How to make friends and influence women
I grew up surrounded by intelligent, strong and respectful women. Most of my favourite teachers, extended family members and role models were women. I think of myself as a feminist - supporting equal rights and opportunities, as well as the freedom of choice.
I was a child of the 80s, so Margaret Thatcher was the Prime Minister, showing that women could work to achieve positions of power.
The first impression
Fresh out of uni, I started working for a firm with a female leader. I relished the opportunity to learn how to become a leading lady from my boss, particularly as my role liaised with about 50 local business leaders, all but one of which were male.
I learned how NOT to be a woman in business…
She brandished her power by dominating – male, female, contemporaries, subordinates. Sexuality was her tradecraft. There was regular and blatant bullying. Intimidation and disregard the status quo. She lacked empathy. She demanded respect instead of earning it.
Did all women lead like this? Lacking another professional frame of reference, I began questioning if this was normal, a necessity working in such a male dominated landscape?
Thankfully, a female department head (Joanna) showed me this wasn’t normal and promptly arranged clean getaways for me, other employees and herself.
In my new job, my line manager (Abi) essentially ruled the roost in a 90% male company. She was an outstanding leader; honest, respectful, personable and determined. No games, no bitchiness, no being “one of the boys”. She was driven, talented, and empowered me. Days were full of great work, appreciation and laughter. I loved work again.
My career developed and the positivity continued until I experienced toxic femininity and poor leadership again a few years ago.
A new interim manager took charge of an experienced team and wanted to change everything immediately. It seemed like disruption was the only reason. Methods weren’t explained, questions were deflected, collaboration discouraged, and skills weren’t nurtured. Individuals were targeted. Situations were manipulated for personal gain and she became a long-serving employee. Team morale took a nose-dive and several (better) employees left.
Some big questions
Was the experience worse because they were women?
Would I excuse this behaviour from men?
Do I accept this behaviour towards men?
Is it just women who feel threatened?
Is there ever an excuse for mistreatment if it gets the job done?
Poor leadership, destructive behaviour and lack of human decency will never encourage growth, productivity or positivity. In work, at home, in politics.
Inspiring leadership inspires others.
The happy ending?
I’ve met and worked with some fantastic women and women leaders, many who are now friends. Most clients have been women - women succeeding, leading, progressing and juggling their lives inspirationally, often in male-dominated organisations.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve worked with and for some great men too. But as a woman, it feels different. Representation is important. Positive representation even more so.
And since becoming a mum, I’m even more grateful for my female friends and colleagues – no disrespect men, it’s a different level of support, understanding and appreciation.
The good outnumbers the bad, but the bad damaged me. It took some time, but I survived and have become more resilient and better equipped. My only regret is that I didn’t do more to stand up for myself and others, trying to protect the behaviour patterns repeating.
Now as a business owner, I’m channelling the positive women in my life. Trying to become stronger. Living and working to my personal values. And sticking two fingers up to those who nearly broke me.
Special thanks and mentions (in no particular order):
@JoannaMorrison, Abi Jackson, @CarolineMatthews, @SarahWinnett, @LucyPollock, @DeePrimett and everyone at the #FemaleCopywritersAlliance