How Women Compete With Men in the Workplace11-10-2011
Issues of work-life balance and gender disparity are often very hotly debated. It’s not my goal to incite controversy. I realize how hard many women have worked to achieve what they have in their careers, yet how they’ve seen their talents and ambitions truncated by people and cultures that undermine them.
I’m not interested in pontificating on career and workplace utopia. I think we all gravitate to concepts of equity and fairness—and we should. But we must also come to terms with realities of our circumstances and ourselves. I am interested in pragmatic strategies smart women can use to advance their careers—based on the realities of their lives. Change what we can. Overcome where we can. Find ways to leverage our competitive disadvantages at every turn.
If you’re a utopian, I wish the best. In the meantime, many of us have work to do.
TRYING TO KEEP UP WITH THE BOYS
I was speaking to a women’s group recently when a partner in her law firm asked about how to compete. She had small children at home and a husband who worked. She had two male partners in the firm who also had children—and stay-at-home wives. As the primary caretaker in her household, she said she couldn’t keep up with the partners. She was plagued daily with the reality that she was falling behind. She wondered what the endgame would be.
This woman, let’s call her Sally, isn’t alone. What can women who cannot—or choose not to—log seemingly endless hours at the office and their homes do to remain competitive with those who can and do?
This is a topic of great interest to audiences I speak to and readers of Sun Tzu for Women: The Art of War for Winning in Business. Here are three ways women can compete with men who work longer hours.
1. Don’t think in terms of hours
It’s tempting to compare the length of your workday with others. But as most of us know, that’s not a measure of effectiveness. We all have the same number of hours in the day, but women (and men), with significant family commitments can’t dedicate the same amount of hours as those without them.
I know this statement really irritates women who are critical of my way of thinking, but if you have competing priorities, it’s common sense. Simple math. You simply can’t beat the guys in hours worked. But who wants to do that, anyway?
Instead, shift the focus to what you have to offer that gives you a competitive edge over the co-workers with whom you “compete.” For Sally, she has subject matter expertise the men don’t have. And, importantly, she’s able to earn the trust of prospects and clients and relate to them on a level that’s different (and superior in many ways) to the men she works with.
2. Make them know how you’re better
Once you’re clear of what your differentiators are, some of which will be uniquely feminine—such as communication, sensitivity to the needs of others, a strong gut instinct, collaboration, or others—be sure the people you work with know it. Remind them, tactfully, of what you bring to the conference table. Don’t assume others will get it.
Women traditionally do a less effective job than men at drawing attention to abilities and successes. Fail to do that, and all your efforts to compete more intelligently will be for naught.
3. Get real
This is a topic that deserves a lot of attention, but simply put, you have to compete on the right playing field to do your best and be recognized for it. Let’s say you’re a brilliant collaborator, but if you work in an organization that doesn’t value collaboration, your competitive advantage is wasted.
Don’t waste your advantages, don’t undermine them, and don’t forget to make sure that the decision makers you work with understand the specific and unique value you bring.
By: Tene Sommer
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