Highlighting the Usual Suspects? How does Your Firm Choose People for Awards?

female talentI was recently sent a great piece on the value of looking beyond the ‘usual suspects’ in the Top 100 Rising Stars of the Legal world in The Lawyer from a proactive subscriber to our Female breadwinners monthly report. When I got the article, I had just come off the phone from a corporate client who wanted to ensure we target all women in our efforts for gender balance, not just the rising stars who are readily visible. I agreed, but it seems according to this article that even getting some firms to realise there are women amongst their top talent is a challenge in itself!

The team at The Lawyer responsible for compiling the list, which comes complete with video interviews with each high-flyer, explained their pride in making the list gender balanced amongst the Top 100, but also the challenges on how people were nominated. They wrote: “Even better, we’ve got 46 women this year. And here’s the thing: not one of them put themselves forward. When lawyers blithely talk of meritocracy when it comes to gender in the law, consider this: One household name firm nominated five lawyers. All were men. We ignored their submissions, by the way, and went with our own research; the female lawyer we picked is outstanding in every way. When we mentioned her name to senior people within the firm they collectively clapped their hands on their foreheads and agreed: yes, she was indeed a superstar, both in client work and in mentoring younger members of the team. And yet, this firm at no point realised that it had ignored an entire gender in submitting its nominations. The fact that we got to 46 women in the Hot 100 isn’t because we had institutional help. We went out there and found them. What does that tell you about the invisible barriers senior women face in the workplace?” Very well observed.

It seems we still have some way to go in getting senior management to recognise the potential female stars in their midst, particularly when putting people up for visible awards and accolades. When thinking through nominations for industry or internal awards make sure you advocate for other women. It’s also dismaying not a single woman nominated herself, which indicates we clearly need to become more comfortable with self promotion! Finally, think through who else you could nominate when these awards pop up in your inbox. Nothing builds a relationship faster than publicly declaring an admiration for the work of someone else!

More Female Scots needed for Life Changing Saltire Fellowship

Last year I took part on a life changing Saltire Fellowship, a period of 4 months where I worked and learned from world-class entrepreneurs in Boston, Massachusetts. It was completely life-changing for me. My daily interaction with inspirational business leaders helped me create far bigger goals for my business, as well as develop my skills as a truly 21st century leader. The fellowship served as an almost ‘Experiential MBA’ and in the most supportive environment possible. The Fellowship helped me see opportunities – both professional and personal, that I’d never even noticed before.

The programme is particularly keen to attract women, and I would recommend it for any woman who loves Scotland as is serious about taking her career to the next level. The deadline for applications is fast approaching  – March 15, and even if you are unsure if it is 100% sure for you, consider applying – and then making your mind up, just as I did. Like every smart woman knows: Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Click here for more information.

Are Professional Women Being Penalised When Working from Home?

professional women working from homeFor all the talk of a future filled with remote working, managers and employees need to understand our inherent biases against this model, and how we can overcome them. Companies still reward presenteeism. In research published in MIT Sloan Management Review,  Daniel Cable found telecommuters are less likely to be promoted. In one experiment subjects were asked to judge scenarios in which the only difference was whether the employee was at his office desk or at home. Managers rated those at the office to be more dependable and industrious, regardless of the quality of their work.

Visibility creates the illusion of value – even at firms that explicitly encourage staff to work from home. Mr Cable studied attitudes at Californian tech firms. Many asked employees not to come to the office too often; yet bosses unconsciously penalised those who obeyed.

As discussed in an article in The Economist: “Remote workers understand this. Many barrage their bosses with progress reports to prove they are on the job. A fifth of the workers in the study admitted to leaving a canny e-mail or voicemail early or late in the day. Still, many are not as smart as they think. Some choose a Monday or Friday to work at home. That, says Mr Cable, makes others think they are keen to extend the weekend. A culture of presenteeism hurts working mothers most. Many professional women (and some men) work from home to allow themselves the flexibility to pick up kids from school. That need not mean they produce less; only that they do it at a time and a place of their own choosing. Some firms, such as Best Buy, an electronics retailer, recognise this and try hard to evaluate staff solely on performance.”

The stigma of working from home will only reduce when more people engage in the practice, – including senior management.  As one female coaching client with whom I work explained: “My boss used to be very down on working from home – grumbling it was for working mums; until he had minor surgery on his knee. He told me that after his surgery he would be taking calls and responding to emails from home for a week. I asked: ‘Oh, you mean you are going to be flexible-working?’ to which he responded with seemingly genuine surprise ‘Yes, I guess I am!’ He’s been more positive about it recently, and I think it was only when he saw how it could benefit him did he truly understand how empowering it can be!’

Bolshy Broad or Nice Girl – What’s Your Communication Style?

In a recent webinar on using strong language in emails and verbally, we were looking at diagrams which displayed how a hedge “I’m not sure if anyone else agrees, but I think we need to look at….” could be replaced with a stronger opening such as “In my experience, we must address….” or how asking a college for a ‘chat’ was less powerful than asking them for a ‘discussion’. We explored ways to say ‘no’ while safeguarding your relationship with the person who made the request and how to participate in meetings with strength and gravitas.

During the webinar, a participant made the fantastic point that direct language would be useful with some of her male colleagues, but the indirect style she was accustomed to would still work well with her many of female colleagues and direct reports. This is indeed the case, and while the webinar focused on communications for women working in male dominated fields – those who primarily communicate with men and have to get their attention and respect fast, it very true that you must adapt your style to your intended audience.

