Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Boss
I am a 36-year-old African American female business owner in Atlanta. Some would say I fit a few stereotypes;: single, independent, mid-30s AA female, overachiever and from a single parent home. While factually I fit most of the above mentioned characteristics, as a “fempreneur,” it drives me crazy to hear the stereotypical “b-word” used to describe women in business. The term “women in business” describes the modern phenomenon of women participating in the traditionally male work roles of industrial manufacturing, finance and corporate ownership. Although it’s been proven time and time again, that women can run and manage businesses successfully, the very idea of a woman possessing feminine traits, being in a traditionally male workplace still raises eyebrows, yes even in 2012.
I have a social network of successful businesswomen around me on a regular basis. My PR agency partners with another strong, successful “fempreneur,” and together we represent many successful female business owners. Our combined rosters consist of an in-demand OB-GYN, an owner of an upscale fitness center, an elite hair salon owner, a multi-million dollar marketing maven, an executive director for a national non-profit, a female Grammy-winning singer/songwriter and an iconic female pop group. As PR representation, our job consists of pitching these women or “telling their stories” for media impressions. I hear every assumption imaginable from naysayers to their actual success, to those assuming our clients have “slept their way to the top”, to those claiming they must’ve had a man behind them to the most common assumption, she must be bitchy.
Sounds archaic right? Unfortunately it’s not, and arguably I believe there is some validity to the fact that many female business owners may appear overly aggressive and quick-tempered. I think it would be reasonable to state that on a whole, women are more emotional than our male counterparts. Jokes have been made for years on the reasons why a woman isn’t running the country. Punch lines include references to “that time of the month” to the assumption that a woman would be emotional when dealing with rational issues, therefore rendering her unprofessional. While I don’t ascribe to this belief, I cringed upon seeing Hilary Clinton dissolve into tears after a particularly trying debate. I cringed, but immediately I understood. Yes she is powerful. Yes she is intelligent. Yes, she is competent, qualified even, but she is undeniably a woman.
Perhaps I was sensitive to Hilary’s predicament, because a few weeks earlier after a heated debate with a client’s manager, I left the meeting and broke down in tears as soon as I reached my car. Why? He challenged my ability to handle a situation, insulting my pride which in turn simply hurt my feelings. I don’t believe my situation or Ms. Clinton’s were isolated. Many competent successful women entering the workplace have discovered their emotional nature put them at a disadvantage in the workplace. As a result many of us strive to overcompensate for our emotional vulnerability but putting up a wall of defense.
To put up a defense is defined as the action of defending from or resisting attack. Have you ever witnessed an animal when resisting attack? It could certainly be described as aggressive and short-tempered, perhaps even referred to as that dreaded “b-word” I mentioned earlier. Of course I am being a bit comical; however there is some truth to the analogy. Many women feel that in order to even the playing field, ward off un-wanted sexual advances, be taken seriously and most importantly in order to be considered competitive in a male-driven business culture, they have to go above and beyond; be on the defense.
Through trial and error, I’ve learned that putting up a defense isn’t the most effective way to conduct myself in a male-dominated business world. I believe there are certain qualities I have as a woman that actually give me a competitive edge over a man. I have the ability to multi-task and am empathetic to other’s situations. I am a nurturer by nature and can often inspire others to reach a higher level of productivity. To be fair, I will admit there are also innate traits that put me at a disadvantage, however it’s my choice to find ways to balance out those weaknesses just as I would with any challenge that was not gender oriented. I have a tendency to take things personally and often find my emotions mixed up with my professional opinion on a task at hand. Instead of allowing that reality to make me bitter or defensive, I have learned to control my emotions and focus on ethics and professionalism without allowing those variables to take me out of my feminine character.
I don’t deny that this is often a challenging task; neither do I mean to suggest that all women in business find themselves dealing with this exact dynamic. What I am comfortable implying is that there is a distinct stereotype concerning women in business, and there are many hidden reasons for the misconception. I believe there are many, young women especially, struggling to a comfortable balance in a male-dominated industry. I don’t claim to have the answers, but from personal experience I can suggest taking a moment to re-evaluate every decision you make and putting effort into not making rash decisions. Rash decisions are notorious for being based in emotion rather than ration. I also think it’s important to let young women business owners know they don’t have to compromise themselves or deny their femininity in order to be successful. In this instance, the popular movie title “Act like a lady, think like a man” doesn’t apply, instead focus on “Acting like a lady and acting like a boss.”