short haul, but in the end, you need to bring substance to your job, your company, and your team. As a leader, you need to demonstrate your professional capacity at every meeting, both with your employees and your clients. And that takes a lot more than a push-up bra.
Do not expect special treatment or play the role of a damsel in distress.
I once had a client who cried over the phone with me because she had told her boss that she could get me to reduce my rates for a project. If she hadn’t been an existing client, I would’ve hung up. However, since we already had a business relationship, I agreed in good faith to make a small reduction. If she hadn’t cried, I would’ve reduced my rates more. Don’t cry at me expecting that’s the best way to ask for a favor.
Separate your personal life from your professional life.
Don’t bring issues from home with you to work. Not every day, and certainly not with clients. If they ask how you are doing, say you are doing well. If you’re going through a genuine hardship, say “My mom passed away. Thank you for asking.”
However, never start talking about your lousy ex-husband whom you just divorced, or your opioid-addicted, ungrateful child. Leave that at home. Don’t talk about it every day to everyone. Certainly, don’t cry about it at any meetings. It’s ok to be upset. It’s ok to say “I need a moment” and take a few minutes to compose yourself in private. It’s not ok to dwell and have it affect not only your productivity, but the entire team.
I had an employee who shared so much about her life to our client that the client called us and asked if we were able to help her. Her life was drenched in drama: a bad divorce, sick mom, and more.
You really don’t want a client knowing about any of the problems in your personal life. You want them to respect you. You want to become the go-to person for knowledge and support, causing them to come to you when they have issues and need help for their business. You want them to have confidence in you. This won’t happen if you keep showing your ongoing vulnerabilities. As a matter of fact, it may cause them to look for mistakes or missteps and give them a reason to discontinue working with you.
Take ownership of your mistakes.
On the other hand, in business if you make a mistake, own it. Don’t hide it, blame someone else, or ignore the mistake hoping it will go unnoticed. People will forgive a solid attitude and a once in blue moon error. They will not forgive dishonesty or a cover up. That makes them feel like they were lied to.
In business, there is a human side that you can show, but it should always be met with good judgement and confidence. If you admit to a mistake but also show the confidence to correct it and help prevent the mistake from occurring again, then you will be forgiven. Sometimes you will also have to take a loss in revenue and that can be humbling. Make use of that humility to be more authentic in your leadership.