“You women, you’re all alike…!”

diversity, black women, all the same

So said a (male) friend of mine, lightly and with affection.

He’ll have no memory of saying it. But me? I couldn’t forget it. It took me a long time to work out why.

The more I thought about it the more I realised how common an assertion this is. I hear suggestions of ‘feminine skills’, ‘pink jobs’ and the assumption that all women are nurturing, caring, empathic creatures. The expectations of who we are and how we’ll behave are deeply embedded before we get into the interview, never mind land the dream job!

But what if that isn’t you? What if (like me) you’re towards the techy, geeky end of things? You can remember endless detail of law and precedent, know exactly where the lost keys are (always!), but can’t really remember the faces of your colleagues … and the thought of social networking brings you out in a cold sweat. Sound familiar? That can be a lonely place, because everyone knows all women can do that stuff…can’t they? Maybe not.

We all understand the importance of self-awareness in business. I thought I was already pretty self-aware, confident in my skill-set and capable with colleagues and clients alike. I looked in the mirror and saw a woman: so of course I could handle this! But something wasn’t quite adding up, there was something I didn’t ‘get’. Was the mirror a poor guide when it came to my skills? Slowly, the thought took hold that maybe, I just wasn’t great at being a woman in business?

This was the point at which a female Director began talking about how ‘every good manager must have great emotional intelligence’. I watched her interactions to see how this worked and was left baffled. She was talking a language that made no sense, so perhaps I had the empathic understanding of a mouse-mat? Now, not only was I questioning my skills as a woman, but as a people-manager. Focussing on supposedly ‘feminine’ skills was becoming deeply un-productive and I needed to break away from it.

I started to really re-assess my skills and found myself following Alice down a rabbit-hole to some unexpected answers. I found there is a sizeable minority of women with a skills balance more commonly associated with men. They are more rational, logical, data-driven, possess unusual attention to detail and ability to concentrate upon it. They are direct, literal and have a tendency to tread on others’ ‘emotional toes’ without even noticing. They’re also good at copying their more empathic sisters, so they’re not easy to spot!

Now this was a set of ‘female’ skills I could relate to! But in so doing, I had to accept that all things simply do not come naturally to some women – including me. Instead of feeling downcast, I found this liberating. I’ve found I can focus on what I’m actually good at, not what the mirror tells me. I have also gained the confidence to tell my colleagues not to be insulted by my quirky sense of humour!

So to my techy, geeky, rational and data-driven sisters, I say embrace your skills! Give yourself permission to be the outstandingly individual businesswoman you are

… and don’t ever give in to the suggestion that ‘you women, you’re all alike…!’

Sarah BirdAbout the author

Sarah has one career as a built environment professional in Local Government, with over 20 years experience managing multi-disciplinary teams, large-scale mixed-use developments and a team budget of over >£1M. Alongside this she has worked as a composer, songwriter, backing vocalist and media music writer with numerous TV credits. Her current role is Director for an online, digital downloads music library, where she manages … stuff.

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