August 30, 2007
The office scene has changed. The coveted cabins are no longer just the domains of men, but are increasingly being occupied by women who are smashing the glass ceiling on their way up and how! Debates about women executives and managers being as much or more effective as their male counterparts are pretty much dated.
However, let's not forget that in this ever-changing corporate culture, some things may never change. The bottom line remains not about talent but the gender of an employee and, more often than not, women have to invest twice as much time and energy to prove their competence in their domains.
If you feel you belong to this section of women, here are a few pointers that might just help if you get noticed for all the right reasons!
- Pick your battles. Avoid unnecessary debates with colleagues. With an increasing number of assertive members in teams, clashes are inevitable. A difference of opinion is a given in bigger teams or between headstrong individuals. Focus more on resolving the conflicts and getting work done. Do not fritter away your precious energy on counter-productive debates. However, do defend your opinion by all means and do not shy away from taking a firm stand.
- Non-conformance to stereotypes is fine. From being stereotyped as receptionists, nurses and teachers, women have come a long way in the corporate world. Women were initially encouraged to take up jobs that would leave them sufficient time to take care of their families' needs. We do not have to relinquish our traditional roles of being a wife and a mother, although several women these days are consciously opting to be single and focus on their ascent in the business world.
"The pressures are lot higher," says Indira Rangarajan, associate vice president - programming, Radio Mirchi. "The bias that women have to leave office by 5.30 pm to be home early is eroding. Performance is important these days and the work-life balance concept for women is not really working out too well. But, we have to admit that women are coping well and rising up to the challenge admirably."
- Don't share anything that you wouldn't want your family or friends to know. Your embarrassing moments, list of ex-boyfriends, liberal thoughts on casual sex and such topics are best kept restricted to only one person: YOU. One never knows when they can be used against you to tarnish your professional image. Especially so, when you least expect it. So, clam up to showcase only the professional you.
- Avoid trying to be one up on the other gender always. It's so much better to just focus on the job at hand. Trying to bring down the male colleagues will just make you appear more as a threat than you really are or would want to be. Mature women do not fall for inane gender games; they are busy working their way up! You want to be a 'manager', not a 'woman manager'. Don't fall for the lip service girl, go for real empowerment! "The attitude towards working women has changed and I see that men have started to respect me more. It might also have to do with my climb up the social ladder. But yes, life has definitely changed for us." The smile in Mridula Joshi's voice, group head -International Business for one of the leading value-added mobile services providers in India, is pretty much evident.
- Dress appropriately, if you want their respect and avoid unsolicited passes or moves. Women were expected to dress conservatively a few decades back. You would be surprised that this expectation pretty much hasn't changed, except in industries where dressing up fashionably is the demand and need.
You don't need to mimic male colleagues by dressing up only in pastel shades and dull grays. However, you definitely need to appear 'decent', preferably with no plunging necklines or peeking decolletage.
- Never crib or cry in open view of all. Do not break down just because Aryan got the promotion you wanted or only Sheila got to visit foreign shores. If you want to be treated as an equal, and not as an outsider, take it on your chin. Hapless crying is definitely a way out of the select club of achievers.
- Don't use bad language just to be hip. Believe it or not, most men use cuss words not only when they are mad at each other but because it also helps them bond with other men. Well, that's them!
Bonding is not what most women use cuss words for. Do not feel pressured to use a colorful language if that's not your natural self. Even if it is, at work, use the language that projects you as a refined professional and not as foul-mouthed. You do not have to use four-letter words just to sound cool.
- Avoid PDAs. Public display of affection can be killer for a public, professional image. We don't see CEOs and presidents backslapping or casually hugging in public, do we now? So, keep those emotions in check. Save them for an evening out of office premises and you'll do your professional image a lot of good.
- Have the grit to take decisions. And, take them quick. It is indeed a high-pressure situation where one has to prove to be a superwoman. There is this constant struggle -- if you act like the stereotypes, you are considered too soft for high-profile jobs where taking hard decisions are a part of life. On the other hand, if you come off hard as nails, they will brand you the official b****. So, what's the way out? Well, do not hesitate to display an aggressive leadership style when required, strive to be the most competent around, and stay committed to reach for the highest if you really have it in you.
- It's okay to smoke or drink. Or, not to. Don't blow smoke rings or leave glass rings on the bar counter if you don't wish to. You don't have to feel compelled to smoke or drink just because you wish to project a certain image. Have fun as you like it, not how others expect you to. It's quite okay to smoke or drink in social situations, as much it is okay not to do so, if you are not comfortable. Take your pick!
Preeti Bose is manager -- training for a US-based MNC. The views expressed in this article are solely her own and not of her organisation.