Women’s contribution in the real world of business
Mother’s Day. A day of gifts of slippers and scarves and flowers and chocolates. Cards of thanks, lunch with the family, and a celebration of all things ‘mum’.
Social media groans under the weight of shiny selfie posts and family portraits with mum and grandma front and centre. Zoom out. Of the nearly 3.2 billion women on earth, how many are involved with this set of traditions? Not that many. Most are continuing day after day with the back-breaking work of fetching water from the well, caring for the young, the old, the sick and the desperate, and trying to make ends meet in tough circumstances.
While the challenges for first and third world women are different, most women have one thing in common; they are primarily responsible for keeping things going in their family and community while trying to be equal participants in the world of work. Millions are involved in business (micro business, small business and some in big business) but very few women’s voices are heard whether in the decision-making meetings of the village sanitation projects or in the corporate boardroom.
The struggle continues, as women try to find their place in a world dominated by the male way of doing business and trying to be heard where they are ignored. We have a great deal to contribute, and we need to find the space to make that contribution.
Back to the concept of Mother’s Day: this celebration of mums has its problems. Firstly, women don’t want to only be recognised for their contribution on one day of the year, nice as that day might be. Secondly, many women have such high expectations about the kind of acknowledgement they will receive that they are secretly disappointed whatever form it takes, and thirdly women who are not mums, whether they want to be or not, are left out of the celebration of their contribution. If this is a problem in the home, how much more so is it, in the world of business? Women’s contribution might be recognised in the occasional Women’s Awards or speaker gigs, but in general, women in business have neither the voice nor reap the benefit in the way that most men do.
But here’s the thing, we all know a few amazing women who bring their womanhood to work complete with all the qualities that most women have. Their businesses are run with kind regard for everyone they are in contact with. They consider the impact of their business actions on the world, those around them, and themselves. They work towards triple wins in all their decisions and actions. These are the women who work in business for good, whether they run their own businesses or work in an organisation. They don’t wait to be celebrated by anyone else, and they don’t try to emulate male leaders. They bring with them their authenticity, their regard for all people, and their belief that small tweaks make a big impact. These are the women I admire in business, the women who are leading the way towards collaborative, cooperative business practices and processes that create wins for all.
As women in business we have a binary choice: Go back to playing the game the way most businesses play the game (for self-gain) or choosing to use the best of the qualities that women naturally bring to work, including contextualising, collaboration and choosing your legacy. We have so much to contribute to great business practice, not least of all purpose-led business thinking, or doing good work through business (you can read more about ‘the new cool’ in Afdhel Aziz and Bobby Jones’ book, Good is the New Cool, where they argue that this, in fact, will take over from selling and marketing as we know it).
Here are three checkpoints for every decision and action as a woman in business:
1. Collaborate wherever possible.
The whole is usually much better than the sum of the parts but be sure it’s between the right people at the right time. It is not a cure-all.
2. Contextualise every decision and action.
Make sure that you are creating the best for you, those around you and the world, in the context of what will work best. Women are credited with being great at context, so honour that.
3. Choose a great legacy.
Whatever you do has impact. Whether good impact or bad impact, it will be your legacy. You don’t have to wait for others to acknowledge what you’ve done, do what is right and your legacy will be great. Remember, good is the new cool.
Every woman in business can be part of the worldwide movement towards better business using qualities that come naturally to us as women. The children of the world will thank us.