Nicole Kersh: On succeeding in a male-dominated industry

As a leadership team of young females in a male-dominated industry, my General Manager Georgina and I have certainly had our battles. Working in an industry as male-dominated as the IT industry (especially IT hardware) can be very frustrating. It’s not that we’ve felt out of place, but more because many of the established players still operated in a very old-fashioned manner. They’d formed somewhat of a boys’ club over the years and were used to doing things in a very specific way.

When they saw a couple of young women shaking things up, many were affronted. Some were uncooperative, others were openly critical – using any opportunity to drag our name through the mud. Others bad-mouthed us to customers, and there were some who became aggressive.

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The industry was clearly unprepared for two young women to bring it kicking and screaming into the 21st century, but we stayed on our path. And one by one, we began winning people over. We never let the trash talk get to us, and knew that criticisms were just masking our competitors’ fears. We always remained focused on the end goal, and that perseverance has allowed us to achieve success.

We persisted with our online retail model, and realised that even if we were ruffling the feathers of our competition, we were doing the right thing. There’s not many in the industry who refuse to deal with us now. In fact, if they want to remain competitive, they just have to.

My advice for other women based on my experiences succeeding in a male-dominated industry would be:

  • Never doubt yourself, don’t get caught up in petty politics and know that if you are making your competitors uncomfortable, you are probably doing the right thing. If you have the right business strategy, and you execute it well, it doesn’t matter if you are male or female… eventually your success will speak for itself. If you are making your competitors uncomfortable, you are probably doing the right thing
  • An important point to remember is money has no gender. Business is business and at the end of the day, customers want the best deal and business partners (and staff) want to be on the winning team. Gender takes a backseat to all of this. I’ve never let my age or my gender get in the way of what I wanted to achieve, but there have been some challenges as a young person in a high power position.
  • Starting out as a sole trader there are a lot of things that you don’t really think about. But as you start to recruit staff, you start to realise that suddenly, it’s not just your company anymore. It belongs to all the people who work for you. Getting used to that idea can be difficult.
  • Many leaders will tell you that half the pressure of being a boss is knowing that you are to some degree responsible for the welfare of your team. So HR becomes a really important part of your job, as does guaranteeing the future success of your company to secure the jobs of your staff.

My biggest challenge

But honestly, I think the biggest challenge is to let go of all the tasks and functions you’ve grown accustomed to doing yourself. When you’ve started up a company, you treat it like it’s your baby, but you (and the company) won’t last long if you maintain this attitude. If you really want it to grow and prosper, you need to loosen the grip and let other people take over certain areas of your business. It can be a real challenge, but you must learn to trust others and empower them to perform.

In the end though, the more trust you have in people, the more you prosper. You give your team a chance to shine and grow, which provides an amazing return for your business and does wonders for your sanity!

Company culture

We’re really careful with our hiring to make sure we preserve the company culture. Respect and accountability are a big part of who we are as a company. Passing the buck is unacceptable at 4Cabling. Everyone knows it, and everyone is encouraged to put their hand up and find a solution if and when there are problems. We’ve worked hard to create this culture and encourage this kind of behaviour, by living it ourselves. These are some of the management techniques that I’ve found effective across different age groups and gender.the more trust you have in people, the more you prosper

Leading by example in this regard ensures we set the bar high. All our staff are aware of the kind of behaviour we expect from them. When members of your team truly respect each other and know that no one person is any more important than the other, issues around age or gender are non-existent.

To engender this kind of thinking, we conduct lots of cross training, where staff switch roles for a while and learn about the other person’s job. This approach encourages our team to see how their individual role fits into the bigger picture and also gives them the opportunity to learn something new. We’ve seen team members move across different roles in the business, and watched their confidence grow as a result.

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I even participate in it myself, to keep my knowledge up-to-date right across the business. Cross training also allows me to continue to understand all aspects and roles within 4Cabling, from packing boxes to accounting – although I’m still in awe of our numbers people. I think this also shows the team that I value what they do and reinforces our culture of respect.

In my experience, successful management is built on respect. We believe in a participative management style, where we lead by example. Offering our employees the respect that they deserve, in our experience they give back the same respect to us and to the business. Our customers are able easily recognise this passion from our team something which further develops into our reputation. We’ve been very lucky to have a team who love 4Cabling just as much as we do!successful management is built on respect

Top image: Credit

Nicole Kersh is the 2012 winner of the Australian Institute of Management NSW & ACT’s (AIM) Young Manager of the Year Award. The award, open to managers aged 18-30 who live and work in NSW or ACT, rewards those managers who have displayed outstanding leadership and management qualities in the workplace. The Australian Institute of Management is Australia’s leading management organisation providing knowledge and business know-how.

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