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How to get ahead as women in business - best strategies revealed
16 January 2019
How many attempts have you made to ‘get ahead’ and be taken seriously and been told to drop your ‘girly’ ways and ‘man up’ if you want to succeed? It’s a Catch 22, similar to the issue of what to wear when you go out: is a short dress an invitation to sexual harassment? (Shouldn’t the question really be: what made that guy feel they had the right, were entitled to sexually harass?)
Sadly, covering yourself up to make the ‘right’ impression still goes a long way in our society.
In the context of workplace progress, according to both male and female experts, adopting the body language of men – seen as the ‘right’ way to do things – enhances your chances of being heard, noticed and promoted.
Of course, sticking to the old ways is only going to further solidify the traditional assumption: male = ‘right and good’, female = ‘wrong and bad’.
Maybe, if all women adopted the characteristics of their male counterparts, we would eventually eradicate gender distinctions because we would all be acting the same, leaving men no option but to take women seriously because after all, we are the same?
However, the feminisation of the workplace does not appear to support this theory. People in power, especially if they feel threatened, make subtle changes to the goal posts leaving their perceived opposition high and dry, chasing ever-changing codes of behaviour to get ahead.
Dropping the conspiracy theory for a moment, there’s one way forward for women: the online, gender anonymity route. Another might be the bold and difficult strategy of cultivating a truly authentic self - warts and all. Or maybe you learn to moderate and modify the gender signifiers, making yourself acceptable and changing the structures from the inside once you’ve arrived?
How to get ahead
Depending where you fall on the binary spectrum and your level of feminist commitment, here are some characteristics you can think about including in your behaviour repertoire or watch out for and eradicate through moderation.
Don’t. As a sign of appeasement, smiling too much makes you appear subordinate and trivial. (There is something to be said here for using the smile as a weapon of insubordination to trivialise what your opponent(s) has to say.)
Don’t. Tilts and too many nods also indicate subordination (think junior politicians nodding frantically behind their leaders), although the tilt can be used to look quizzical, which can unnerve an opponent.
Maintain the gaze
Do. However, do not maintain it to the point of intimidation or worse, intimacy. The general consensus on length is two seconds.
Do stand, sit and walk tall and squared – anchored to the ground by both feet. Sitting cross-legged is bad for your back and gives the impression of being off-balance.
NLP and body language experts can train you on these and the many other tell-tale signs you might exhibit at work and under stress that undermine your attempts to be taken seriously.
The best place to start
One of the really beneficial things to understand when preparing to get ahead is to start. A plan and a strategy help. Get some tips on how to present or get a coach and prepare. Here are some simple effective Laws of Power from author Robert Greene. Many are based on the findings in Machiavelli’s The Prince, a sixteenth century political treatise that’s given its author an unduly bad name.
Make the role and the work yours – never step into someone else’s shadow
The end justifies the means, so plan for the end
Develop your personal brand and market it
Hold your tongue, still waters can appear to run deep and they are intimidating
If you want help, appeal to the self-interest of others. For you to win, let them think they have won.
There are other ways forward. For example: building relationships and fostering diversity of thought and action in teams are both proving themselves to be of great benefit to business and society. A genuine appreciation of the attachment styles people exhibit at work can help manage diverse teams, successfully.
Attachment theory has been described as “an innate psychological system that accounts for why and how people seek support from others” (Attachment theory at work: A review and directions for future research by J Yip.)
Very simply, there are four attachment styles: secure; dismissive/avoidant; preoccupied/anxious; disorganised fearful. You will have a predominant style and so will each of the people with who you work, including managers, leaders, etc. The point is: each person’s attachment style brings with it certain behavioural traits. One of the ways to get ahead is to determine what traits are at play and manage them in people. Don’t forget to acknowledge your own style and manage your own traits in relation to those who are in charge of your wellbeing at work.
Believe it or not, but leaders are not always from the secure style. In fact you may come across your fair share of dismissive/avoidant styles, popular in business because this style of leader is seen as a results getter. As the tag indicates a person of this style puts achievement ahead of relationships, has high expectations of others but does not supply the supportive environment in which to meet them.
So what do you do if you are dealing with a manager similar to this? Be cool around them, present data and facts in an organised way. Quell your feelings, because high emotion/anxiety will trigger them.
Over the break we had a look at entrepreneur and founder of The Remarkables Group Lorraine Murphy’s new book: Get Remarkably Organised (Hachette Australia, 2018, RRP $29.99).
The secret to success, Lorraine believes, is get organised, declutter your life, set goals, form and keep positive work life habits – foster routines. She has her own take on all this and provides pointers for the reader to follow at the end of each chapter. She also speaks to other successful entrepreneurs about what works for them.
Lorraine (below centre with the Obermeder sisters) says you can feel the benefits of tiny, repeated actions done daily. They put you in control, motivate you and help you feel calmer.