“If you want something said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman”
- Margaret Thatcher
Throughout my career I’ve had more female bosses than male ones. And have worked alongside some extremely talented female peers along the way too. It’s not really something I’d thought about until I sat down last night to write about International Woman’s Day (which it is today by the way).
One such talented colleague was Kate (not her real name), who I worked with during my time at the retailer Marks & Spencer during the late 1990s. Whilst we were both Financial Managers, Kate was far more experienced and more senior than me. But she’d returned to work after a starting a family and took a lower grade role so that she could work part-time.
I really admired Kate.
She was a fountain of knowledge and helped me get out of trouble on more than one occassion! But more importantly, in the 3-day week she worked, Kate achieved far more than I did in my 5 long days. I worked 40+ hours a week and she worked 20 hours – yet achieved more than me.
Aside from her experience, Kate was simply much more focused and organised than me on the days she was at work. She had to be. She had to leave work to pick up the kids and so set herself tight deadines and stuck to them. The broadband internet revolution wasn’t around in the 1990′s and so she couldn’t exactly “work from home” like we can today.
But despite my admiration for Kate, SHE herself didn’t think she was doing so such a great job. I only realised this when we had a team building day to discuss how we all worked together and Kate shared her frustrations.
I was surprised to learn that she constantly felt guilty about not being able to attend certain meetings on the days she wasn’t working. Guilty that she could never attend meetings after before 9.30am or after 4.30pm as it clashed with the school run. That she often needed me to complete tasks for her on the days she didn’t work and felt she was burdening me with her workload.
And when she wasn’t at work, she felt guilty for not spending enough time with the kids like some of the stay-at-home mums she knew.
The cycle of guilt meant she never really felt as if she was doing any one thing particularly well – and constantly feeling guilty as if she was “short-changing” the people around her.
But as my boss and the rest of the team told her at the teambuilding event - there was no need for the guilt. We really valued her work and contribution to the business. The hours she worked were irrelevant – it was much more about what she gave to the team and business. The outputs and results were far more important than the inputs (i.e. how many hours she worked).
It was a big moment for her and she was able to take confidence from then on rather than feeling she had to constantly prove herself.
I share this story as I’ve worked with so many female colleagues and clients who have the same challenges and guilt Kate did. This is partly driven by the culture created by some (not all) employers, managers and clients – but in today’s modern workplace and hyper-connected world, we really need to think much more progressively about the role of woman in the workplace.
Today, 8th March 2012, is International Woman’s Day – a celebration for woman all over the world. And it means different things in different parts of the world. Today many messages will be given by leading woman across the globe,
As a man, if there was a message I could share in relation to woman in the work place this would be it:
1. If you’re a Woman – please stop comparing yourself to others and try to lose the guilt. That guilt will chew you up and grind away at your self esteem. Which, over time, makes you less valuable to employers, clients – and indeed your family.
So make the career and lifestyle choices which are right for YOU and your family – and then stand proud and believe you’ve a valuable contribution to make. If you don’t believe it first, then you’ve no chance of convincing others have you? (Have a read of these 5 tips on how to have faith in yourself)
2. If you’re a boss or male colleague – When you find yourself working with someone like Kate as a colleague, boss or client – please be flexible and adaptable. If most of your team were to get as focused and organised as Kate, we’d be delivering far greater results than we do now. We’d be less distracted by pointless meetings and politcs, and instead focus on only those activies that make a difference (and in the process make ourselves far more successful).
3. If you’re an employer – embrace the many talents woman bring to the workplace. Aside from the legal responsibility you have based on gender equality laws – you’ve also a commercial responsibility to your shareholders to ensure that you have the best people in your business.
Talking of shareholders – having a workplace mirrors the marke place and wider society. So this isn’t some fluffy “policy” – it makes good business sense to hire woman provided that you have the right people for the right role and you reflect the communities you trade within.
The workplace of the future requires intuitive, empathetic leaders who are much more collaborative (and less competitive) than the leaders of the past. We need leaders with a social conscience blended with commercial acumen. Woman (in my experience) have these traits come more naturally to them than men.
So open your mind, embrace technology and the flexble work patterns. Make it easier for talented woman who want to have a family life and a progressive career – to also be part of your business.
Do this and you never know……you may well find someone with the “X-Factor” like Kate. Someone just as talented, yet far more productive than the conventional “full time” person currently working for you.