Category Archives: Women as Entrepreneurs

A case for gender related management training

Mars and Venus

 

This post was originally written as a guest post for Tanveer Naseer, a business coach who works with small businesses and entrepreneurs to develop new strategies for growth and development

Let’s stop being trapped by political correctness. Do men and women need different types of management training? I think so

A number of spin off issues came from my recent research on bullying by women in the workpalce – but several were particularly interesting.

Workplace Mars and Venus
One of them was that both men and women alike, shared the need for management and organisational training with a specifically gender related thread. A sort of Mars / Venus for work place skills. This wasn’t specifically just about sexual harassment, but basic communication,conflict resolution and managing expectations. This flies in the face of the common corporate gender-neutral, one-size-fits all management training, that exists in most organisations today.

Many would view this as a backward step. But is it really?

Jane Gunn, The Corporate Peacemaker author of the book “How to Beat Bedlam in the Boardroom And Boredom in the Bedroom suggests that “ difference is the starting point for adding or creating value. What is needed most is to understand the value that each gender brings to the workplace and how each gender can learn from, rather than feel threatened by, the other”.

Differences are not negative. They’re just different.
Shouldn’t we just be acknowledging the existence of gender differences and recognise that we all need training on how to deal with them, rather than assuming as we do now, that we can all slip into business (gender) neutral on our own.

Or worse, assume that the traditional training methods found most successfully in male dominated environments work one hundred percent across the board, when all evidence indicates to the contrary. This is amusingly and somewhat extremely illustrated by a bemused Professor Higgins in the song , A Hymn to Him, when gender differences were clearly not perceived as positive!

Historical perspective
It would seem from the people who contacted me at least, that there are indeed issues in all gender combinations in the work place, except almost predictably, in male dominated environments ( men managing and being managed by men). This actually shouldn’t surprise me. Men have had centuries of experience. Outside a domestic situation, all male teams and organisations were historically and culturally the norm : military, sports, male clubs, politics etc, where clearly defined structured hierarchies were in place and communication lines were usually prescribed and evident.

In a historical perspective, it was only comparatively recently that women have either been included or allowed full access to most business environments. So it’s hardly surprising that no one is used to dealing with women in these situations. And as they join the corporate world in ever increasing numbers, equally women are not used to dealing with each other either! There simply is very little historical precedent to call upon. In brief, men and women lack practise in dealing with each other at work which is intensified as women climb the career ladder and assume positions of responsibility .

Blurred expectations
So when I think about it, it’s almost to be expected that there should be some blurring of both expectations and behaviour within organisations. Perhaps the real surprise should be that any of it comes right at all, given this real lack of experience in the overall scheme of things.

Both men and women enter the workplace with their academic and professional qualifications and experience, but also with engrained behaviour patterns and expectations derived from their separate chromosomes, personality types and relationship role models developed in lives and interaction outside a work situation.

Many women claimed that men needed special training relating to them in a business neutral way, believing that men are used to dealing with women as mothers, sisters, partners, daughters and less often as business peers and even less frequently as superiors. But conversely the same was said by the men about women! Jane Gunn also amplifies “Almost every instance of conflict or dispute at work is the catalyst for, or is mirrored by, conflict at home. In the same way relationships at home have a dramatic impact on our ability to create a productive and harmonious work life.”

Real issues
The real issue is perhaps how do we all let go our socialized gender stereotypical behaviour and communicate in a business neutral way when we enter organisational life, when they can be so removed for many from the roles we play in other areas of our daily lives? The answer seems to be with difficulty. Every indication would also suggest that support in coping with this dichotomy would be useful. But recognising differences doesn’t mean unequal treatment as it once did.

Other differences
Much is written about dealing with other types of differences in an organisational setting: cross cultural, personality ( extrovert vs introvert) high achievers for example. So why is it now de rigeur, or worse still, politically incorrect, to acknowledge that gender differences require special attention in an organisational context?

