Ever since a certain assertive female decided she wanted to eat from
a certain forbidden tree, influential women have been loved, hated,
glorified, vilified, and misunderstood.
Our modern time is no
Yes, we've come a long way from the fifties and early sixties,
when career women were viewed as a lesser version of men, and urged
to pursue service-oriented "pink jobs," such as nursing and
teaching. However, today our ranks in the corporate workforce still
thin out above midlevel. Today, women comprise less than 3 percent
of senior executives in Fortune 500 companies. So, whether we are
boomers, Generation X, or Gen Y, we're still not where we want to
Do you know this woman? She could be in your office, she could be a
friend, or she could be you. She doesn't lack talent or work ethic,
but her life and career aren't on track. It can be hard for her to
strike the right tone in the office. If she's too nice, she's viewed
as weak and not up to the job. If she's too assertive, she's
criticized for being severe. She seems to work harder than the
men—for less rewards. She's suffering from an ailment that mainly
affects women that I've dubbed "Female Behavior Confusion Disorder."
So what's a woman to do? Well, for one, we have to stop trying to
act like men in the workplace. Strong brands—products or people—are
always built on authenticity. Don't fight your nature. Instead,
build on your innately female strengths and inclinations.
Research in gender studies points to key aptitudes that can propel
career success for women —what I call "The Top 5 Female Aptitudes
for Branding and Business Success." Not all women have these
qualities, and many men have these qualities as well. However, these
are areas in which women tend to be stronger. You can use these five
aptitudes to help you in the workplace.
Aptitude # 1: Social Perception. Women are wired for empathy,
the ability to read and identify the emotions and feelings of others
through a sense of similarity—to walk in their shoes, as it were.
MRI studies show that most women use both hemispheres of the brain
to process emotional messages, while most men use only one
hemisphere, giving women an advantage in picking up subtle
non-verbal clues. Many women are also strong in intuition—it's
called women's intuition for a reason.
How to use it in the workplace. Intuition can give you another
source of information beyond rational analysis. Pay attention to
what's going on behind the scenes. In meetings, for example, if
something feels incomplete or not talked about, act on your hunch
and initiate a follow-up, clarifying phone conversation. Empathy can
be particularly helpful in business during tough economic times.
Work on listening to others and asking questions. When people feel
listened to and understood, they will pay you back by liking you and
supporting you in return.
Aptitude # 2: People Power. A lot has been written about the
fact that women have the social gene, and it's something that starts
early. In one study, even one-day old baby girls were more
fascinated by faces (or organic things) and boys more fascinated by
inorganic things, such as mobiles. Playground studies of boys and
girls point to interesting differences in how boys and girls play
and relate with each other. Girls tend to pair off and play together
one-on-one or with a small group. Boys tend to play with one group
and then move to another larger group.
How to use it in the workplace. Women are born to network and make
strong emotional connections. Use your social skills to build as
many professional alliances as possible. Leverage your "social gene"
to get well-known around the office. Be a mediator and an
influencer. In terms of your personal career goals, you can use your
strong people skills to land new opportunities and positions in your
company—and get noticed, recognized, and rewarded.
Aptitude #3: Communication Agility. The female verbal edge is
strong across the board. Girls, on average, start talking a month
earlier than boys. Girls use a larger vocabulary at an earlier age,
are better spellers and readers, score better on verbal memory or
recall of words are markedly stronger writers. Women generally have
better listening skills.
How to use it in the workplace. Use your wordsmith mastery to
develop a virtual identity for yourself and for your company: blogs,
websites, wikis, online newsletters, and so on. Solicit feedback
early and often at work, and find mentors with whom you can discuss
your ideas and development. Be an idea bridger and a meetings
facilitator. Become known as someone who can grasp—and
restate—others' points of view. Get practice as a presenter, and use
your communications agility as a valuable business tool for
promoting your great ideas and accomplishments.
Aptitude # 4: Vibrant Visual Identity. Brand managers use
product design and packaging to develop a strong visual identity for
their brands, and women have more tools available to them than men
do for creating a strong visual identity in the workplace. While men
wear a relatively boring uniform to work, women have a variety of
"imaging tools" in clothes, colors, accessories, hairstyles,
jewelry, and make-up.
How to use it in the workplace. Michelle Obama is the poster girl
for what a powerful tool visual identity can be. She has a casual,
American elegance, yet her clothes convey subliminal messages too.
Her striding self-confidence, fit body, and clean American designs
with bold colors result in inspirational magic. She favors immigrant
American designers, a choice that reinforces the President's
political message. You can do the same. If you don't have the body
of a fashion model, then do something wonderful with your hair and
clothing. Work on your posture and gait. Think about what your
visual image conveys, and find visual "props" that add originality
and a confident, powerful statement.
Aptitude # 5: Leadership that Includes and Empowers. One
study of male and female group dynamics involved groups of
pre-pubescent boys and girls, segregated by gender and given tasks
to accomplish cooperatively. The girls used their social skills and
worked together and formed a kind of committee. The girls all took
part in discussions about how to accomplish the task, while the boys
jostled about and picked a leader, who then directed the group on
how to get the job done. Both had positive outcomes, but each gender
used very different models. Women's inclusive, collaborative style
of leadership is increasingly valuable in today's complex and
interconnected global business environment.
How to use it in the workplace. Recent episodes of Celebrity
Apprentice pitted women against the men—and displayed how their
unique group dynamics gave the women a decided advantage. In the
real workplace we can see the effect of these different leadership
tendencies, too. Men tend to have a more directive management style,
and women tend to have a collaborative style with shared decision
making. Leverage your more inclusive leadership style so you can
lead in a way that doesn't seek to have power over people, but
empowers others instead. Consult others on important decisions.
Create teams and a "personal board of directors" who can advise
you—and be sure to include men too. Conduct brainstorming sessions.
Give public credit to people when they contribute. Such a leadership
style will result in loyal, committed, hardworking colleagues and
employees and will give you a distinct advantage and reputation as a
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Catherine Kaputa is a writer, speaker, and the founder of SelfBrand
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