I’m a woman– Maya Angelou
We truly are phenomenal.
This week, someone at work made a comment “I don’t know how you do it” and it made me think: what is it that we do, as women, that make us such a critical part of a successful team at work?
There are so often negative connotations associated with women in the workplace:
They leave after a few years. They don’t really climb the corporate ladder. They have to give up everything in order to make it.
They are said to be overly emotional, bossy, and – gasp – bitchy.
I have only been working for three years, and before that, I was part of the Stellenbosch University Student Representative Council. These are the only times that I had the chance to sit in a boardroom. This is an article that outlines the experiences and observations that I, alongside some of my friends, have had so far.
Why women struggle at work
I feel there are some key reasons why women seem to struggle in the workplace.
Taking on too much
I sometimes wonder why it seems that men get away with so much more than women. They seemingly put in less effort, but get the same results and awards.
I think that women take on just as much responsibility as men during the normal course of our jobs. In addition, we are often the ones organising the team lunch, the year-end formal, the accommodation when traveling, the birthday cake, getting the coffee, and working on the “admin” side of things.
We struggle to say “no” as we’re terrified of disappointing anyone. Do we feel like this is what is required in order to be successful?
This results in us being overworked, stressed (about things not worth stressing about), and spending hours on extra tasks. More often than not, our work also suffers as a result.
We do not speak up
Be it about what we want, don’t want, or what we are good at.
Conversations with my male peers suggest that they are more than happy to discuss their successes at work, the new investment idea that they thought of, the extra work that they took on and just about any plan that they have.
Women, on the other hand, very rarely discuss the intricacies of our job with others, and as a result no one truly understands what we’ve been putting in.
We do not speak up.
We are less likely to be talking about our own investment strategies or our new business venture; things which I am sure a lot of us have and are passionate about. When a new project is presented my male peers will often say “yes” without knowing beforehand if they will be able to do it.
My female colleagues are more likely to keep quiet, simply because they are not 100% sure that they will be successful. This can keep us from obtaining valuable exposure that might change our careers.
“Fake it ‘til you make it” is something that comes to mind.
We do not recognise our strengths
Being a woman, I know and believe that I can do everything and anything that my male peers can do. I wish that all women believed this.
Why do we sell ourselves short and do not believe in ourselves?
We need to recognise that what we bring to the table (must read: Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, all about “sitting at the table”) often varies vastly from what our male peers bring to the table.
We look at things differently and approach things differently; and we have to embrace this. Once we do we will realise that we are an irreplaceable addition to any team.
We don’t need to be strong or tough to be successful in the workplace. Brene Brown writes in her book – The Power of Vulnerability – about the importance of recognising that it is okay to speak up about things that we are struggling with, to check in with ourselves, and to act accordingly. Our own unique skill set is what makes us important to our teams. Whether it’s the way we talk to people, our meticulous approach to things, our emotional intelligence, caring about others, building software that assists in clients’ needs, or our project management skills.
Not enough leaders to look up to
Our businesses lack female leaders.
We all want to be inspired by someone in our community that exemplifies what we are striving for. Someone that shows you it can be done!
I do not want it to be someone in a different country, or a different field of work, whom I cannot really relate to. It should be someone within my company, and preferably within my office.
We need females to teach us the importance of being a woman in the workplace, navigating the corporate world. We need them to teach us how, by simply being yourself, you are inspiring those around you; you are showing us that we do not need to change to be successful.
These points seem counterintuitive to the question posed at the beginning of this post.
It’s a laundry list of things that we are struggling with at work.
But through this struggle and difficulty, we are showing what we are actually doing and why we are so important to our teams.
Women do get a lot done
Saying “yes” to so many things and taking on additional responsibilities leads to us building important relationships which we might have never had the opportunity to build if we only did the work assigned to us.
With this being said it is extremely important for us to know when to say “no” as well. This is one of the most important lessons that everyone has to learn. Doing more and saying yes to everything will not make you more successful. When you can, pick your projects and tasks wisely.
We have strengths!
When I think of the women I work with, one word comes to mind: competence.
The women that I am surrounded by each bring something so important to our various teams. They are always willing to walk the extra mile. They pay attention to detail. They spend time really checking in with their peers.
Too often, we sell ourselves short and do not think that what we offer is good enough. Trust me, it is.
Look around you
There might not be women in leadership positions all around us but, in our everyday lives, there are women that inspire us through what they do, be it in a big or a small way.
Look out for the woman bringing you coffee at work with a smile on her face;
Look for the woman that organises tutoring for grade 12 students; The woman that checks in to ask how you are doing; The woman that makes time for a cup of tea with anyone who needs it; The woman that stands up for you when it feels like you are alone; The woman that helps you to think differently about your place in the world; The woman that keeps on going even when it is difficult; and the woman that is a partner at your firm and advocating for equality and empowerment.
Look at all of these women and know that you, like all of them, are phenomenal.
What’s it like for women in your workplace? What are you doing to make it better? Let me know in the comments below!
- Being a woman in the workplace: a struggle or a blessing? - October 19, 2020