In most of my interviews with 40-something women I focus on what they know now that they wish they knew in their 20s. Next for Women asked me to explore an interesting twist on that perspective:
What things are 40-something women working on now that they would encourage young women to work on earlier in their lives/career?
An interesting theme arose as I explored this question and it might be one that 20-somethings don’t find instantly relatable. Much of insight women shared with me touched on asserting oneself in the workplace and coming to terms with gender dynamics. This may be a surprise to 20-somethings as it’s easy to believe that gender discrimination has been dealt to and many tell me they have little reason to suspect they aren’t being treated equally. And in part that is true. Today’s 20-something men and women have lived through a generation of progress. However, I suspect there may be issues that 20-something haven’t experienced yet but may as they advance in their career. The issues older women find challenging are more subtle and nuanced, dealing less with their right to have a say and more with more the nuances of having their say heard. Fact is, all else equal, men and women communicate differently as this serial entrepreneur has come to realize:
She is working on turning her “women’s intuition” into a force that can’t be ignored. As women we are told to trust our gut instincts…they’re usually right. But we tend to apply this only to our personal life. It’s just as important in business. When you have a gut reaction about business, don’t ignore it. When something or someone doesn’t feel right, it’s not, but it’s hard not to pass it off as unjustifiable. It’s harder still to convince others it’s not trivial.
“You don’t realize there is a lot more gut than analytics in business. Sometimes you have to go behind the numbers. You can’t ignore your gut. Don’t expect to be able to quietly convey it. You have to really put your foot down. Even if no one is listening.
I learned this the hard way after having to choose between two funding deals. I had an all male board and while one deal was better on paper, it was almost too good to be true. I had a sense from what the other potential partner was saying that it wasn’t consistent with the market and it was very likely that it would end up costing us more in the long run. I voiced my concerns and made the case but the response was, “A deal is a deal”. We went with the deal I doubted and sure enough six months later they added a provision and it ended up being more expensive. No one remembered my cautions.
It’s a skill to translate instinct and gut to an audience that’s not inclined to receive information like that. Even in a meritocracy, you have to remember that men and women have a different way of communicating. I’m still working on how to convey myself in a way that is heard by all parties.”
What power women would have if intuition had a gender-free voice. The first step is to take the advice we all have heard: add certainty to your tone. Women tend to start off their sentences with sayings like “I don’t know if this is right” and end them with a questioning lilt. Take the doubt out of your delivery and add the power of conviction. And as this female board member shares, if you know you are going to make a tough stance, be prepared.
“I think women have to be so much more careful how they communicate in terms of tone and style of conversation, body language, choice of words and preparation of the content. If a woman is to take a position at variance with the rest of the Board, it’s extremely important to prepare the ground: talk to other members in advance, ensure you have full information, speak clearly and unequivocally. This is even more important if this is a first time for someone to stand up against the Board, or if she is younger, less experienced, and newer on the Board.”
Not bad advice regardless of your audience!
Christina Vuleta is a strategic consultant and creator of 40:20 Vision. 40:20 Vision is a resource to start conversations, share experiences and facilitate mentoring between generations. It provides advice from 40-something women to 20-something women on what we have learned in life about career, passions, self-fulfillment and relationships. Most recently a director at The Futures Company, a strategic marketing and trend consultancy, Christina has made a career out of understanding insights that drive women’s aspirations and life decisions.