There is a painful and difficult premise behind my message to women in business. But it is nonetheless one we must all face. We must begin with the idea that it’s not going to be fair.
If you refuse to accept this premise and are out to change the world and bring about equality, that’s terrific. I wish you well. Those of us fortunate enough to have been raised in democracies gravitate to the ideal of equity and fairness. And we should. But we must also come to terms with the realities of our circumstances and ourselves. Once we accept this and resolve to turn perceived disadvantages to advantages, we’ll save ourselves a lot of frustration.
Here’s a real life illustration of the fairness fairy tale:
I was speaking to a women’s group about how we can and should leverage each of our uniquely feminine competitive advantages when a partner at a a law firm raised a question that was on the minds of many. This woman, let’s call her Mary, works very hard. She’s clearly passionate, talented and exceptional. But she isn’t able to keep up with the men in her office and it’s gnawing at her every day. She looked burdened when of them men with whom she works came into the talk, and that heaviness continued to be palpable.
She has small children and a husband who works. Her two male partners in the firm also have children — and stay-at-home wives. As the primary caretaker in her household, she says she can’t keep up with her partners. Mary is plagued daily with the reality that she’s falling behind. Looking beyond business, that makes me think of the Guardian piece that presented research on the accumulation of small, inherent biases against women in science that hinder their advancements. It says:
Biologists work long hours, and the desire to have a decent work/life balance may drive many women out of the profession of their own accord. The life sciences career path is rife with short-term contracts, which also don’t help those wanting to start a family. Meanwhile, a study published in 2010 showed that women scientists shoulder on average approximately twice as many household chores as their male partners, and also bore more childcare responsibilities.
This is just one area where fairness doesn’t exist for women. Other areas include salary (read: the gender pay gap), and a constant need to be in tune to so many factors relating to how we presend and conduct ourselves, how we ask for what we want and negotiate, etc. The list goes on and on. But when it comes to the issue of time and hours worked, what are savvy women to do?
Stop measuring productivity in hours
We all have the same number of hours in the day, but women (and men), with significant family commitments often can’t dedicate the same amount of hours to working as those who do not have them. If you want to spend time with your family or at leisure, or just not working, you have to stop thinking in terms of hours. Find other – smarter – ways to measure your value.
The length of a workday is not a measure of effectiveness. I’ve worked with many people who stayed attached to their desk chairs for very long periods of time, but that didn’t mean they produced. We all need to do what we need to do to get the job done, but if a key metric for you is hours worked, I challenge you to pick your head up from your workspace and really think that through.
Instead, shift the focus to what gives you a competitive edge. In talking with Mary, I learned that she has some subject matter expertise that the men she works with don’t have. And, importantly, she’s able to earn the trust of prospects and clients and relate to them on a deeper level than the men might be able to.
What are your competitive advantages? Let’s say you’re a brilliant collaborator, but if you work in an organization that doesn’t value collaboration, your competitive advantage is wasted. Don’t waste your advantages, don’t undermine them, and don’t forget to make sure that the decision makers you work with understand the specific and unique value you bring.
You have differentiators, some of which may be based on your communication style, sensitivity to the needs of others, a strong gut instinct, collaboration, and more. Are you in a position where you can leverage them?
Heads down, plugging away, day after day, night after night, will get us more long hours. But on its own, it won’t get us ahead.
You don’t need to accept my premise that fairness is a fairy tale. You can reject it, or you can work to change it. We all have different purposes and objectives. But if you want to get ahead in the corporate world or build a successful organization, I recommend that you think strategically about how you can turn perceived disadvantages to your advantage by bending the rules. Business is a game. There are winners and losers. And if you try to force yourself to play by rules that have set you up for failure, don’t be surprised when you come up very short.
Becky Sheetz is a speaker, trainer and martial arts master. She helps women master their competitive advantages and conquer their limitations with the world’s greatest strategist, Sun Tzu. Becky’s keynotes and corporate trainings are highly regarded for transforming the way women approach and live out their careers!
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