Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Leaning In

My first memory of getting into marketing was my experience at a sales company. I was interviewed by a friendly straight forward woman who I assumed was my boss, it was only at the very end that I found out that she was his secretary.  I’d never been interviewed by a secretary and I never have since, being vetted this way by someone who didn’t have the time to meet his new staff. Nevertheless I got the job and went along to my first day. Once there I discovered that the boss didn’t treat his secretaries like the accomplished women that they were, instead referring to them as “babe” and “sweetheart”. But I let that slide as that was just a small part of the business and it was a sector I really wanted to get into.  The day unfortunately didn’t get any better though, I was placed in front of male clients purely because of my looks, I was told “I had the skirt for the job” and it was made perfectly clear that I was hired as I was the prettiest girl at the interviews (remember I was hired by a female secretary). However I later found out I was the least experienced.

When I thought about writing this piece that was the first thing to spring to mind. But there are many other examples. The facts speak for themselves; female CEOs make up just 4% of the Fortune 500 list, and that number only goes up 0.5% when you take into account the Fortune 1000 list, to 4.5%.

Sheryl Sandberg has written the book Lean In about women in business, unlike others before it, Lean In is neither patronising nor advocating the idea that women should put careers before family. Sheryl speaks from her own experiences about how she has been treated being in a top managerial position whilst having an active family life.

Sheryl thinks that a lot of the pressures put on working women are those they put on themselves, and I have to agree. From a young age we are taught that boys do the important jobs such as Policeman, Fireman, Doctor and girls do the more nourishing nurturing jobs such as Mother, Nurse and Teacher. Both sets are equally as respectful, but the point is that it is ingrained in us that women aren’t capable of doing these high-pressure jobs; Daddy goes to work and Mummy stays home and looks after the kids. And even when we do take the leap, break through the glass ceiling and all the other clich├ęs, we constantly think we aren’t good enough, that we’re aren’t qualified and that it will only be a matter of time before we are found out as the imposters that we are. As explained by Tina Fey in Dr. Valerie Young’s book on the subject, you have to overcome it "The beauty of the impostor syndrome is you vacillate between extreme egomania and a complete feeling of: 'I'm a fraud! Oh God, they're on to me! I'm a fraud!' So you just try to ride the egomania when it comes and enjoy it, and then slide through the idea of fraud." I get Imposter Syndrome every single time I make a big decision and I really wish I didn't

But it’s not just women holding themselves back; it’s a plain fact that female bosses are treat differently to their male counterparts. The word ambitious for women means bitchy, cold hearted and ruthless while for men it means to seek ones ambition. Think about Anna Wintour, she is seen as unapproachable, bossy to almost tyrannical and she is judged on everything from her hair to her clothes, she constantly has to look good for going to work. Maybe Anna created this persona as a coping mechanism to deal with such a high-pressured job and to get the respect she deserves. But despite all this she is practically in charge of a whole industry; if Anna doesn’t like you, you probably wont make it. So how can such a powerful woman feel the need to hire a hairdresser and make up artist to come to her house practically every single day? 

Women are also more susceptible to work place harassment and bullying. Men see women as an easy target to either sexually objectify, there are countless stories of an assistant being harassed by her employer, or they can easily be made to feel self conscious about their work or looks as they already think they don’t deserve a high powered job.

As Sheryl asks, more women need to lean in, believe that they are capable and go for it. We are worth it. But she also asks men to lean in too, to give women more chances and respect women more in business. So are you in?

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