You may or may not be familiar with these words from a song in the musical My Fair Lady. In this light-hearted musical, the character Professor Henry Higgins comes across as a bit of a sexist chappie to say the least, but of course our heroine Eliza Doolittle eventually triumphs by transforming from cockney flower girl to an elegant well-spoken lady. Aaah sweet!
I want to ask you – if you are a Manager, Head of Department, or CEO – have you made adjustments to your appearance or your strategies in order to appear more ‘male-like’ as a boss? Maybe you know a woman at work, or have a friend who seems to abandon her natural persona when exercising authority at work possibly harbouring the albeit subconscious belief that male bosses are more comfortable, even suitable in these positions due to increased confidence and drive acquired through upbringing and genetics.
Being the eternal rebel, I have always wondered why some women in positions of authority wear a tailored suit, topped by a short ‘sensible’ haircut. Obviously any boss needs to look reasonably smart, but I suggest this should still reflect their true personality. Of course never let it be said that I advocate our outward look as the key to empowerment. But do women bosses perhaps feel that their usual characteristics – how they speak; how sociable or friendly they are must be put aside in order to appear more authoritative? Of course some women may be naturally more ‘school mistress’ in their approach, but if they have felt obliged to take on this image in order to be taken seriously, then I would like to offer an alternative view.
Let me confess to a sneaky morsel of generalisation here and that I am well aware that women bosses in all industries have achieved their goals due to a natural drive and determination that will have been part of their nature. But perhaps those who feel it necessary to change their persona at work, lack the understanding that the skills and qualities that women naturally possess may be considered more subtle, but are equally effective methods for successful management at any level.
The loudest word in my mind right now is ‘empathy’. The ability to understand the person/people a ‘boss’ may need to hire/encourage/reprimand or even fire, is a real weapon in our armoury. If we have considered what makes someone ‘tick’, what kind of language they will understand (not connected with nationality, but actual choice of words), we are more likely to achieve the desired results. This skill alone negates the need to be loud or confrontational.
I feel that most women who either reach the top of their particular career tree or are aiming to do so, can be confident that their own natural methods of communication and ‘people management’, albeit different perhaps from a male boss, will produce exactly the results needed for a successfully run business.