‘Step up’, ‘sit at the table’, ‘lean in’. But what does all that mean in terms of practical steps? We’ve heard the soundbite responses to the obstacles encountered by women at work, in society and in our own feelings about self-worth.
We know that attitudes and behaviour need to shift in so many areas. There’s an expectation gap between men and women about salaries and promotion. The often-quoted study about women’s lower self-worth (the job advert posting the salary at 50K getting hardly any female applicants whereas the same job advertised at 30K had a huge response from women) is so well-known because it’s so clear.
We know that the thorny issue of gender roles has roots everywhere: little children watching TV unconsciously absorb that 50% of the boy characters solve their own problems as opposed to 35% of the female characters.
We know that for adolescent girls, being popular and liked is usually more important than it is for adolescent boys.
We know that gender stereotyping can limit girls’ career choices – and that applications from girls to study car mechanics shot up when Kylie Minogue’s character first wielded a spanner in Neighbours.
We know that even when women big up their achievements at work, employing the same strategies as men to get ahead, they may still be overlooked because the problem lies not in their approach but in the reactions and evaluations of the organisation that employs them.
But we know a lot of other stuff too: that for many people job satisfaction is just as important as climbing the greasy pole; that being liked is no bad thing; that we may have different priorities from men and from each other. And that’s all good.
What we all need to do is start from wherever we are and move on into the jungle one step at a time.
At MEDIA SKILLS FOR WOMEN, we come across one very big issue in different guises. Time and again we coach women whose diffidence and self-doubt is holding them back from unlocking their full potential either as speakers or as people who are going to have to handle media interviews. We’ve worked with women who feel inadequate as speakers because they feel they need to emulate someone else’s style; often they feel that in order to be a good speaker, they have to speak like a man.
We’ve worked with women who are about go on BBC’s Question Time because they are senior or hugely expert in their field and yet believe they’re not good enough, that they’re going to mess up.
A woman’s first step therefore is often to acknowledge some lack of confidence. A large part of our work is to assure women that their own voice, their own style and their own message is more than good enough. That’s what we work on.
In the conquering of unhelpful levels of diffidence, however, we in no way encourage women to emulate the worst bits of (stereotypically) male ‘confidence’: winging it, bullshitting, flying on empty. That is self-evidently not confidence at all but bluster – no good to anyone. We don’t want women to fall from the frying pan into the fire: an impenetrable, rock-hard swagger is not what we’re after for our clients. We’re looking for the real deal and that involves painstaking preparation, ruthless editing, crystalline clarity.
Let’s remember, men have it quite tough too – particularly young men – because of the fear they might lose face if they admit to vulnerability or insecurity. Women find it easier to say they’re unsure about something or to ask for help, and that can be a strength.
In the same way, we feel it’s important that women who are working in politics of any kind, as councillors or MPs, don’t fall from one kind of ghettoisation into another: becoming spokespeople solely on ‘women’s issues’, whether that be workplace discrimination, FGM or sexual violence. The last thing we need is to narrow ourselves right back down again. Issues of gender affect us all. Isn’t that the whole point?
Article first published on: Progressive Women
Authors: Rosalind Adler and Lea Sellers from Media Skills for Women. Media Skills for Women’s training encourages women to examine – and maybe shift – their attitudes to themselves. It is aimed at helping you to exploit your own talent and potential and be the best you can – not just for your own sake but because no one wants to be stepping into a jungle. This is what they say: ‘We want to be creating and entering a world – all of us surely? – where the talents of everyone, regardless of gender, are fully realised and fully employed. That’s how we’ll change the planet, after all’. You can follow Rosalind and Lee on Twitter @speaking_women