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Jo Ellen Grzyb

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Why good leadership is about being true to yourself


Jo-Ellen Gryzb explains why women trying to be men in the workplace is a huge mistake, and why women who embrace their female traits make the most successful managers.
Tough times
Women have had it tough in the workplace for many years. Struggling to be heard or even taking a significant role in the boardroom, is a daily reality, pay equality is still some way off, and many sectors still have a particularly outdated view of women’s professional worth. This is not to say we are still in the dark era of the suffragettes’ struggle for women’s rights; things have moved on immensely since then. 
The ‘glass ceiling’ is a frequently used term which many working women refer to and describes the phenomenon of reaching a certain level of seniority within an organisation but finding moving any higher unachievable.
Career breaks for maternity leave and childcare are often cited as reasons for women hitting the glass ceiling, and many women feel they need to choose between a successful career or a family. In actuality, the recent economic turn of events has meant that it is even more challenging for women to ‘have it all’ than ever before. Fears about job security and related impact that maternity leave may have on this, added to the removal of working tax credits for earners above £40,000, means there are even more prohibitive factors to women hitting the high earning roles.
There is still inequality in pay between the genders too, with Britain having one of the worst pay gaps in Europe. In the UK women’s salaries represent 79% of mens’ salaries, while the rest of Europe is ahead at 82% [1].
"...the recent economic turn of events has meant that it is even more challenging for women to ‘have it all’ than ever before."
As a result, there are many women in the workplace who feel they need to be more bullish, thick skinned and stronger than their male counterparts, and this is alienating their colleagues and teams. There is a very negative stereotype of women who reach high levels of success and seniority in their careers; that they are cold and career-obsessed, often choosing not to have families and prioritising their professional progression; something which many men do but for a woman to do is considered by some to be unnatural and somehow uncaring.
The fairer sex
In order for women to be successful, they do need to perform well, perhaps even better than men, to prove their value to the employer and reassure them that despite the fact they may well take a career break at some point in order to have a family, they are talented and committed to their role. It is very important that talent and success are shouted about – not arrogantly but effectively. Women seem to be particularly poor at highlighting their strengths and successes in the workplace, instead modestly playing down what they have achieved; in direct contrast to the way men are often very happy to communicate their successes.
Perhaps this is because women worry that highlighting their success will make them the subject of negative emotions like jealously and ill will among their colleagues.
Women are all too frequently denying their ‘femaleness’ and attempting to override their natural tendencies to be emotional, nurturing and emotionally intuitive and are instead trying to match the bravado and tough-skinned manner of many of their male counterparts.
In my view, this is where so many women fall down and sabotage their own careers. Human beings are programmed to be themselves and attempting to mask natural feelings or tendencies cannot be sustained for an extensive period. Women who are not being true to their own behaviours will inevitably become unhappy and frustrated with their lives, and stress will creep in affecting them even further. If they aren’t true to themselves, they are undermining what they really are, which in turn makes them easy to undermine. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Steps to success
In order to be successful leaders and managers in the workplace, women should embrace their emotional side, and should not try to hide it away under a tougher exterior. If a frustrating situation drives a woman to the brink of tears, she should show these emotions, and rather than apologising for being 'weak' or 'irrational', highlight the tears as the level of passion she feels about the issue. Women should be honest and true to their emotions, and never fall into the trap of treating other women badly in the workplace, which not only damages the harmony of the workplace, but also adds to the negative concept of women as leaders and managers.
"Networking with other leaders and managers to explore the challenges they face, their methods for success and concerns is a great way for leaders to glean new skills and take reassurance in their own methods."
By being open and honest about the way they feel about people, processes and issues in the workplace, women can build successful working relationships and trust. It is important that they get onto their co-workers level and communicating with them about their interests and strengths.
Networking with other leaders and managers to explore the challenges they face, their methods for success and concerns is a great way for leaders to glean new skills and take reassurance in their own methods. Mixed groups can provide great inspiration rather than female-only groups, as men and women’s gender characteristics complement each other, and working together in either a developed or real setting, will help them to enhance the way these characteristics bring out the best in each other.
By using humour and honesty to deflect negativity and be clear about what they want and what they want from others, women can truly thrive in the workplace in senior positions. Not only can they thrive, but they can thrive without becoming a cliché or undermining themselves.
[1] Eurobarometer 2010

Jo-Ellen Gryzb is an author, psychotherapist and founding director of Impact Factory


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