Women In Business: Why You Don’t Have To Be ‘More Like A Man’ To Get Ahead

Posted on 16 February 2012


Posted: 02/15/2012
By Kristen Houghton

“Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” sings Professor Higgins in the musical “My Fair Lady”. Charming as the song is, I can’t help but be offended. And in Higgins’ misguided opinion, women fall far short of the male animal. What would the good prof think of women today who are in major power roles in industry, education, the military and many other fields? He would be surprised, that’s for certain, because with his antiquated attitude, women would be better beings if they only thought and acted like men. Ah Henry, wake up and smell the mocha cappuccino!

We know women can be successful in their own right, but for some reason the idea that to succeed, women have to act more like men still survives despite solid facts to the contrary. Your brain, your intelligence and your talents are what matter, not your gender. Why should we have to prove that? Unfortunately we sometimes do; drive and getting ahead seem to be eternally equated with high levels of testosterone. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was insulted four years ago by a comment saying the nation needed a leader with, “Testicular fortitude.” Seriously?

Women are doing just fine without testicular fortitude; We have our own unique brand of fortitude and it is working. According to the Survey of Earned Doctorates, 2011 was the tenth year in a row in which the majority of research doctorates awarded to U.S. citizens went to women. Women now earn 57 percent of bachelor degrees and 59 percent of masters degrees. More doctorates are awarded to women than men in the humanities, social sciences, education, and life sciences and medicine. Women now serve as presidents of Harvard, MIT, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania and other leading research universities. Their position in the corporate world has increased exponentially as well.

“Women have always been dynamic no matter what field they choose to enter,” says Nancy Koehn, a historian, author, and Harvard Business School professor. “But now we are seeing the fruit of their labors so to speak because their talents in various fields are too impressive to ignore.”

Yet even in 2012, women hoping to succeed in business are cautioned to “act like a man.” No one has really explained what “acting like a man” means. If it means being aggressive in a take-no-prisoners push for success, then I have to say that this is not gender-specific. I know women as well as men who have that ability. I have seen women be just as tough as men when it comes to budgets, corporate takeovers, business dealings, military expertise, medical practices and complex financial matters. When it comes to succeeding in a chosen field, women excel. The only difference is that, besides being strong and decisive, women use positions of authority to create a supportive environment for all workers, something that can be sorely missing in male-only dominated positions of power.

But being nurturing and supportive of your coworkers is actually a good attribute for leadership. Dr. John C. Maxwell, a leadership expert, says that the qualities of a charismatic leader combines love of life, valuing the potential in other people, giving hope in troubling situations and sharing their talents and their success in a positive way that benefits all. These are seen as “female qualities” but according to Dr. Maxwell, successful male leaders like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs incorporate these qualities as well.

So if men and women seem to be pretty equal in many ways as far as intelligence, strength of convictions and the instinct to get ahead goes, is there one necessary thing women can learn from men? Yes, and it involves valuing your own talents to the point of making sure you get the salary and benefits you deserve.

Learn the art of salary negotiation. A recent article in The New Yorker revealed that only 7 percent of women negotiate their salaries up front when entering a new position compared to 57 percent of men. Ask for more than you feel you will get; that’s the art of negotiation, a give-and-take relay, something men are taught as little boys. Girls traditionally tend to be the peacemakers and will settle for less because they don’t want to be perceived as greedy. However when little girls are taught to understand their own self-worth and the art of negotiation, they can do as well as boys. It’s all in the training.

Don’t allow yourself to be “over-awed” by anyone. You’re only dealing with another human being and you know you have something valuable to offer him or her. Let them know what you’re bringing to the table in no uncertain terms. Hesitation is not an option when selling your precious product. That product is you. Sing your own praises.

You don’t have to be “more like a man” to get ahead. All you need is to be a woman of conviction and strength and have faith in your own abilities. As a female friend of mine who is a lawyer says, “Be respectful of your own talents and demand respect for yourself. No one is more powerful than a person, man or woman, who has respect for themselves. In other words, don’t take any crap!”

If you should ever doubt your skills in relation to those of your male counterparts it pays to remember the immortal words of Faith Whittlesay, who was twice U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland:
“Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did! And she did it backwards in high heels.”

We’re doing it today; we’re just wearing comfortable flats and going forward. What do you say to that Professor Higgins?

© 2012 Copyright Kristen Houghton