A few days later I saw this engaging RSA Animated video that reminded me of the discussion. It features an animation of Steven Pinker’s talk which explains how the mind turns the finite building blocks of language into infinite meanings. He discusses how three types of cultural groups; dominance, commonality and reciprocity, have evolved with languages that suit each one.

While he does not discuss these styles related to gender, I would argue that men, particularly when in the workplace, have become accustomed to the ‘dominant’ style of communication whereas women, because of a shared historical second-sex status, share ‘commonality’. Women do not ‘inherently’ prefer passive language as some have suggested, but rather we have gained the most as individuals when we surreptitiously make gains from ‘a share and share alike’ mentality that informs the indirect and non-threatening way we use language.

Women have not been raised to ask for what we want directly – otherwise we face a backlash from some men and certainly many women, who are not used to hearing women speak this way. Think of the visceral reactions we have towards ‘bolshy broads’ who speak out for what they want. That’s not how ‘good girls play nice’.

Pinker makes the point that indirectness only works when the listener knows the speakers intent’ which is why when a female legal assistant hears her female Partner remark: ‘It would be great if you could get that report to me by Friday’, she knows it is due on Friday. A male legal assistant hearing those same words may think; ‘well, yes, it may be ‘great’  if it was ready for Friday, but it won’t be’. It’s a direct command; “The report must be ready for Friday at 3pm” which signals to those used to a dominant language style, that she means business. Any flexible leader, who works with men and women, should adapt their language style, directive and dominant or passive and communal to the intended audience, or risk being misinterpreted by everyone.

Find out how to make the most of your communications in the work place with our webinar “Say it Right: Verbal and E-mail Communications with Gravitas”

“Power Poses”: Use your Body to Fake it Until You Make it

I thoroughly recommend checking out the Poptech video by Dr Amy Cuddy, assistant professor at Harvard Business School, it’s great to watch during your next coffee break.

My favourite points from the video are:

1. Smile To Make Yourself Happy: We tend to think being happy leads us to smile, but actually the reverse is true as well. Smiling even when you’ve had a lousy day at work actually boosts your mood and helps you overcome that sense of malaise we all get from time to time.

2. Spread Your Legs Ladies! Cuddy discusses how she noticed that non-white men and women of all races on her MBA programmes spoke up less and took up the least amount of physical space. For example, women cross their arms and legs and fold themselves into smaller poses when speaking. She and a colleague were inspired to run an experiment forcing these students for just two minutes to ‘take up more space’ by putting their arms behind their heads, putting their feet up on a table or spreading their legs further when seated or standing. Amazingly they started contributing more to discussions and ‘owned their space’ with the confidence that imbued.

3. Ramp Up your Testosterone for Confidence: For too long we have associated testosterone only with men, but Cuddy points out that the hormone actually increases in any situation involving leadership skills and dominance. Fascinatingly there are ways we can artificially increase it to our advantage before we go into situations where we need to feel in control; like interviews, negotiations, appraisals, speeches or meetings.

4. Don’t Kill Them With Kindness: A last insightful point Cuddy makes about meeting new people is to avoid being sycophantic, as it immediately puts you in the lower position – not a great start to any discussion. I have certainly fallen foul of meeting someone I admire; smothering them with praise such as “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I’m finally meeting you…” which immediately makes me at best secondary player. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a compliment, but go for a much less saccharine “I have admired your work on …” or “It’s lovely to finally meet you, I enjoyed hearing you speak at…”    before following up on what you share in common.

We will be discussing how vital positive body language is to every day success in an upcoming webinar on April 16th, Postures for Professional Prominence: Using Positive Non-Verbal Behaviour to Persuade and Influence. I will be pairing up with Elizabeth Kuhnke author of Body Language for Dummies and Persuasion and Influence for Dummies.

 

Corporate Networking: Just Mercenary Meetings or Space for Authentic Interaction?

Walking into any networking event can be intimidating. The pressure is on to make the most of every connection, but this underlying stress can rob encounters of the one thing they need to be effective – authenticity.

I recently enjoyed Barbara Ehrenreich’s book “Bait and Switch”. The book details the demoralisation amongst modern white collar workers who, she posits, largely fall into two groups: job seekers and those who live in fear of unemployment – recognising they are just one round of lay-offs away from being expendable themselves. Posing as a unemployed white collar worker she dutifully attended networking events across America.

While not job searching myself, I recognised her astute observation about networking:  “It feels ‘fake’ because we know it involves the deflection of our own natural human sociability to an ulterior end. Normally we meet strangers in the expectation that they may be truly strange, and are drawn to the multilayered mystery that each human presents. But in networking, as in prostitution, there is no time for fascination. The networker is always…looking over the shoulder of the person she engages in conversation, toward whatever concrete advantage can be gleaned from the interaction – a tip or precious contact. The instrumentalism undermines the possibility of a group identity… white collar victims of a corporate upheaval. No matter how crowded the room, the networker prowls alone, scavenging to meet his or her individual needs.”

While that description may sound dismally mercenary, it is very apt. The key in networking is not to be the ‘shoulder overlooker’ but to set your sites on meeting just a small handful of people at an event. If you place the expectation on yourself that you must meet and exchange cards with a dozen new people, you won’t have the time to authentically engage with any of them. If there is no time for authenticity, you won’t get a good sense of who they really are and how you can help them. And realistically, people will unlikely be vested in helping you if they don’t feel truly heard and understood in the first place. Go for fewer, more authentic interactions – for your own enjoyment as well as those you meet.

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