A business man once told me (seriously) that I should “dress sexier” because “if a man doesn’t want to have sex with you, then he probably isn’t listening to you”. He genuinely believed he was giving me sound advice.
Previously, a female partner at a city law firm, suggested that I didn’t “join those ‘women-only’ groups, [because] it will make you look like a feminist”.
Finally, I was warned by several female partners that if I was to ever have children then I should “get a good nanny and get back to work fast” or lose out on partnership.
Although not true statements, they serve as a reference point for my experience as a woman in business and a profession. Usually these beliefs are not stated out loud and usually we just pick up subtle hints that this is the way things are and the behaviour that is expected.
Two years on from the ground-breaking review by Lord Davies about women in decision-making roles and with recent high profile cases of sex discrimination in the corporate world, the topic of ‘women in business’ remains a hot topic in the media and within government.
Can we, as women, be even more pro-active in influencing a more ‘subtle’ sexist attitude to women in the workplace? Is there anything more that women in business can do to improve those attitudes?
- Be yourself –don’t match the male stereotype or feel you need to exert more typical male behaviour. Women bring their own style, which has its own benefits. Particularly, in your own business or team, you can set your own ideals and deal with people who fit those ideals.
- Create a culture of mentoring – whatever industry, too many women pull up the ‘ladder’ behind them when they reach higher heights. Finding a female mentee who is hungry to learn can allow you to give back and give that young woman a role model to look up to. Google: City University Mentoring Scheme or Modern Muse for further information.
- Be bold and speak up – keep a professional, but no-nonsense attitude to overt sexism (example 1) and don’t accept subtle sexism from females either. Since we are no longer in the 1950s, sexist jokes in the work place and demeaning statements no longer need to be accepted. If we have a no tolerance attitude then there may be further progress on this issue.
- Understand the power of sponsorship – find someone (female or male) who will pro-actively raise your own profile and help you through the political hurdles in business. Ask that person for support and assistance not only when there is an issue and ask them to make introductions to other people of use to you.
- Be a feminist – Don’t be put off by “women-specific” events. They are a great source of information, inspiration and a like-minded network, but don’t sacrifice them for attending mixed events and make sure that you attend network events with men as well!
Jo Rogers is an in-house lawyer for SMEs, our vision is to create a tribe of next generation of lawyers that provides affordable wisdom to businesses.