Why am I writing about women in business? How is it any different an experience than that of men in business?
I probably need to look back in order to put this article into a context. Consider for a moment a school background where it was the norm for boys to do metalwork and woodwork, and girls, home economics and sewing, and it’s clear to see the breadth of choice in education today is somewhat breath-taking, and that’s even before consideration of the huge advances in technology of recent years.
The last few years in particular, have seen a shift in the landscape in the business world. We’ve moved from a country renowned for our expertise in manufacturing and engineering to a UK backbone of SME’s (small-medium sized enterprises) and a knowledge economy. And, of course, from full male employment to variable employment rates for the whole workforce – male and female.
The employment age range has increased too. People starting up new businesses, not just in circumstances of redundancy from more traditional employment, but by choice; businesses built from digitally enhanced bedrooms, coffee shops and trendy urban environments, and an older generation reborn and revitalised by the staggering array of new possibilities for employment, coupled with an older generation working longer before pensionable age.
This, I think, has had an effect on both the working male and working female psyche.
Forty years ago when I was just stepping into the world of work, I gained full time employment as a bank clerk. My colleagues were mainly female, with the exception of one or two ‘promising’ male employees who were on a fast-track programme to management. The bank manager was male, as was the assistant manager and the culture very much that of subservience – ‘If you keep your head down and work hard, you’ll have a job for life’. Probably very few surprises for anyone there, although I have since asked myself why I knew nothing of a fast-track management programme! Was I not told or did I not look? No matter, that’s how it was!
I suppose female workers at that time had two choices – fight or flight.
To fight meant to compete with male colleagues for progression within a business, set against a shifting background where women were increasingly recognised as equals in the workplace – except the outcomes were far from certain, since a male dominated culture prevailed, certainly until well after my time in the banking sector.
As we know from history, a sense of injustice is a powerful emotion and for a large number of women my age, this was all we needed to motivate us and ensure that we took the opportunity to show the world what we could do. It was a catalyst towards success in business. And I, for one, am not complaining!
So, is being a woman in business any different an experience than that of a man?
Yes, I think so. Women in business are still fighting to break through the ‘glass ceiling’, albeit with ever increasing confidence and belief in themselves. In reality, there are still some psychological and physical barriers to remove and lines to soften before women are truly considered equal in the workplace, despite the fact this is changing at a dramatic pace in the knowledge/digital economy.
A final word of warning, ask a woman in business (of a certain age) that question and it’s still a little bit like ‘Light the blue touch paper and stand well back!’
All views are author’s own.