Challenges
Ashanti A, Change Manager in the Hi-Tech sector in Los Angeles, shared this ” As a female manager the biggest challenge in managing men is gaining the same respect and willingness to be a direct report that would be given to a male manager. As basic as it sounds- by nature no man wants to be told what to do by a woman ”

Ashanti also suggests that women need to be mindful not to fall into the “subordinate female co- worker role”. So women instinctively pour coffee, arrange parties, bring cakes and act as the “carer / facilitator/plactor” Ashanti elaborates. “Oftentimes because these statements aren’t aggressive or sexual in nature, they’re not deemed offensive or inappropriate- yet I would argue the latter

For me,as women enter organisational life in greater numbers than ever before, there is a clear need for a reveiw of current training practises.

What do you think?
Selected by Wally Bock for Top Independent Business Blogs ” Dorothy Dalton is one of the best writers on the web when it comes to raising and analyzing gender issues in the workplace. Don’t read this post to find an answer. Read it to gather ideas for the answer you will develop for yourself“.

Motherhood and the CV Gap

 Wally Bock in Momentor says “Even with men taking paternity leave, women face a career challenge that few if any men will ever face. This one of those situations where there are no easy answers, only intelligent choices. Dorothy Dalton lays them out for you in what is the very best post I have ever seen on this topic.”

How to bridge the gap in your resume
One of the most frequently asked questions  that I am ever asked,  both as a recruiter and as a career coach,  is  about handling gaps in a CV caused by taking time out to raise a family. Response: there is no one magic wand answer. Or at least not one that I can think of.

Starting and raising a family is one of  the greatest challenges of  not just being a woman, but being a woman in the work place. We all handle it differently. There is no right or wrong way. Some return to work and balance  a career and professional demands with a variety of child care and support arrangements. Others decide to focus exclusively on their families for different lengths of time.

Experience
Both my kids are in their 20s and I can honestly say that I am familiar with many of the thought processes and situations that professional women go through when they have a family. I have probably experienced most combinations of childcare and work set-ups  imaginable: flexi-time, part-time, remote working, NOT working (aka ME) and  self-employment. I have been guilt tripped by pretty much everyone, including my kids and bosses in equal measure. My son is dyslexic and required  educational support when younger, but my business/family stress was finally reduced  when he discovered as a teenager,  that dyslexia is an anagram for “daily sex”. That helped with his learning difficulty more than anything I ever did.

Tough decisions
Becoming a full-time parent today is a luxury decision that few are able to make, but many still do. Very often for either economic reasons, or simply a desire to have a different purpose, many women choose to go back to work.

But frequently Rosanne Barr’s  one-liner  ” I can do anything. I’m a  mom”  doesn’t ring true for a large number.  It certainly doesn’t ring true for many employers.

Transferrable skills
Employers tend to want new hires to hit the ground running and are reluctant even to look at the transferrable skills from individuals who  come from another  business sector,  let alone anyone whose sector activity  has been running a home (hospitality, finance and facility management) school runs  (logistics) raising kids (team building, succession planning, change and conflict management, negotiation) supporting a partner (coaching, internal communication and external relations).

The soft skills that women possess in abundance, combined with the hands on managerial abilities ,  which are a prerequisite for running a family, should be easily transferrable into a business environment, particularly with some on boarding support. Unfortunately, many employers are unwilling or unable to see this. But equally many women don’t see it either. The years outside a corporate environment leave a large number feeling less than confident.

Strategic preparation
Some  career columnists recommend  adding a cover letter  of explanation as a returning Mum that you are now willing and able to re-join the work force.  Truthfully, that will no longer cut it.  That cover letter may not even make it past an ATS system. The pace of change in the recruitment sector has been so great that strategic preparation is important.

The earlier you start preparing a viable business case for your return to the market place the better. If you create a strategic plan before your offspring arrive on the scene, so much the better, but if not, just as soon as you can. You’ve heard of planned pregnancies? Well career planning is the same! It’s not enough to say  “Hey -ho, I’ve got a babysitter, I’m back”  and doors will swing open.  Whether the gap is 7 or 17 years the principles are the same.

