We all know this is a man’s world, but is it a case of if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em? NAOIMH WILKINS wonders whether taking our cues from the opposite sex can lead to a more successful career.
Men are ballsy (sorry) when it comes to business, taking risks and possessing self-confidence in spades. Borrowing from the boys is a popular fashion trend, but is their attitude also something worth stealing?
Well, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s Ban Bossy campaign highlights how our collective attitude needs flipping on its head. A double standard in place from childhood; we all learn early on that when a little boy acts assertively, he’s praised and encouraged to be a leader, yet when a little girl behaves in a similar way, she’s brandished “bossy”, which has negative connotations.
And this behavioural pattern isn’t shaken off that easily. Career coach Rachael Kilgallon (thecareerhub.ie) explains the fundamental differences between how men and women function in a work environment. “Woman tend to second guess themselves, whereas men put themselves forward in the workplace, accept praise more readily, while their female colleagues are inclined to emphasise the role that other people played in their success,” she says.
In an interview with Stylist, Sandberg, author of Lean In, talks about how women need to be more open to taking risks. Case in point, an internal report conducted by American technology company Hewlett-Packard revealing that women only apply for jobs if they think they meet 100 per cent of the criteria listed. So far, so reasonable, right? Except that our male colleagues are busy sharpening their pencils, getting ready to fill in the application form, even if they think they meet just 60 per cent of the requirements on the job spec. Sandberg encourages women to turn their thinking from “I’m not ready to do that” to “I want to do that and I’ll learn by doing it.”
For novice e-tailer Siobhan Lam, who recently launched lifestyle brand April and the Bear, it was the combination of a milestone birthday and good timing that gave her the gumption to go out on a limb as an independent retailer. Offering a curated selection of Irish design, unique interiors and art is the name of the game for this online newbie. And having the belief that you can attract customers away from the humdrum high street is not to be sniffed at. It takes cojones.
“It’s nerve-racking going out on your own. When you’re an employee, there’s only so much you can screw up. Obviously, if you do, there will be repercussions, but when it’s just you, there’s no one else to point the finger at,” she says. And just because men are competitive, it doesn’t mean that’s necessarily the right way to go. One of the biggest surprises for Siobhan is the support shown by fellow female entrepreneurs, who’ve embraced a “the more, the merrier” attitude to the new kid on the block setting up shop. “Wendy Crawford, who owns Scout on Essex Street West, is really vocal, giving my brand shout-outs on her social media. It blows me away because we’re both running small businesses, and for her to be so supportive and encouraging is lovely,” says Siobhan.
In short, Lily Allen’s right. It is hard out there for a b*tch, so we need to rally together.
The brainchild of Blanaid Hennessy, Folkster is an Aladdin’s cave of fashion, jewellery and homeware; you’ll have to work really hard not to leave with a shopping bag from the new shop in Temple Bar. One female stereotype that Blanaid knows to be a strength is the old adage that women are more likely to ask for directions if they get lost. “I know when I need help or advice, I’ll happily ask for other people’s opinions. I might still go with my gut, but at least I’ll have the full picture before I do!” she says.
Retail is one thing. Are other jobs a different kettle of fish altogether? Dominated by cheeky chappies and egotistical male chefs, is a cooking career a tough nut to crack. “It’s true there are a lot more male chefs. For women, having children is usually a consideration; obviously, kitchen hours are long and anti-social, but a good friend of mine, Jo Pratt, who’s a mum of two, just opened a restaurant called The Gorgeous Kitchen with three other female chefs,” says food stylist Sharon Hearne-Smith, who’s worked in the industry for 13 years.
These clever clogs have found a way to do the work they love and make it work for them. There’s no doubt the fairer sex are a savvy bunch, but is being bullish the trick? Not at all. Sensitivity doesn’t mean you’re not focused, and taking a gentler approach isn’t indicative of an absence of ambition or, indeed, opinion. Traditionally female characteristics, such as emotion and empathy, haven’t been seen as positive attributes outside the home, but attitudes have changed. “Anybody can be successful in life, irrespective of gender! And I definitely don’t think you have to be tough to be successful, just very determined. The publication of my first cookbook, No-Bake Baking, proves this,” adds Sharon.
Now that we all know we don’t have to mimic men to get ahead at work, the next step is equal pay…
Man Up: the dos and don’ts that affect career success
DO Radiate positivity. If you turn up to work most days and you’re happy, interested, enthusiastic and helpful, your work environment will be a better place. Developing positive relationships with your colleagues is just as valuable as doing stellar work, and crucial to climbing the career ladder.
DON’T Be afraid to call the shots. The workplace is full of followers looking for someone to lead; the best way to get yourself noticed by those in charge is to step up to the plate and take responsibility for a big project, and have confidence in your abilities.
DO Go outside if you need to cry! Blubbering in the boardroom is a no-no for both sexes, but occasionally feeling overwhelmed, stressed or frustrated is totally normal. The trick is to spot when the tears are coming and leave, take ten minutes, get some fresh air, and come back with a can-do attitude.
DON’T Dwell on mistakes. Even if a job ends on bad terms, focus instead on what you learned and what you would do differently the next time. Often, negative experiences teach us as much as, if not more than, the really good ones.
DO Take the road less travelled – it’s rarely crowded. In short, don’t be ordinary, be extraordinary because trust us, it’s noted when you’re being a little bit lazy or feeling unmotivated in the same way your boss can see you trying your absolute best, doing as much as you can and contributing ideas.
Naoimh Wilkins @NaoimhWilkins
This article originally appeared in IMAGE’s November 2014 issue, make sure to check out the December issue which is out this Saturday.
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