The above sounds like a stupid question because we can already list off items that exceptional businesswomen face in 2016: the wage gap, sexism, whether or not they are “likeable,” having to make sure they are leaning in far enough, beating “imposter syndrome” own as well as ensuring that glass ceilings are shattered…. And yet, all the inspiring women nominated across the nine categories in our 2016 IMAGE Businesswoman of the Year Awards have done this and more. They have overcome a huge amount; highs and lows, endured and triumphed, each with a unique career story to tell, despite all the added challenges that come with running a successful business. And yes, there are many still to be fought, still to be won, but we know these women are ready and prepared to take it all on.
To get another perspective on overcoming hurdles, we asked some of those nominated in our Overseas category what particular challenges they feel businesswomen are still facing. Pull up a chair and stick the kettle on; these are words worth reading.
One of the biggest challenges facing business leaders in 2016 / 17 is the level of global uncertainty post-Brexit and the recent US elections, and the subsequent effect on currencies, commodities and interest rates, which have a knock-on effect throughout the entire P&L. This volatility can make it incredibly difficult to plan, and potentially make businesses risk adverse. My advice is to continue to plan for the unexpected, but don’t constrain your business of the vital resources it may need to grow. Run a risk management session with your leadership teams, and make sure you are ready. One of the risks, is that businesses can make problems overly complex; keep it simple and make problems easy. Be ruthless with your trade-offs, try to free up “wasted” resources to fuel tomorrow’s growth.” Fiona Dawson, Global President, Mars Food
I feel the main challenges women face in business in 2016 are the gender pay gap, the work-life ‘imbalance’ and a lack of confidence.
Women (specifically in London where I am based) are still being paid 23% less than men. It’s ridiculous. There are of course lots of varying factors that contribute to this percentage being so high, but there is one aspect that I think we as women can have more control over – becoming stronger at salary negotiations. Whether it’s a lack of confidence, a sense of imposter syndrome, or just poor negotiation skills, far far too many women accept this and stay on a subpar salary for their qualifications and skills. In a lot of businesses, it’s sadly often a policy of ‘if you don’t ask you won’t get’ and I think we as woman can collectively aim to overcome this challenge by being more open with each other about the issue and encouraging and helping each other to ask for more, more often!
I really dislike the term work-life ‘balance’ – a balance implies perfect (and unattainable) equilibrium! Aiming to maintain a consistent and perfect balance is unrealistic and creates stress, and I think that stress is felt more by women than men in business, who still statistically take on more domestic responsibilities than their spouses. Instead, I feel we should aim to create an expectation of ‘imbalance’, and foster and expect work environments that allow us to shift the weight of the work / life scales much more fluidly. At Sönd we’ve created an environment that tests this theory; we’re very objective led and can often work long hours to achieve them, but we use the freedom of technology to our advantage and offer an unlimited holiday policy.
A very general challenge a lot of women face is confidence in their own abilities in business. For young women, it can be hard to speak up in a boardroom full of men, or to envision getting that promotion over a male colleague. I think one way of overcoming that challenge is to build up your confidence in any way you can, and just keep telling yourself you can do it even if it doesn’t feel like it! There’s a lot to be said for faking it until you make it. Eileen Donoghue, Marketing Director, Sond
Mentors and advice – it’s a bit of a catch 22 situation, as we are proving that we are as, if not more, capable than men in the business world and it is I think difficult for women to reach out for help or advice. We do not want it to be perceived as weak and can be slow to ask for advice and help. Thankfully there is a growing trend of women based organisations that are becoming available to women entrepreneurs.
Balancing work life and personal life – this is always a big issue for women. We are built by nature to be the caregivers and nurturers and being a woman entrepreneur can be at odds with that. It is a constant battle in one’s head – “am I giving my kids enough time”, “am I giving my husband enough time” “am I giving myself enough time” and “am I giving my business enough time”. In my head, the only answer to this is to do your best and do what feel right and listen to your body. It is a good thermometer. If you can get some exercise in and sleep well, then that helps a lot. When you are well rested, you can take on the world! Lisa Murray, Founder & CEO, The Atlas Club/QA Jet