  • Stay or get up to date in your profession. It’s not easy after spending a day dealing with the minutiae of every day family life to flick a switch and get into biz mode and read up on any developments  or trends in your now old profession but it’s worth it.  Cosmo  might be more appealing  than the Economist, or the packed lunches might be calling,  but try to allocate some time for your once professional self.  If you let this slide over the years , start getting up to speed quickly.
  •  Stay or get connected:  carry on if you possibly can with your professional networks. Subscriptions,  workshops and conferences can be pricey without corporate funding.  But there is still a lot of material  available on-line and social media networking is free. Sign up on LinkedIn  or any other professional site. LinkedIn has many different groups for mums –    over 26 pages when I just checked. There has to be something that suits you. If not create your own.   There are special groups on-line and in your own towns, specifically to support women in transition. Find yours and attend their events.
  • Stay or get in touch with old colleagues. They will give you the heads up on any opportunities.
  • Network –  any contacts you make in the course of your daily life may help.  Keep business cards, follow careers and stay in touch ( see above)
  • Consider working from home: is there anything you can do before you return to work to ease yourself gently into a business environment ?
  • Consider setting up your own business: Read my post Women who Make it Happen.  4, really normal  women recount their successful transition into entrepreneurship following periods raising their families. If they can do it –  so can you !
  •  Re – train  – this is a good opportunity to think about doing something different. What are your passions? What would you like to do with the rest of your life?  What are your skills? On- line courses make it easier to combine acquiring new skills with childcare and domestic responsibilities.
  • Invest in yourself – think long-term. Make your personal development ongoing.
  • Volunteer  – many women are very often involved in voluntary activities that rival any corporate activity. Fund raising , event management, PTA President, school or charity treasurer. Make sure that when you write your CV you include any metrics that support your efforts in terms of results and  processes. Raising  250K  for the new school library is a big deal and no different from meeting sales targets! Organising a gala garden party for your church with 600 people attending is no different to corporate event management.
  • Check your business image: if your wardrobe is full of office attire circa pre-motherhood –  a trip to the charity shop is essential. Nothing dates you more than looking out dated.

Even if you have done none of the above – it’s never too late to start.  As covered recently in Forbes , hiring managers are convinced by commitment , backed up by evidence that you can add value.  Their eyes will glaze over if the  only talk you can offer,  no matter how proudly,  is of raising your family.  Regrettably,   sometimes professional women can be  tougher than their male counterparts.

But occasionally wisdom comes from unexpected sources:  “ I’m a mother with two small children, so I don’t take as much crap as I used to.”  Pamela Anderson

So do you?

Women who make it happen

Start up success stories

Last week  in my piece  ” Ladies – it’s never too late to start up”  I wrote about a growing trend towards self employment  amongst  Baby Boomers and  the business success of the “grey economy”    However,  in Europe less than 30% of new businesses are established by women,  compared to 70% by their American counterparts . Yet I have talked to and coached many women who have done exactly that and found incredible satisfaction and success.

I’m not talking about super women who set up something on their kitchen tables  20 years ago and are now teetering around in power stilettos,  sporting designer suits and running massive empires from their iPhones .   No, the women I know are just regular women,  like you or I,  who for one reason or another  at a “certain age “,  when other people are thinking about retiring, decided they wanted to be self employed and made  it happen. They created their dream.  Besides, power stilettos kill their feet .

Backgrounds

Some had given up work to raise their kids and wanted to return to the work place,  others had been made redundant  after years of service.   Others  wanted to  leave the corporate world and do something different  that they felt passionate about and which gave them flexibility.  Some just simply wanted to change , but weren’t sure what to do.  Yet another group had retired,  but had an itch to do something more with their lives than go for lunch.  Some had concerns about long term financial security issues , and as pension funds lie in tatters, property prices plummet and divorce rates rise, this is completely valid.  

Themes

It seemed to be that the common threads from talking to them  all were: flexibility, control, purpose, passion,  financial security, commitment, personal development  and increased confidence.

Carol O’Donoghue, Jacksonville,  Florida, set up her own real estate company at the age of 47,  having just gone through a divorce.  She was a high school principal before she moved to Europe to support her now ex husband’s career.   Returning to the Jacksonville to be near her family, she was looking for something  more flexible  that she could do longer term.  Now she says “I am able to work from many different locations with the advances in technology, so I can go skiing in Colorado and sell 2 houses while I am gone!” 

