In Australia, statistics show a significant increase in women in business operating as leaders at all different levels – running organisations, starting their own company (self-employed) and in prominent Government positions, for example. They are determined, courageous and successful.
Whilst there has been a steady increase in women in high ranking positions over the last 20 years, with the number of women running their own show increasing at a faster rate than men (although men still dominate the business sector) there is a long way to go. And many hills to climb.
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So, what are the pitfalls this dedicated army of entrepreneurs might meet along the way that may prevent them from enjoying a long-term income, future-proofing old age, contributing to the economy and getting on-going job satisfaction?
Eventually we should aim to stop referring to ‘women’ entrepreneurs, but simply note there are segments of people within the population who are entrepreneurial and whose gender is no longer of interest.
Am I good enough?
Self-doubt, uncertainty, trepidation and a lack of up-to-date awareness of the challenges one might face, are all part of the business culture, particularly in the early days when your working world isn’t full of clarity, and goals are hard to reach. These feelings are natural when we launch into the unknown. Too many women allow them to determine what they do, on a day-to-day basis.
Inequality has left women on the back burner, and often our greatest inhibitor to success is fear. We allow ourselves to be plagued by thoughts and ruminations that keep us disadvantaged. The huge gender pay inequality (recently estimated at 15.3% by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency) and the general slow career progression of women, exacerbates this fear. The current trend is to attempt to reverse this issue for a range of critical reasons, not withstanding that it is now generally acknowledged that in the workplace, women make fantastic leaders.
Ways to investigate inequality
- Investigate what is meant by discrimination and explore your own prejudices
- Look at values and how they influence prejudices
- Explore how we can embrace and understand ‘diversity’ and define difference
- Challenge assumptions and stereotyping
- Research and obtain a real understanding of what inequality means (under Equality Legislation) and how it impacts daily life
Fear is the greatest enemy of confidence
A strong emotion, fear manifests in many different forms and can be both liberating and disempowering. Fear can present physically – for example, in the form of a headache or a sore back; emotionally, in the form of depression or anxiety; or mentally, causing confusion, memory loss or forgetfulness.
The fear of outcomes, the unknown and change often prevent women from achieving our goals and dreams. The key question we must ask ourselves is – why? Why is fear stopping me from doing what I really want? What thoughts, emotions or feelings are preventing me from striving to take actions that will help me achieve my dreams?
Reflect on your success. Look at what you achieve. There is so much you do well already. Appreciate those things, discuss them with close friends or family, and start to believe in YOU! These small changes and realisations will, over time, build confidence, courage and self-belief, and leave fear behind.
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There is very little you cannot achieve if you put your mind to it.
What does it mean to be empowered as a woman?
The words ‘empowerment’ and ‘empowered’ feature regularly in everyday discourse. They’re used in government, in the office, in the media, in conversations with friends – but what is empowerment? What does it mean to be empowered?
Empowerment is all about confidence and strength. Being realistic about your strengths and areas for improvement. It’s about knowing how to set realistic goals and fulfil your potential, and to make intelligent choices, so you can be in control of your life. It’s about knowing yourself and the positive impact you can make in your life and those around you in everyday decisions, situations and actions.
Personal empowerment is about being the best version of ourselves, so we can achieve the goals that are most important to us, on an individual basis, and feel good about who we are and what we do. It is a sense of personal contentment and the ability to ‘back yourself’ with confidence.
Key factors to becoming personally empowered as a woman
We all have strengths and weaknesses. By recognising your strengths, you can amplify them to work in your favour. In the same way, by acknowledging your areas for improvement, you can identify how to upskill or improve in the areas where you don’t naturally do so well. With a little help, advice and encouragement, everything can be learned.
Be confident in your abilities
Confidence can be selective with its appearances. Many successful business women appear to be confident at work, but aren’t always in their personal lives, or vice versa.
Confidence can be developed in both situations with training and practice – for example, a nervous public speaker will build confidence with every presentation they give, as their skills improve and they see their audiences’ response. Similarly, a person who shies away from conflict can learn skills to deal with challenging situations and conversations, go into them prepared and come out feeling a sense of accomplishment, which in turn, builds confidence. A person lacking confidence in their abilities at work, but pushes themselves to speak up and make suggestions in meetings, will grow in confidence as their ideas are positively received by their colleagues.
Confidence starts with belief in yourself and grows by ‘doing’ – putting yourself out there, travelling alone, standing up and saying what you think, doing things you may initially not be comfortable with – these all help to build the confidence that you can do anything you set your mind to.
Set SMART goals, design your plan and stick to it
Empowerment comes from first knowing what you want to achieve, either in business or in your personal life, and making the right choices to be successful. Setting SMART goals can help. SMART is a well-used goal-setting acronym in business coaching. It means getting Specific about what you want to achieve, making sure your goals are Measurable and Attainable, that they are Relevant to you and Timely for what you want to achieve. Once you’ve set your goals, develop a clear strategy to achieve them and stick to it!
Stand your ground
Be assertive in how you communicate with others – at work, home and in life overall. Don’t back down when you believe in something. Learn the difference between being aggressive and being assertive; they are fundamentally different. Assertion is when you confidently stand up for yourself and what you believe in, without attacking or disrespecting others.
It’s easier to stand your ground if you learn good communication skills – active listening, being empathetic and asking open-ended questions are a good start. Build resilience – strive for your goals and don’t be discouraged when setbacks arrive (as they always will), but instead learn from them, stand up and keep going. Don’t worry about what other people say about you – listen to constructive feedback, but only action those which will have a positive impact on your journey and fit with your goals and plan.
Be optimistic. Research indicates optimistic people tend to be more successful in life overall. Love your life, love yourself and enjoy the ride. Claim your successes and enjoy your achievements – little or big, claim what you do well and be proud of who you are and what you achieve.
Becoming personally empowered is a process. It doesn’t happen overnight. Allow yourself to make mistakes and celebrate successes. Remember, nothing great in life is achieved without passion and courage. Passion, to have the raw energy to achieve what it is you want, and courage to understand that fear, uncertainty and trepidation will try to stop you and make you falter.
Strong women go out and get what they want in life. They are brave and courageous, and are dedicated to their cause or belief.
Caryn Walsh is a renowned international leadership and team development specialist, psychotherapist and executive coach. She develops boards, leaders and teams at all levels across three continents. The Empowering Women to Thrive initiative helps women gain the skills and opportunities they need to thrive, through women’s retreats, seminars, monthly webinars, training programs, an annual conference and a soon-to-launch 9-stage online ‘Empowering Women to Thrive’ Program for women to access anywhere, anytime.