Five ways to do business without taking your clothes off

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Sexism is an extraordinary thing and it baffles me that, between condescension and flirting, we still struggle as women to be taken seriously much of the time, across so many different industries. I know it’s not always the case; actually media is one of the better industries; and I know that sometimes it’s just better not to highlight it, but with  International Women’s Day 2014 coming up this weekend, it’s been on my mind.

I was researching an article a couple of months ago and sent out a call for thoughts and comment from my inspiring female friends and family around the world. I got some amazing and incredibly helpful tips from them, and as we weren’t able to use them all in the article, I thought I’d collate them here.

1. “Dress how you want to be addressed” – Bianca Frazier

It is astonishing how many women will wear skin tight skirts and cleavage showing tops and expect that men won’t look them over, and talk to their chests rather than their eyes. I want to look good, but I want to be taken seriously. We are lucky as women, that we have more flexibility in work-dress than wearing suits all the time, but sometimes this can feel like a disadvantage. By dressing professionally, stylishly, non-revealingly and true to my style, I feel more confident, and I can see that what I’m saying is being listened to.  News presenters are generally very good at getting this balance right.

2. “Men are taught to apologize for their weaknesses, women for their strengths”  – Lois Wyse

One of the excellent pointers I received was about cutting out some of the phrases that women tend to use as a matter of course, the first one being “I’m sorry”. As long as you’re not late for your meeting, there should be no need to apologise, even as a cut in, in most professional conversations. While you’re at it, throw out “I feel”, “I think” and “the options are” and replace them with “I suggest”, I advise” and “my recommendations are”. It’s not easy, and I’m not sure I’ve even achieved it in this blog, but it’s amazing how just by sounding more articulate and confident, I actually feel it too.

3. “The thing women have yet to learn is nobody gives you power.  You just take it.”  – Roseanne Barr

It’s difficult to maintain poise and professionalism when you’re being flirted with, especially when you really need a meeting with that person, or you really need to get them on
side. I have to keep reminding myself that if they see me as someone to flirt with, or embarrass, then they don’t see me as someone to do business with. A friend recommended that if you’re asked for a drink or dinner, counter with a breakfast proposal – it doesn’t always go down as well, but it works!

In a similar vein, some great advice on how to react to sexist or inappropriate jokes: laugh briefly and move on quickly. Change the subject, bring the conversation back to business, be the professional and set the boundaries. None of us want to be the person that men can’t be around because they think we’re prudes, or angry feminists, but it’s important to maintain composure and confidence, and keep the meeting moving towards its goals.

4. “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women” – Madeleine Albright

I am lucky to have an inspiring network of successful female family, friends, colleagues and clients who keep me grounded and who I can talk to about the ups and downs of being freelance and bounce ideas off. I’m not undervaluing the support I get from the men in my life, but there is nothing like being recognised, mentored and inspired by other women.

5. “Women who seek to be equal with men lack ambition” – Timothy Leary

Apparently 70% of a deal is made through first impressions and body language. Used right, femininity is an indomitable strength. Women are naturally intuitive, and by tapping into this, we can really discover what it is that will make our business relationships succeed. My remarkable cousin reminds me that as women we can use our natural networking and interpersonal skills to bring value to our work and business every day. I would never deny that being a woman is the best piece of genetic luck that could have happened to me.

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