 The start up process involved re –  training on the technical side  of real estate management ,  obtaining the required licenses and investing in some basic equipment and publicity material. 

Carol suggests that the greatest challenges were finding a work life balance and dealing with her own perfectionist tendencies!   “ I worked 7 days a week and often until 2am… I felt like I completely lost my personal life for the first few years.  ”

She then decided to relinquish some control and hire extra help, with immediate benefits.   Plans for the future? Carol just says ”  I want to enjoy the life I have left.  I am 55 this year and that has always been my goal …………I will  refer all of my business to another firm (for a fee)”

Meicki Schick, Brussels, Belgium, speaks 3 languages,  and at 48, is  as glamorous as any super model and has twice the energy of a woman half  her age. She is a walking bill board for her new business  as a Pilates Coach

 She decided to pursue this change of direction  because  she says   ” I had a constant feeling that to be only mother, house wife, taxi driver for my kids…was not enough to fill up my life.  “

 Meicki had originally trained as a pharmacist in Germany and had  considered going back into her old profession  but told me  “ an opportunity came last summer, when I saw the folder of a local academy that  carries out Pilates teacher trainings. My own Pilates coach  encouraged  me to follow this training and suggested I give lessons at her studio, especially she needed a French speaking coach for her Belgian clients. It took me one night to sleep over this proposition and than I decided to go for it.”

 After completing the training programme she started teaching her own classes and the excellent feedback she received motivated her even further.   She now has the flexibility to organise her own schedule and be active every day “  Sport  has always been part of my favorite activities. Now I get paid for it ! ”

  Her dream is to complete further training and eventually open her own Pilates Studio. She loves “working and  being active” and says this has helped her overall confidence.    

Jane W from the UK was musically trained,  but  fell into a marketing and communication role in her early career almost by chance. Even though she followed her husband’s career across 3 continents , wherever she was in the world she made sure she found a job.  “ I realised that I needed to do something for me, it helped me adapt to the change and kept me in touch with the business community. Very often I was involved in organising corporate events and also  volunteered at my kid’s school.   We had always entertained a lot at home and as I love food I decided to take a Cordon Bleu cookery course  ”      

Jane’s divorce left her economically vulnerable,  so it was imperative that she find something to protect her long term financial situation. “ I began helping  organise events, weddings , dinners and parties  in addition to doing the catering.  Before long I  was  involved professionally,  coordinating other freelancers.  I then moved  on to conferences, launches,  openings and so on.”

The future? “  I have one son still in school and as soon as he is finished I intend to expand. In the meantime I am doing some on-line marketing courses and am training as a florist.  For the moment I’m happy to stay small,  getting up in the morning knowing I’m going to be doing something I love

Her message?  “Never stop learning – you never know what’s around the corner”.

 Sacha Otten, from the Netherlands  set up her own company abovePAR last year ,  marketing  virtual assistant services.  Her mantra  echoes William McFee The world belongs to the enthusiast who keeps cool!  But at  at the start of the recession,  it was a little risky to branch out on her own,  so she also combined this with holding down an 80% time job ,  on top of acquiring  skills and certification in internet research.  She felt that this would give her greater control over her own destiny and make her less vulnerable in the market place. Speaking 5 languages,  she offers project management, administration and research services internationally.  When Sacha heard recently that  her job was being cut as a result of the downturn  she was glad that she had this additional string to her bow. 

 “ When you own your own company, your age seems to matter a lot less than when you seek permanent employment. It can even be a huge advantage when you have reached a certain maturity and can also be very flexible in your work hours. I tend to think it is an asset rather than a handicap.  Clients seem to like this when they decide to outsource their work.’

Her greatest challenge was  the sales/marketing element .  “ Selling yourself and breaking into a market is  not a very easy thing to do. A lot depends on your personality.  Setting up your own company is definitely not for everyone. Your commitment needs to be high.”

So if you have passion, drive, energy and are looking for purpose,   want control of your own destiny,  financial situation and schedule    –  what is stopping you?

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