By Catherine Kaputa
June 4, 2009
Today, women comprise less than 3 percent of senior executives in Fortune 500 companies. How can businesswomen burst through the glass ceiling? Well, for one, we have to stop trying to act like men in the workplace. Strong brands-products or people-are always built on authenticity. Don’t fight your nature. Instead, build on your innately female strengths and inclinations.
Research in gender studies points to five key aptitudes that can propel career success for women. Not all women have these qualities, and many men have these qualities as well. However, these are areas in which women tend to be stronger. You can use these five aptitudes to help you in the workplace.
Aptitude #1: Social Perception
Women are wired for empathy; the ability to read and identify the emotions and feelings of others. MRI studies show that most women use both brain hemispheres to process emotional messages, while most men use only one hemisphere, giving women an advantage in picking up subtle non-verbal clues. Many women are also strong in intuition-it’s called women’s intuition for a reason.
How to use it in the workplace. Show empathy by listening carefully to others and asking questions. When people feel heard, they reciprocate and support you in return. Intuition gives you another source of information beyond rational analysis. Pay attention to what’s going on behind the scenes. In meetings, for example, if something feels incomplete or not talked about, act on your hunch and initiate a follow-up phone conversation.
Aptitude #2: People Power
Women have the social gene. Playground studies of boys and girls point to interesting differences in how boys and girls play and relate with each other. Girls tend to pair off and play together one-on-one or with a small group. Boys tend to play with one group and then move to another larger group.
How to use it in the workplace. Women are born to network and make strong emotional connections. Use your social skills to build professional alliances, and to become well-known around the office. Be a mediator and an influencer. You will be rewarded for strong people skills.
Aptitude #3: Communication Agility
The female verbal edge is strong across the board. Girls, on average, start talking earlier than boys, use a larger vocabulary at an earlier age, are better spellers and readers, score better on verbal memory, and are markedly stronger writers.
How to use it in the workplace. Use your wordsmith mastery to develop a virtual identity for yourself and for your company: blogs, web sites, wikis, online newsletters, and so on. Solicit feedback early and often at work, and find mentors with whom you can discuss your ideas and development. Be an idea bridger and a meetings facilitator. Become known as someone who can grasp-and restate-others’ points of view.
Aptitude #4: Vibrant Visual Identity
Brand managers use product design and packaging to develop a strong visual identity for their brands, and women have more imaging tools available-in clothes, colors, accessories, hairstyles, jewelry, and make-up-than men do for creating a strong visual identity in the workplace.
How to use it in the workplace. Michelle Obama is the poster girl for how powerful visual identity can be. She has a casual elegance. Her striding self-confidence, fit body, and clean American designs with bold colors result in inspirational magic. She favors immigrant American designers, a choice that reinforces the President’s political message. You can do the same. If you don’t have the body of a fashion model, then do something wonderful with your hair and clothing. Work on your posture and gait. Think about what your visual image conveys, and find visual “props” that add originality and make a powerful statement.
Aptitude #5: Leadership that Includes and Empowers
In one study of pre-pubescent boys and girls given a task to accomplish, the girls used their social skills and worked together and formed a kind of committee. They all took part in discussions about how to accomplish the task, while the boys jostled about and picked a leader, who then directed the group on how to get the job done. The inclusive, collaborative style of females is increasingly valuable in today’s interconnected global business environment.
How to use it in the workplace. Leverage your more inclusive leadership style so you can lead in a way that doesn’t seek to have power over people, but empowers others instead. Consult others on important decisions. Create teams and a “personal board of directors” who can advise you-and be sure to include men, too. Conduct brainstorming sessions. Give public credit to people when they contribute. Such a leadership style will result in loyal, committed, hardworking colleagues and employees.
Catherine Kaputa is a writer, speaker, and the founder of SelfBrand LLC (www.selfbrand.com), a NYC-based personal branding firm. Her newest book is The Female Brand: Using the Female Mindset to Succeed in Business (Davies-Black, 2009).