Three things young women in business need to know

By Naomi Simson | Jan 02, 13 09:23 AM

Naomi Simson shares what she wishes she was told when starting out

A few months ago I commented on Sheryl Sandberg TED talk in a blog post entitled: Three insights into why we lack women leaders. Which continues to make me ponder.

Is there really a glass ceiling or do women sometimes need to get out of their own way – or perhaps a bit of both?

In the early days women had to be dramatic to be noticed and taken seriously: in fact as women forged careers in the later part of the last century they would often use their masculine traits – ie to play men at their own game. Whether they were comfortable with doing this who knows... but what businesses really need are the feminine strengths; particularly listening, nurturing and creativity.

I am proud to bring my female traits to my role as entrepreneur.

Yet regularly I’m asked to comment on what are seen as ‘issues’ facing women in business. I know that I personally am focused on results as well as being empathetic and generous. As I have aged I also think I have become more self-assured and assertive. As a young woman in business I wish someone had taken me aside and shared the following:

Speak out

Now, this could be a simple nature vs nurture, but how many preconceived notions exist because we stereotype boys as boisterous and girls as quiet. (I remember one of my son’s teachers admitting – we control boys we teach girls – but that is a whole other post.)  I was once called to my daughters school in her junior years and asked to ‘explain’ she had an outspoken nature – given what her mother does for a living I was hardly surprised – but of more concern was the fact that the female teacher said “You travel a lot for work – she needs you around more”. At which, I pointed out that my daughter had her dad with her at home every night of the week.... I questioned what the school was teaching their students if it was not to follow their dreams and speak up for themselves.

Lois Frankel, Ph.D., president of Corporate Coaching International and author of the best-selling Nice Girls Don't Get The Corner Office, stresses the importance of being assertive in a work environment. "There's nothing wrong with saying, 'Excuse me, let me jump in here.'"  It is not ‘pushing’ to speak up for yourself.

Don’t use 20 words when ten will do

Women tend to use more words than men, which can dilute a message. Again, I believe this is a fundamental gender difference. I’m sure our foremothers shared stories and communed whilst gathering berries, whilst ‘shooting the breeze’ between our forefathers’ hunting packs was frowned upon in case it alerted the prey. In the case of business, try using 25 per cent fewer words in conversations and e-mails than you normally would, and see what happens.

Take your time when you respond to a question – and structure your argument. Pause and say “The three points I wish to cover are...” and stick to three points. Being succinct is key to being heard.

Money is not a dirty word

Women will negotiate for less money when offered the same position as a man for fear of coming off as greedy, according to research by Lisa Barron of the University of California, Irvine. In general, the study shows that women are less comfortable equating a dollar amount with their self-worth. Also, because they see themselves in relationship to others, they feel less comfortable promoting their self-interests when it may be detrimental to others. Again, I wonder if the latter is a generational barrier that will dissolve over time as more women improve their negotiation skills. 

Frankel says to keep in mind that '"whatever money you accept will be your baseline for what you do next.'"

The statistics are staggering: Women leave somewhere around $500,000 on the table by the time they're 60 if they don't negotiate an equitable first salary, according to a study by Carnegie Mellon University professor of economics Linda Babcock and writer Sara Laschever.

For my part, whether you are male or female, everything is possible and achievable if understand WHY you are pursuing it and you have PASSION for achieving it.

It is outrageous that there are not more women on boards and running large companies -  ?We don’t have to give up our feminine characteristics to achieve what we want – but to get there – you need to be heard now.


This article first apperared on LinkedIn and has been re-published with full permission.

Naomi Simson is the founder and CEO of leading online gift retailer, RedBalloon. Naomi is also a  mother, author, blogger and a truly passionate individual.

Naomi is a Premium member of Business Chicks, connect with her here.

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