My new workplace is a breath of fresh air to me, having worked in some unbelievably toxic environments previously. Recently, I've been lucky enough to attend a lot of "women in business" type events (with plenty more booked in to the calendar to boot). These breakfasts, conferences etc etc have been nothing short of inspiring. A woman who became CEO of a fast-growing mining company in her mid-30s (when previously she only dreamed of being a partner in an accounting firm); a woman who defied the odds (and her complete lack of experience) to climb the corporate ladder in one of the largest mining companies in the world; a professional board member (rather daunting here in Australia, where 54% of ASX-listed companies have no women on their boards whatsoever, and only 8.4% of board directorships are held by women).
And then I met the crown in the jewel of inspiring women (if there were such a jewel). Ita Buttrose.
Articulate, witty, charming, elegant, progressive in her thinking and, if the ABC's depiction of her in Paper Giants is to be believed, a real advocate for women in whatever avenue of life that woman pursues (and non-judgmental about the choices women make). She by far was most inspiring to me: she is feminine, firm, principled and completely calm and rational. She's not out to prove anything, yet she realises women still need encouraging, and have an uphill battle should women really want to be embraced at the highest levels of corporate Australia. As she said: "When women tell me they've never experienced the glass ceiling and that they don't believe it exists, I know that they haven't climbed the ladder high enough." Brutally honest, but certainly honest.
Watching Paper Giants and meeting Ita gave me pause to think about the type of woman I am in the workplace. In it, Ita balances real care for her staff and colleagues with her outstanding talent as both a creative and a manager of people. She looks out for all the women around her, and is obviously an inspiration to those around her - men and women alike. She doesn't put up with shit, and she stands up for injustices where she sees them.
When I think about my persona in the workplace, I definitely see areas for improvement. Although admittedly, the times I'm probably at my worst (and I've learnt to manage it pretty effectively) is when I'm confronted with one of those "women are their own worst enemy" type women. On a bad day, I positively itch to return fire. On normal days, I try to embrace what I saw in Ita: a sense of calm and belief in that if you have the ability, the rest will come. Admittedly this isn't true for every organisation, but I think one benefit of an economic downturn is that merit trumps whatever other motivators when times get tough.
While some may argue that the women in the workplace issue has been shelved, I don't believe that's true. We still see low levels of participation in higher levels of the private sector in Australia, and there is still a culture of women being torn down for nothing less than how she looks or dresses. Think Gina Rhinehart, Julia Gillard and her empty fruitbowl, and the make-up-less face of Hillary Clinton. The horror.
What type of woman in the workplace are you, and what inspires you? Do you try to make it by being one of the boys? Do you meekly accept your "place" in life? Are you a girl or a woman?
Dr Lois Kendell poses this in her book Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office:
If you work nonstop without a break...worry about offending others and back down too easily...explain too much when asked for information... or "poll" your friends and colleagues before making a decision, chances are you have been bypassed for promotions and ignored when you expressed your ideas. Although you may not be aware of it, girlish behaviors such as these are sabotaging your career.
In addition to Ita, these are some of my most-loved businesswomen:
My beloved VB is not only a design star with true street cred, she has also recently made her editorial debut with Glamour magazine in the UK. She balances all this with being a wife, mum to 4 kids and one of the best dressed women in the world. (Admittedly, I'm sure she has lots of hired help. Wouldn't you?) Not only that, she came from fairly humble beginnings, before that unabashed ambition saw her climb the heights from Posh Spice to WAG to celeb in her own right.
Oprah does her thing - but only does that which she loves. An awesome credo to live by. Well-known for her generosity to staff and all those around her. A true inspiration for banging through not only gender barriers, but race barriers. Super. Star.
Tyra Banks - created a much-copied career following the end of her modelling career. My favourite Tyra quote: Never dull your shine for somebody else. There's a lot of wisdom in that, if only you think about it.
Hillary. Big on dignity, bigger on brains. I love this woman for her grim determination, and ability to play nice with the world's media following a most humiliating debacle with her husband, and later again with Obama despite suffering a devastating defeat at his popular hands. She is rad. That is all.
Without a doubt there are plenty more women out there who inspire me. Unfortunately it's late, so I'm going to leave it at that. But in conclusion, I think we women should be kinder and more supportive to other women. If one woman doesn't appreciate, welcome or accept your efforts, I can tell you there will be another woman out there who will appreciate it mightily. And this goes for your friends' successes as well - there should be no room for jealousy, spite or that less-than-glamourous feeling of Schadenfreude (can't spell it!) amongst friends. Sure there are men and women on all teams, but as you climb the ranks, you'll see there are fewer women who've got your back. I think we should all aim to change that. Men and women.