Nurturers, supporters, multitaskers – you might scoff at the world’s stereotypical view of women, but evidence shows it’s not far from the truth. In life and in business, women are inherently multitasking nurturers.
The question is, do these intrinsic behaviours help or hinder our success in business? Actually, they do both. Tara Lorigan, founder and CEO of Co.OfWomen, says we need to create a conscious clarity about these behaviours so we can deal with them.
“For women there’s a sense that those innate female roles don’t position us as well for business as men’s inherent roles do,” she says. “However, I believe we have a potent set of innate characteristics that when harnessed are hugely supportive of the success we aspire to.”
Sarah Paykel, director and founder of Public Relations & Communications company Sarah Paykel Ltd, and founder and former co-director of Lush Cosmetics Australasia, says intuition is one of women’s great strengths. “Using our intuition as a guide in terms of making decisions, that’s very much a female strength.
Dr Lee Mathias of Lee Mathias Ltd, and former owner and founder of Birthcare, also believes women have unique strengths that can be capitalised on. “We tend to have more emotional intelligence than our men. We are also better at reaching a compromise and getting the team to feel comfortable with that. That doesn’t mean to say we’re not competitive. We are. It is just that we win wars not battles.”
Understanding our strengths and vulnerabilities can help us create a roadmap to success. Once understood, we will be in a better position to cultivate our inherent abilities and manage areas of lesser ability.
So, what exactly is ‘the female way’? We’ve identified five key points and noteworthy characteristics.
However, I believe we have a potent set of innate characteristics that when harnessed are hugely supportive of the success we aspire to
CHIEF NURTURER AND EXPERT MULTITASKER – While men’s intrinsic drive is to protect and provide, a women’s drive is to nurture and support. That makes us good at several things, including communication and leadership. Sarah agrees. “We are nurturers by nature, and we nurture others really well,” she says. “I think in business it makes us predominantly good people managers.”However, that role is often misunderstood, says Tara. What can bean asset can also be detrimental. “I call it the mammy syndrome. Without real insight, we often take that mothering role into our business dealings and in particular the way we deal with our teams. We overdo looking after everybody else, we put ourselves last, taking on too much to lessen others’ loads. This is also a symptom of another strength: multitasking.”Lee has seen this frequently. “Mothers have particular strengths, especially relating to doing more than one thing at a time and compartmentalising each task. I have worked with men who can only think about one thing at a time.”But like our nurturing skills, a woman’s nature is to carry it too far, says Tara.“We problem-solve really well, we multitask really well, but we overdo it. We have that natural can-do thought process ‘there must be a way to solve this’, resolving problems for other people all day.”
INNATE DRIVER… TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE – Research shows male and female entrepreneurs begin businesses for different reasons. Men tend to want to be their own boss and make plenty of money. They aim for their businesses to grow as big as possible. Women often start their businesses after being made redundant or as a means of integrating family and work. An overwhelming majority of women do so because they have an intense passion for their work and want to make a difference. But passion alone is not enough.“This innate driver is a powerful thing,” says Tara, “but just passion will not get you there. You won’t get there without it either though.” The major impediment to progress however is in the area of self belief, or lack of it, she says. “We have had close to 1000 in-depth interviews with women about their aspirations and the vast majority of them aspire to create a significant business in terms of scale, but they question their ability to deliver, for no good reason.”“The result of this is that women’s businesses often grow slower at the beginning. I’m talking about 95+per cent, because there is a small percentage of A-drivers – a minority of women who become successful quite quickly.”Once we harness our innate driver, it can be a fortifying resource. However, women must learn how to merge this driver with commercial acumen.
CONFIDENCE - OR LACK OF IT – Confidence breeds success, but lack of confidence can hold women back.Unfortunately, evidence shows that women are less self-assured then men.“Women often won’t back themselves like men, who are great at talking their own book and bluffing when required,” says Sarah. “We need to rate ourselves in business and build on our confidence.”If we don’t do that, a crisis of confidence may loom.“When we have a crisis of confidence, it really is a crisis, because it can literally stop us,” says Tara. “It can take us out of the game. When things go wrong for us we question ourselves.A blame game starts to happen.‘I got it wrong.’ ‘I should get it right all the time.’”This internal attribution is debilitating.So too is perfectionism – another confidence factor – which studies show is predominantly a female trait.We often won’t submit reports until we’re certain all the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed. We won’t apply for a promotion unless we feel we are perfectly ready and perfectly qualified for it. We’ll sit back and stew about things while men take risks. Striving for perfection keeps us from getting anything done. To succeed, confidence is just as important as competence.
WORKING IN ISOLATION – For most business owners the early stage of business is characterised by isolation - working in a home office, for example. Consequently they may not be receiving, or seeking out, support from their peers or relevant support networks. It’s essential when setting up business to be around commercially minded and entrepreneurial-thinking people.“Isolation is a worst-case scenario for women,” says Tara. “If you’re already questioning whether you can do it, you’re probably not going to go out into business support circles, where the territory will be unfamiliar. It’s probably going to jar with you. Particularly it’s going to jar with your confidence. Most of us who start a business have never done it before, so what we don’t know is much more significant than what we do. Without the support of those who’ve been there and done it, we are inadvertently delaying the progress and pace.”Women naturally socialise problems. We are comfortable talking about challenges and seeking solutions for them outside of ourselves with friends or partners. However, we are often guilty of not seeking the right people who have relevant experience and skill to support us. This can often be because we don’t know where to look. “This is why we created Co.OfWomen,” says Tara. “So women would have ready access to relevant support.”
OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH MONEY – Bottom line: businesses need to make money. But this is an area many women find difficult.“When it comes to business and asking to be paid there is something going on in our psychology – a cocktail that includes our drive to making a difference and the values that underpin this and that intrinsic female role,” says Tara. “Women get dopamine from helping, so often in the early stages feel conflicted when asking for money.“An example is sales. Because many women are disinclined to ask for money, they find the concept of selling difficult. “Men might not like selling either,” says Tara, “but their driver is to make money, and the end equips them to find a means faster.” This aversion to asking for money is easily mitigated, says Tara, particularly when we emerge from isolation, where women can lack that robust mercantile thinking, and learn to put money into a context that works for us.“When you make more money you can make a bigger difference,” says Tara. “Put the ‘driver’ and the business-related motivation together. Business can feel complex, but it’s not. Sure, some parts may be, but with the right people around us, we can navigate these. The good news and the bad news is there’s no magic formula. What it takes is a vision and belief in what we want, being prepared to become the person who can deliver it and surrounding yourself with the right people. Easy.”