I get asked all the time “What are the challenges for women in business?” I always find this a difficult question to address as I do not believe there is a difference; men and women have the same challenges in business. However, below are some things I have learnt as well as theories and experiences that I have found on my journey in business.
We all know of the extremely low percentage of women on Boards and in Chairman positions in the top companies in Australia, and if you start to compare Australia’s percentages with other developed countries, we rate very poorly. There are some amazing companies that have a strong balance of men and women in top positions and it is not surprising that the success of these businesses speak for themselves, but I do not think it is all the boys fault. I think there are a number of reasons for the discrepancy, for example; Government policies (i.e. some Governments in other countries insist on certain ratios of men and women on Boards). There is definitely the ‘mates board positions’ but I do think this is getting less and the value of women board members is starting to come through. There is also a number of women currently in senior roles on their way up to the top of the corporate ladder who simply do not want to be on the corporate path anymore, whether it is because of starting a family and not prepared to give up what you need to give up to make it (and you cannot kid yourself, something does have to give when you are doing those hours required to get to the top). And with these women dropping out of the rat race, it means that potentially there are fewer women to pick from.
I have never found being a woman in business a negative. In fact, more of a positive, as often the men across the table are not too sure what to do with you. We have come a long way from the early 80’s where I was told by my employer at the time in an advertising agency, that I just had to put up with the Chairman’s hand on my 18 year old arse every day. Don’t get me wrong, not all views have changed – I recently sat opposite a businessman who called me honey and sweetie and felt that he needed to ‘help’ me in business, but I love this type of man, because they are the easiest to get what you want; you play along with their “I will help you little girl” and get them to help you all the way to getting exactly what I wanted in the first place.
OK, I admit it! I like having doors opened for me and always being the first to get in and out of lifts and getting my coffee before all the other men in the room. I find it sweet, but I have never found men condescending by doing it! I do find it amusing when I am in a meeting and being the only woman and one of the boys says the “f” word, and out of everyone in the room they look to me and apologize. Little do they know what a ‘girls’ conversation is like, because if they did I am sure they would not be so embarrassed about swearing in front of me.
I love being a woman (other than during the labour process, where every time I swore I was coming back as a man in the next life) and a woman in business, because in business it is a huge advantage. I have conducted business in 13 different countries from the boys in Dubai and Kuwait to the very formal world of South Korea and being a woman has never been an issue.
A business with the skills and talents of both men and women has the chance of being a truly successful business, as the business is holistic. There is no glass ceiling, I come across women everyday who have either started their own business or leave businesses that do not cater for their career needs.