I have twenty years behind me in the public service, from State to Federal, from small towns to large cities, and across multiple countries. I’ve been up close and personal with war, stood amongst landscapes of destruction and grief. I’ve had dinner with the Heads of States (and when I say ‘with’, I mean at the back of the room, far away from the salt) and acted as the liaison for Kylie Minogue’s security team… and those were just routine weeks. But to this day, the biggest challenges I have faced in my career have not been from the demands of the job itself but from within myself. My own doubts, biases, insecurities – which, in turn, have their origins in institutionalised beliefs about gender roles, divisions of labour and glass ceilings.
Regardless that all those beliefs can be challenged, for every rung of the corporate ladder I have climbed in those twenty years I have felt like a fraud. Constantly waiting for someone to grab me by the ankle and haul me back down. I have questioned my smarts, my value-add and my right to be in each position. I have been waiting to be ‘found out’. And like so many women in the workplace, I have often felt incredibly vulnerable and embarrassed by what are, in fact, my magnificent qualities.
But I am also fortunate that over the course of those twenty years I have been blessed to work alongside and learn from a multitude of strong women who are definitively feminist and unafraid to challenge gender stereo-types. And through their willingness to share their experiences and lessons with me they have provided me with the foundations I needed to begin defining my own working style – which ultimately developed into a set of guiding principles. These principles keep me honest, focussed and on my path. And, they unashamedly relate entirely to how I act as a woman in the workplace. How I engage others, how I lead, how I manage, how I listen and how I succeed – As. A. Woman.
So as we end one working year and start another, I’m going to pay back my debt to those amazing women and share my ten guiding principles (for all working women) in the hope that there is something in here that you too can draw on:
- Let go of the guilt and embrace the passion – Ask a woman to tell you what she feels guilty about and she will fill a book. Leaving her kids at day care, working long hours, not eating properly, not exercising regularly, not calling her mum enough, having to leave work early (for any reason including illness), taking leave, asking for a promotion or a raise, saying ‘no’… But what if you just let go of the guilt? In fact, what if you gave it up entirely? Because at the end of the day, you are the only one holding onto it – and so it makes sense that you can also choose to let it go. And the sooner you make that decision, the more time you’ll have to embrace what gives you joy in the workplace.
- Sit at the table – Not at the back of the room, not in a corner, but at the table. You have value to add and your voice can not be heard from the galleys. And even when you have nothing to add, be present.
- Commit to having other women’s backs – Simply put, don’t buy into those labels of ‘aggressive’, ‘bitchy’, ‘aloof’ and ‘bossy’ when discussing other women. The same goes for gossiping about how a woman got ahead in her career, particularly what she’s like in bed or who she is sleeping with. Stop and ask yourself why you are even discussing another woman and what business it is of yours what she does in her personal time.
- Bring another woman with you – The work place won’t change until we have equal representation (2015 stats here), so next time you are on the move upwards, reach back and take another woman with you. Don’t buy into the thought-terminating cliches about positive discrimination resulting in positions being filled with unskilled workers. When you find yourself working with other talented women, don’t let the institution win – seize the opportunity!
- Stop apologising – If you have to wear an elastic band around your wrist and snap it every time you say ‘sorry’, then do, because every time you apologise for things that don’t require forgiveness, you give away your power and invite people to question your ability.
- Be the mentor – The number of women I talk to who are seeking mentors, but would never think to be a mentor themselves, is astounding. Aside from being a great way to grow professionally and personally, if not you – then who?
- Be resilient – The more success you have the tougher you need to make your hide. There will be praise, but there will also be criticism, and founded or not you will need to hold your head high and keep moving forward. Success requires resilience.
- Filter – In addition to toughening your hide, learn to filter the advice and feedback you are being given. People have their own insecurities and their own ambitions. Filter what you are hearing with that in mind.
- Beat back the doubt – Shine a light on your fears and doubts. Don’t let them gnaw at you in the dark, rather challenge them, block them, beat them back – and if there is truth in them (because sometimes there is) do what is necessary to change the situation – learn, up-skill, seek support, but above all, be your own champion.
- Be kind – This is twofold. You know all those things you feel guilty about… not eating properly, not getting enough exercise or sleep? Well, start today. Be kind to yourself. Make a pact that your body is a magnificent vehicle and that you need to look after it so that it can take you and that fabulous brain of yours up all those rungs you will be climbing. I’m not going to lecture you on how to do this, you already know. And then, secondly, be kind to others. Whether you are managing a team or speaking to a client, treat others as you would want to be treated. Kindness in the workplace is an undervalued commodity.
Now go get ’em tiger xx