Do women have to act like men, to secure top jobs?

womanatworkThere has been a lot of media frenzy recently around why so few women dominate the Boards of organisations in the UK. Whilst there are many schools of thought as to why this might be, I can’t help but feel that a ‘Boys Club’ still exists in many big firms.

Can you handle the pressure?

Whilst coaching a client today, for a new Sales Director role, she shared some feedback from her last interview, which quite frankly astounded me!

At the end of the interview, when she asked for some guidance on how to approach a final interview with the CEO, she was told:

“You will need to come across very strongly, as we don’t have any females in such a senior level role, so he’ll need to be convinced that you can handle it!”

Seriously?! In the age of equality, do women have to take on the persona of their male counterparts, in order to even be considered for the top roles? Furthermore, most of the successful women that I know, feel that they have to work twice as hard as their male counterparts, in order to get recognized in the workplace.

Why does this happen?

I’m sure that you will have your own opinion on this topic, but some of the reasons I can think of include:

  • Concern over commitment, should a female decide to start a family.
  • A misconceived idea, that being in touch with ones emotions, equals weakness.
  • Women are different, so there is an inherent fear of an unknown leadership style.
  • Men have successfully run companies for decades – why change?
  • Some men find it difficult to relate to a female boss.

OK, so these are only a few of the reasons that spring to mind, but let’s turn our attention to a few facts:

  • Less than 15% of Board positions across the UK are manned by women (excuse the pun)!
  • In the last 6 months, 35% of new Board appointments to FTSE 250 companies have been women – no doubt an increase since the threat of a ruling that 40% of seats must be reserved for women.
  • Research has shown that joint male / female teams are often more creative than single sex teams.

Time for Change?

With the looming vote of the European Commission, on whether companies must reserve 40% of their Board seats for women, we have to ask ourselves if this is really necessary?

Going back to my earlier example of my female client, then yes, I guess in her situation, this imposed rule would help her to secure her dream role.

If she loses out to her only remaining competitor (who also happens to be male), she will assume that she has lost out because of her gender, regardless of whether she actually performed better or not!

The fact is that this should never have been raised as a concern in the first place! This would give most HR leaders sleepless nights on end!

What do I think?

My personal opinion is that a 40% ruling may render companies filling top roles with females for the sake of it, rather than hiring / promoting the best person for the job.

Having worked in many male dominated environments throughout my career, where the ‘boys club’ certainly existed but was never talked about, I became accepting, if not more hardened as a result.

I can remember once in my early career getting very emotional over losing a big sales opportunity and the upshot was that I was taken into a private room by my male Manager and told to toughen up if I wanted to succeed in business.

Am I glad I had this ‘talk’ at 22 years old (a few years out of University)? In some ways, yes I am, because the reality is that it has helped me to succeed and compete on a level with my male counterparts, in testosterone-fuelled environments.

The point to bear in mind with this example though is this; my visible emotion during my early career was wrongly interpreted by my Manager as a sign of weakness in business. The reality was that this was simply an outward expression of my real passion for what I do and the high expectations I set for myself. As women, we just have different ways of showing it!


measure_upBusinesses I believe, need to be more savvy to the benefits of employing women in leading roles, not only to act as role models for other young women, but to bring a new dimension to any leadership team.

Whether we like it or not, this topic is not going away regardless of the outcome of the upcoming European Commission vote. Business Leaders need to act now to create less male dominated work environments and put proactive succession plans and resourcing strategies in place.

Creativity and evolution in any business are key, if you want to stand out from your competition….and if women can help bring fresh ideas to the table, then so be it!

Women shouldn’t however, be forced to assume a male persona, in order to get an opportunity to share their ideas. In actual fact, this could end up stifling creativity! Whilst I benefited from this in the environments that I previously worked in, other females could be left feeling disengaged or undervalued.

Think seriously about your talent sourcing and attraction methods. Are you delivering a message that will encourage female (and male) superstars of the future to join your company? If you want to secure the best talent, to make sure your business grows and evolves, then you need to execute a carefully thought out resourcing strategy.

To arrange a free consultation, on how to pinpoint and attract more superstars to your business, then please get in touch now by using my contact details below.

I’d also love to hear your opinion on the ‘women in the boardroom’ debate, so please leave your comments below.

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