By: Sonya Meloff
Today, March 8th, is International Women’s Day 2019 and I’ve been thinking of my life as a woman in business and what has helped me be successful. While I recognize that there has never been a better time for a woman in business, I do appreciate that I, along with women everywhere, are standing on the shoulders of giants. Because of the work of so many amazing women – people like Elizabeth Cady Stanton who in 1848 led the first women’s movement to win the right to vote, and all the women who led the cultural revolution of women into the workforce during the WWII labor shortages – I have enjoyed the freedom to succeed in business, which is a freedom they fought for.
From my perspective, today in 2019, women in business is generally a good news story. We are living in a time where women are empowered, have a strong voice, and are proven leaders. Overall, the business world has adapted well to women’s advancement and in participation. In fact, the majority of businesses we work with have a hiring preference for women – don’t shoot the messenger!
So let’s jump right in; here are the 6 things that have helped me be successful as a woman in business.
1. I literally never think about it
The first thing that has helped me is that I really never think about it. I’ve always taken the view that to be the best version of myself in business, I just have to be the best in business, regardless of gender. Competition in business, unlike, say a professional sport, is not segregated by gender, so in whatever it is that I was doing, whether selling for an ad agency, or selling recruitment services, I have always focused on trying to do it better, smarter and faster than anyone else. It’s not my gender that determines if I put in the extra effort, and I’ve always been told that if you work the hardest and do the best job, you will win every time.
So I wake up every day prepared to go to battle, and I never think that any of my successes or failures, wins or losses, are based or influenced by gender. It is out of sight and out of mind. I believe winning in business is gender-neutral and I just never think about it. Focus on being the best version of yourself and it wins every time.
2. Credibility is Earned
You have to be scrappy and fight your way to get in the door or a seat at the table – and that may not happen overnight. Once you are there, it’s your shot to build your reputation and build your credibility. Nobody expects you to know everything, but come prepared and be ready to ask good questions and earn the right to have great conversations. If something doesn’t make sense to you, be prepared to speak up and don’t be afraid to ask ‘why’ or ‘how’. You will never look bad asking good questions, and chances are if it doesn’t make sense to you, it doesn’t make sense to someone else who’s afraid to speak up.
One of the best ways to earn credibility is by having strong expertise in whatever it is that you are doing. No matter what your profession of choice is, focus on becoming an expert because people will listen and you will become the person that they look to for advice and solutions. Expertise is not gained overnight, it comes with time and repetitions.
3. Sales Solves Everything
The concept that everyone needs to understand is that we are ALL in sales. Every single day, we are working in sales. Whether it’s selling an idea to a classmate, selling yourself to a potential employer, selling an idea internally within a company, selling students to come to an event, or actually selling a company’s product or service, we are all in sales, everyday.
Knowing how to sell is incredibly important and sales skills must be learned and practiced. There are a lot of misconceptions about what it takes to be good at sales, primarily around personality types. However, we know that if you are driven, have high emotional intelligence, and a sharp mind, whether you’re an introvert, extrovert, amiable, aggressive, male, or female, everyone can be good at sales, and a company will always need sales.
Whether or not you actually work in sales, having the ability to convey a value proposition and learn the skills of resilience are critical. You need to always view yourself as a salesperson!
4. Ambition is not enough
If you want to set big goals, then you have to be prepared to fight for them, get bloody, and not let excuses bring you down. It is very easy to set goals, but unless you are prepared to overcome any obstacle put in your way, none of them will matter. So be prepared to go through the wall, over the wall, or under the wall in order to achieve them. This is called drive; and drive crushes ambition every time
5. Choose to See Inspiration Everywhere
Sometimes I get frustrated with those negative doom & gloom stories that I hear and read in the media about how bad it is for women in business. Dare I say fake news? If you look around, there are many unbelievable women leading some of the largest companies in almost every sector of the economy.
Here are just a few examples:
- Rola Dagher, President of Cisco Systems
- Ginny Rometty, Chair, President and CEO of IBM
- Wendy Freeman, President of CTV News
- Kathleen Taylor, Chair of the Board of RBC
- Shelly Martin, CEO of Nestle Canada
- Priscillah Mabelane, CEO of BP
- Mary Barra – Chairwoman and CEO of General Motors
- Sabrina Geremia – Head of Google Canada.
6. If you don’t ask, you don’t get
If there is anything that I would recommend to women in business, it’s to understand that if you want something, you’ve got to ask for it. Make your intentions known, put your hand up, and be clear and direct with your request.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella got himself in some hot water a few years ago when he first advised women in business at a conference that if they wanted a raise, it would come with good karma. He later walked back those comments, but let’s all just re-iterate, that is not how it happens.
Asking for a raise is but one example where it helps to speak up and ask for what you want. Speak up and ask for what you want and need. If it’s more flexibility once you’ve had a child, ask. If it’s a raise, ask. If it’s wanting a meeting with an executive, ask. If you don’t ask, you don’t get, and not everyone will say yes all the time, and that’s ok.
Sheryl Sandberg, the Facebook CFO and Founder of LeanIn.org, along with McKinsey, one of the worlds largest global consulting firms, published a study which found that women aren’t getting promoted as fast as men. What’s going wrong she asks? They found that women are less likely than men to feel that their managers give them opportunity to grow, and the higher up the corporate ladder you go, women just seem to get promoted less, despite asking.
I think there are a lot of factors that go into this, but I believe Sheryl Sandberg is accurate in her findings that many women remove themselves from the workforce, even mentally, well before they need to because they foresee eventually removing themselves from the workforce when they have kids. Therefore, because they know they’ll be leaving, they don’t fight to get as high to the top as they could early in their careers. Leaving on maternity leave might be inevitable, but it’s better to leave and be as valuable to a company as possible.
My favorite saying is one that I first heard on Oprah, although it’s a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt – “Never allow a person to tell you no who doesn’t have the power to say yes.” So go for it, you have nothing to lose, and don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. You’ll be surprised how often people will say YES!
Finally, I can’t help but end with highlighting why I believe Sales is a particularly amazing profession for women. Firstly, sales is one of the most obvious positions in a company that has a direct impact on the bottom line, and a company will always need sales. Therefore, if women want to show up, then they should show up and sales is where it is at. Elleyn Shook, Chief Leadership & Human Resources Officer for global consulting firm Accenture recently said that “getting more women into (profit-generating) roles is what’s going to change the percentage of women CEOs in the Fortune 500”. 20% of all CEO’s started in sales and it’s the fastest track to that spot.
Sales is all about drive, and if success drives you, then sales is where you can quickly make success happen. It is completely measured and there is no disputing numbers. Sales provides critical flexibility, high earning potential, and empowerment. More importantly, every company is crying for more female salespeople!
So my advice to women in business, the advice that I will give to my daughter, is that you can’t change your gender, so just get on with it and don’t think about it too much. Remember that credibility is earned, you have to learn how to sell, ambition is not drive, choose to see inspiration everywhere, and if you don’t ask, you don’t get.
Happy International Women’s Day!
For the love of Sales.