While universities in many countries across the world are doing a great job at producing as much or more female graduates, the workplace is still lagging behind.
It is dragging its feet and although the entry level is looking a lot more diverse than a few decades ago, the higher levels of management and the c-suite still remain largely a man’s domain.
With only 5% of CEOs in Africa that are women, and only 14% of board directors in Africa that are female – there is a long road ahead. In the meantime, what can you do as a career woman to survive and thrive in the workplace?
Firstly, there are some behaviors you had best drop.
Stop Doing the ‘Office House-Work’
I was visiting a company in Europe. I was received by an all-male team and there was one lady. She stood up, asked me what I wanted to drink and then served my coffee. When she was done, she joined myself and the male team members at the table. To my surprise she was a female engineer in software development, not the coffee lady?! Who would have known.
She probably thought nothing of it. She was probably not even aware she was doing it. It was probably a habit of years of receiving guests.
But by those simple gestures of hospitality, I, a champion in women’s empowerment, had immediately associated her with someone responsible for the catering and not with a highly capable programmer.
Now we can argue about my bias, but the truth of the matter is that we all have such associations and we as women should be very careful about the images we project. If you want to be respected at work for your intellect and your capability in your professional competencies, then make sure those are the main things you are demonstrating in the workplace.
It is hardly fair and definitely not ideal (and an article about bias is in the pipeline), but such is the state of the workplace and the state of humans today. Want to be respected at work as a woman? Get with the program. Stop serving everyone else, they are not your children (and even children can serve themselves).
Stop Taking Your Seat at the Back of the Room
Have you ever gone to an important board meeting and been the only woman in the room? Where do you choose to sit? If there are other women, have you noticed where they are seated?
I am so frustrated with women voluntarily taking a seat on the back row.
You need to take your seat at the table. That is where the decisions are being made. That is where your voice will be heard.
Many of us women are already at a disadvantage in a noisy room. My voice is as high-pitched and low in volume as they come, so sitting in a corner of the room will only add to the disadvantage I (and many of us women) already have. Your voice deserves to be heard, your opinion matters, so take your seat at the table and use the space you need.
As a man or woman already claiming that seat on the front row, it is a nice gesture to invite another woman to join you in front instead of at the back. It does not hurt you and can make all the difference for her.
Stop Saying ‘Yes’ to Small Tasks and ‘No’ to Big Opportunities
Gender norms and stereotypes affect our upbringing and that in turn has an impact on our confidence and our relationship to risk.
As a woman you may not feel comfortable taking risks and being in the spotlight at work. So what happens? When someone asks you to take the minutes, you do not hesitate and you just do it. But when you get asked, instead, to speak at an event or to go on a business trip, you find a way to get out of it.
We need to change our relationship to risk and our self-perception, because it is in these challenging assignments that we will get the career-building exposure and learning we need to grow our careers.
If you stay in your comfort zone and only do the things you are one hundred percent sure you can do, then you are simply not pursuing growth and not building your career.
My mother used to tell me that it was better to be safe than sorry. In a security context that may be the right approach; in a career, however, playing it too safe and can make you feel sorry for lost opportunities for the rest of your working life.
Want to join a tribe of successful women who have your back? Contact the Career Women’s Network Kigali: firstname.lastname@example.org and +250783719431