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Do women still need a tough ‘masculine’ side to succeed in the top jobs?

PUBLISHED: 06:00 28 February 2018 | UPDATED: 08:26 01 March 2018

Suzy Pettican hard at work at Reflection PR in Norwich. Photo: Reflection PR

Suzy Pettican hard at work at Reflection PR in Norwich. Photo: Reflection PR

Archant

The tropes of the successful female in business are deeply entrenched: a highly intelligent but cold and probably aloof woman, or one with the bullish personality necessary manage a testosterone-fuelled workplace.

Jo Hind (L) and Alison Wilde, co-founders of London-based career consultancy Birdsoup. Picture: C/O Jo HindJo Hind (L) and Alison Wilde, co-founders of London-based career consultancy Birdsoup. Picture: C/O Jo Hind

As more women find their way into higher levels of office, in the private and public spheres, these images are being challenged and dismantled. You no longer need a suit or a “masculine” personality to be the boss.

But could these enduring stereotypes still put women off aiming for the top jobs – and what personality traits do women really need to make it there?

The re-balancing act has a long way to go – research from Management Today last year showed only 6% of FTSE companies had female chief executives.

Alison Wilde is a director at mentoring agency Birdsoup, which is coaching young women in Norwich to help them climb further up their career ladders.

(L-R) Prosper HR director Claire Woods, director of wellbeing Sandra Flanagan, and wellbeing practitioner Vicky Goddard. Picture: James Neale.(L-R) Prosper HR director Claire Woods, director of wellbeing Sandra Flanagan, and wellbeing practitioner Vicky Goddard. Picture: James Neale.

She says confidence is an issue often cited in relation to career progression by their primarily female clients.

“With inner confidence the main thing for women to consider is understanding themselves, looking at their personality traits and strengths and skills,” she said.

“We rarely take time to review our current situation and take stock of our careers but starting with oneself is a hugely important step.”

Ms Wilde says women are still “disliked and criticised” for acting in a tough, masculine way – despite these behaviours still being “highly valued” in some industries.

Plain Speaking PR's Pippa Lain-Smith and Hannah Freeman with Adam Tuckwell, joint chairman of CIPR in East Anglia (left) and ITV Anglia presenter Jonathan Wills. Picture: CIPRPlain Speaking PR's Pippa Lain-Smith and Hannah Freeman with Adam Tuckwell, joint chairman of CIPR in East Anglia (left) and ITV Anglia presenter Jonathan Wills. Picture: CIPR

Resilience and authenticity are the other factors this external confidence can affect, she says. “It’s about working out how you can best make a difference and be heard without turning into someone you don’t relate to. Learning strategies to do this are vital to enable women to rise up and help other women too.”

Sandra Flanagan, director of wellbeing at Prosper Wellbeing in Norwich, says women are twice as likely to experience anxiety disorders as men – which could be down to a greater weight of work and family pressures falling on their shoulders.

“I do think there is still a perception that women have to keep a lid on their emotions as many women get to the top and feel loathed to admit they are having a hard time in case it is used against them,” she said.

“I think there are hidden biases showing that success and leadership are about being male as most leaders are male, which is concerning. The simple fact is that the more female managers there are, the better it will get.

“In my experience, more companies are recognising that females make fantastic leaders and bring an incredibly strong skill set with them.”

Do you think women still need to be ‘tough’ to get on in business? Let us know your thoughts and experiences – email bethany.whymark@archant.co.uk

The female directors’ view

Suzy Pettican, managing director of Reflection PR, said she is “proud” to be a female director.

“The majority of my clients over the last nine years have been men and I have never had a man work less cooperatively with me because of my gender.

“In the last few years, I have seen an increase in female business owners work with us, which is great news.”

Pippa Lain-Smith founded Plain Speaking PR 12 years ago. She said: “Both as an employee and a director there have been times when I’ve faced patronising, rude and disrespectful behaviour, sometimes to the point of bullying. Now when I encounter difficult people in business, I’m confident enough to stand up and say ‘No, I will not put up with this’, even walking away from clients when necessary.

“I’ve definitely seen a change in the way male colleagues treat me since I established Plain Speaking; I make the rules and don’t have to put up with unacceptable treatment of me or any of my team.”

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