Archive for December, 2019

Don’t get mad, get brave

Monday, December 16th, 2019

gwccThe bravery of the intransigent.

At the “Bravest” Marketing Society Conference in November Tesco Chair and CBI president John Allan explained his own interpretation of bravery at work.  Commenting that risking unpopularity by disagreeing with the status quo didn’t require the same bravery as the day job of a fire fighter he talked about his early experiences of standing up and being counted.  In his first role as a junior brand manager it was business practice for the most senior people in the room to comment on work last.  There was nowhere to hide and it wasn’t possible to just agree with the highest paid person in the room.

John commented that he has learnt more from his failures than from his successes, something that is clearly true generally.

It is hard though to talk about failures.  Its difficult to speak about detours and twists in the road, even wrong turnings, when so much business culture is about continuous fast improvement and showing no weakness to anyone.

That’s why at our Glass Wall Network event recently we invited panellists to talk about times when they were up to their necks in hot water and how they got themselves out of it.  The Glass Wall Network is open to everyone but is named for our book about diversity at work.  As women are sometimes stereotypically characterised as less strong so we asked 3 extremely strong women to come and talk about how they became this way.  Eleanor Roosevelt (American First Lady, not a panellist) once said “Women are like teabags, you don’t know how strong they are until they are in hot water”.

What’s clear is that often strength comes from getting really pissed off, from intransigence.  Claudine Collins, MediaCom’s Chief Client Officer, told us where her bravery in face of difficulties came from.  She mentioned a time at her first job in media when she was shouted at by an irate boss for something she hadn’t done.  She told him, if he didn’t stop shouting at her she’d walk out.  He carried on shouting.  She walked out.  And didn’t go back the next day.  Didn’t go back in fact until he’d apologised and properly listened to her demands for better behaviour.

As we wrote in The Glass Wall, Success strategies for women at work and businesses that mean business, anger can often be very nuanced for people.  Some people are very worried about expressing their anger.  It can make you unpopular.  It can show that you are emotional.  Bottling it up though is one of the worst things you can do in terms of generating unhelpful stress in the workplace.  And faking forgiveness is bad for you too.  A Harvard Medical School study followed more than eight hundred people over forty years and concluded that though it is important to stay in control when you stand your ground, that taking action about something that matters enough to you to make you furious will be better for you and for your career and actually I’d say for the business you work in too.  Much better than simply sucking it up and swallowing the frustration.

Many people prefer to sit on their anger rather than find a way of expressing it.  But anger is an energy and it can propel positive change.   Continually swallowing your anger will sap your strength and contribute to making your business slow to transform.

Use your anger to fuel bravery.  Don’t put up with unfairness, challenge the status quo and drive your career.


The hard truth about appearance

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2019

dogshotHow do you look?  How do you feel about how you look?  Have you dressed for success in the workplace? Or for comfort? Are you dressing in a feminine or masculine way?

One of the most discussed aspects of my last book, The Glass Wall, success strategies for women at work and businesses that mean business, sits right at the end.

Lightspeed GMI asked the workforce of the UK, US and Russia some questions about how they showed up at work.  On a scale of 1-10 how feminine or masculine is your style at work?  We acknowledge of course that both everyone has both feminine and masculine attributes.  Women placed themselves across the spectrum, although the majority showed up as feminine in style about a third said they were more masculine.  Most men put themselves on the masculine side of the spectrum, with only 1 in 10 saying their style was feminine.  When we discuss this in our Glass Wall talks we often find that across advertising, marketing and media sales the split for women is more 50:50.  The profile for men is nearly always the same as our survey.

When we dug more deeply into the meaning of this, we found that part of the reason is “cross-dressing”.  100 years ago the women who did find their way into the workforce were not allowed to cross-dress – ie wear trousers.  In one talk, for the defence forces, we met a woman who remembered the first time women were allowed to wear trousers in the navy back in the 1970s.  Now of course it’s common and unexceptional.

Not so for men to do the reverse.  I only know one man who routinely wears a dress to a business meeting.

Now what does this mean?  And why is the thought of men wearing dresses still apparently so radical in 2019?  Is it just because there’s less availability in the shops as one talk attendee suggested last week?

I think that this issue is one of the “Glass Walls” of the workplace.  A point of real difference between the genders that is little understood, yet that has massive implications.

When a woman wears a pink dress, she might do so because it’s a sunny day and its a cool smart outfit.   When a woman wears a pink dress, she signals more femininity (whatever that means) to her colleagues who are men even if she does not intend to do so.  Simply because they cannot show up in a pink dress even if they’d like too, in most offices, without there being a very strong reaction.  Yet the next day she might wear a black trouser suit, and not feel remotely different.  The signals she gives are not the same.

Now it is worth recognising that not everyone is able to dress as themselves all the time – because senior management might find fault – and that the general term ‘smartness’ is subject to exactly the same prejudices within the workplace as without, determined by whoever is in power.

However, you dress, however you show up, one thing is certain.  Your appearance says more than you might think about how your colleagues, clients and customers will judge you.

If you are in any doubt about this try the set of pictures of dogs in HBR’s innovation issue from earlier this year.  Photographer Grace Chan has taken a series of shots of dogs before and after their Japanese-style grooming.  Irrespective of the advice in the story which is that you need to allow some uncertainty and confusion to create a true culture of innovation the pictures speak volumes about the dogs in question.  It’s almost impossible to avoid making instant character judgements because of the state of their fur.  You know it is the same dog.  And you know that the dog doesn’t change behaviour because of how its fur looks. Still you judge. Their appearance signals creativity (pre-grooming) or control (post), messiness or discipline, even aggressiveness or friendliness.

I’m sometimes taken to task when I talk about appearance, and after all I’m not an expert (although thanks to Campaign for allowing me to talk about my own style).  I believe you need to show up as your authentic self.  I also know that people will make snap decisions about you based on what you wear.  This is not a gender issue, it’s an issue of the conditioning that we have all experienced so much so that it seems like second nature.  You will be judged on what you wear.  The choice of outfit is absolutely yours but it should be a conscious one.