Monday, February 23, 2015

This Is A Woman’s World



Well, maybe not quite, but we stay optimistic!

When I was 7 years old my parents got divorced. It was a relief to be honest. Divorce isn’t unusual now, but to be divorced after 21 years of marriage in the 1980s was a complete blow to my mother. My father lucked out. He got everything – house, car, properties. He got everything except me. And I became the rock upon which my mother rebuilt her life.  

I remember sitting with her during one night, when she needed to make a decision whether to stay in my grandparents’ house a while longer, to rent nearby for a bit, or to immediately rebuild a house from scratch, moving fully independently on her own. She was troubled, depressed and doubtful. Somewhere in my young mind I realized that if she didn’t decide to be fully independent now, she would remain emotionally broken. So I made the decision for her. I said to her “Mummy, build the house; even if we have to eat biscuits and water, we’ll do it.” And so, my life consisted of school by morning, construction project manager by afternoon. The house was built, and 30 years later she keeps adding annexes to it!

Let it be made quite clear that I do not consider myself particularly suppressed by men. On the contrary! My mother’s divorce actually put me in a position to be highly regarded by my grandfather, my uncles and male family, and from a very early age I was exposed to their world. The man’s world of discussing politics while women cooked in the kitchen; the world of martial arts and blood brother fights; the world of hunting, and of considering women to be objects. They treated me the way mother cats treat an abandoned puppy – they know it’s from the opposite camp, but somehow it deserves equal attention and respect due to its will to live. My opinion was fully counted, even sought as the intelligent child who gave good advice. And I’ve carried this anomaly in my business blueprint ever since. As one of my guy BFFs say, “born tough, raised though.”

And here we have the point – knowledge itself isn’t enough, we need acceptance into the realm, not only as support, but as pack members. This is why although there are so many more women in college than men (knowledge), the acceptance really dwindles past middle management (senior acceptance).  All in all, it takes strong mentorship and a solid network to succeed for any professional of any gender. That is fact. And it is double fact for women. So here are my suggestions for girls, professional women and women business owners:

Girls:
·         It’s quite alright to go play in the mud and climb the tree. And run track. And be a black belt.
·         It’s equally okay to be cute and wear pink and have a Barbie doll. Just know when to flip the switch.
·         You need to read the newspapers from the time you can read, and stun them at show and tell.
·         Have intellectual conversations with teachers who would pay you attention. It helps your knowledge build, and increases confidence with authority figures.

Professional Women:

If you have chosen to climb the corporate ladder and become one of the first female CEO in your field, you will need:

·         College degrees with a strong GPA: Bachelor’s and MBA’s a must. Other post-graduate degrees preferred.
·         Continued professional development: CPA, PMP, CFA designation etc.
·         Early membership into specific professional associations: The CFA Institute, PMI etc. Try to do this from as early as freshman year in college.
·         Two mentors. Preferably a senior female mentor in your professional field, and a male personal life coach (it was my preference in the corporate world).
·         After hours in the office is a must; not every day, but on days when senior management stays late as well. Then you have presence for informal discussions and rapport building.

Business Owners:

If you, intrepid female, have decided to go the entrepreneurial path, you will need:

·         A strong Board. It is advisable to have a split responsibility at the Board level, meaning, a general Board of Directors, accompanied by an Advisory Board. On this Advisory Board, ensure that you have diverse gender expertise.
·         Cash Flow: This is an issue. Women are more susceptible to be taken for a ride in terms of 1. Being introduced to strong funding avenues. 2. having clients honor contract payments. I’ve seen it over and over again. A strong banker, accountant and business lawyer are a must.
·         A network from heaven:
o   It is no surprise that women business owners like to do business with other women-owned businesses, and why not? We are able to build our own women-speak and there is a higher degree of trust.
o   Still, it is important to network with traditional institutions and learn the language. Become familiar with traditional Chambers of Commerce and social clubs that really understand the constructs of our current business systems.

It’s a man’s world in terms of building and operating the system of laws, constructs, businesses, and almost every other process that exist. And, since it takes two to tango, I would dare to say that women throughout history have agreed to have the system take shape as such. How wonderful it is to be able to trust that chosen gender roles and responsibilities can be fostered for the betterment of a community and society.  However, when that trust is broken on a continued systematic level, how does a woman still operate in a man’s world? We missed the memo for a few centuries well, and there is still a lot to figure out. Now, should it be a woman’s world? Many argue that there would be more peace and progress. I don’t necessarily think so. Any form of bias causes imbalance. The more each gender can equally focus on the ideas, the problems and the solutions that can bring this world to sustainable progress, the more we can regain that lost balance.

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Originally published in LinkedIn Pulse