As a woman business owner, I am often asked to sit on panel discussions or speak at an event. For some reason, the speaking opportunity always seems to gravitate to its lowest level. I am asked questions like this. “How did you manage to juggle raising your children with building your career?”
Just for the record, questions like this make me want to scream and ask, “If I were a man, would you be asking that same question?” This is where women in business get off track. Organizations are always trying to build programs that will help women rise in the corporate ranks, or help them take the step to building their own business. This is a serious mission, but inevitably seems to result in programs entitled, “Women at Work – How to find balance”. We have met the enemy – and, it is us!
Business women do themselves a disservice by participating in, and attending, programs that are less than business-focused. Yes, we are different. Yes, we have many demands on our time. But guess what? Corporate America does not care. They care about having a growing, successful and profitable company. They care about satisfying their shareholders with a return on their investment. Our primary goal should be showing them how we can help them grow to success and profitability.
We have two choices – we can be treated equally, or we can be treated differently. We cannot demand equal rights and equal pay and then ask for set asides, hiring preferences or special privileges based upon our gender.
Smart business executives understand that gender differences in the workplace are no different than personality differences, religious differences or ethnic differences. Any sales person worth their salt knows how important it is to understand your prospect’s viewpoint:
- Are their learning preferences verbal, visual or auditory?
- Are they an extrovert or introvert?
- Do you know their outside interests?
- Do they lead as a dictator or as a consensus builder?
- If a different nationality, what are their customs?
Gender differences are just another difference that needs to be addressed. Yes, females communicate differently, but that can be a strength to an organization Women are also:
What organization would not be interested in that type of employee? Organizations with women on their corporate boards report broader market vision, enhanced board dynamics and improved corporate reputation. So, letting the women in can certainly benefit the organization.
Gender diversity in an organization is a strength, just as personality differences are a strength. Every organization needs those who are creative to come up with great ideas. Every organization needs process builders who can create the process so the great idea can come to fruition. Every organization needs the team builders who can rally the troops to execute the process for that great idea. Without the personality differences an organization can have boatloads of creative ideas, but no ability to bring them to market.
Women have a come a long way in the workforce since the 1960’s, but we should not be complacent and satisfied. Today:
- Girls overall are performing better in school than boys.
- More women are enrolled in higher education institutions than men.
- Women receive more honors at graduation than men.
- 36% of women have Bachelors Degrees, compared to 28% of men.
Yet, women are still only paid 80.9% of what their male counterparts are paid. So, complacency is not an option. Yes, there is still a glass ceiling that needs to be broken. But, it will not be broken by focusing on work/life balance.
We would be better served by understanding our individual assets, being able to succinctly verbalize how the organization can benefit from those assets, understand the pay range for the position we desire (not the male pay structure, or the female pay structure, but THE pay structure) and then have the guts to ask for what we want.
Just as women in business have made great strides in the last 50 years, we will continue to make strides. The law of supply and demand will help us in the coming decade. As our working population decreases, due to baby boomers retiring, the current lack of qualified personnel will continue to grow. This lack is a great opportunity for women to step up and fill those open positions. The employee shortage will mean that organizations will be fighting for qualified people – not qualified men. Let’s use this people shortage as the next opportunity to equalize pay disparity for women in business.