Becky Sheetz-Runkle is a business author, speaker, strategic marketer and educator. She’s an engaging speaker for corporations, academia, and women’s business groups. She speaks on Sun Tzu’s strategy with business groups of men and women. She wrote Sun Tzu for Women: The Art of War for Winning in Business and maintains a blog Sun Tzu Strategies where this post first appeared on October 9, 2012.
Somehow, somewhere, somebody got the idea that life is supposed to be fair. And they must have told a whole lot of other people. Because today lots and lots of somebodies are espousing fairness. President Obama talks about a “fair shot,” and, less frequently, a “fair share.” But my advice for most women in business is this: begin with the idea that it’s not going to be fair. If you refuse to accept this premise and are out to change the world and bring about equity, that’s terrific. I wish you well. Those of us fortunate enough to have been raised in democracies gravitate to the ideal of equity and fairness. And we should. But we must also come to terms with the realities of our circumstances and ourselves. Once we accept this, and set about to turn perceived disadvantages to advantages, we’ll save ourselves a lot of frustration.
Here’s a real life illustration of the fairness fairy tale:
I recently spoke to a women’s group based on Sun Tzu for Women. A partner in a law firm raised a question that is on the minds of many women. This woman, let’s call her Mary, works very hard. She’s clearly passionate, talented and exceptional. But she isn’t able to keep up with the men in her office and it’s gnawing at her every day.
See, she has small children and a husband who works. Her two male partners in the firm also have children—and stay-at-home wives. As the primary caretaker in her household, she says she can’t keep up with her partners. Mary is plagued daily with the reality that she’s falling behind. A recent Guardian piece highlights new research on the accumulation of small, inherent biases against women in science that hinder their advancements. It says:
Biologists work long hours, and the desire to have a decent work/life balance may drive many women out of the profession of their own accord. The life sciences career path is rife with short-term contracts, which also don’t help those wanting to start a family. Meanwhile, a study published in 2010 showed that women scientists shoulder on average approximately twice as many household chores as their male partners, and also bore more childcare responsibilities.
It’s not fair, is it? So what are savvy women to do about it?
Stop measuring productivity in hours
Many women cannot, or choose not to, rack up seemingly endless hours at work. We all have the same number of hours in the day, but women (and men), with significant family commitments can’t dedicate the same amount of hours as those without them. If you want to spend time with your family or at leisure, or just not working, you have to stop thinking in terms hours. If you can’t compete in hours worked, find other (smarter) ways to compete.
The length of a workday is not a measure of effectiveness. I’ve worked with many people whose behinds stayed attached to their desk chairs for very long periods of time, but that didn’t mean they produced. Unless you consider complaining about the comparatively shorter workdays of their more innovative and creative counterparts others as producing…
Instead, shift the focus to what you do have to offer that gives you a competitive edge. For Mary, she has subject matter expertise the men don’t have. And, importantly, she’s able to earn the trust of prospects and clients and relate to them on a level that’s different (and superior in many ways) to the men she works with. Mary brings uniquely feminine competitive advantages to the conference table.
What are your competitive advantages? Let’s say you’re a brilliant collaborator, but if you work in an organization that doesn’t value collaboration, your competitive advantage is wasted. Don’t waste your advantages, don’t undermine them, and don’t forget to make sure that the decision makers you work with understand the specific and unique value you bring.
You have differentiators, some of which will be uniquely feminine—such as communication, sensitivity to the needs of others, a strong gut instinct, collaboration, and more. Are you in a position where you can leverage them?
Heads down, plugging away, day after day, night after night, will get us more long hours. On its own, it won’t get us ahead.
You don’t need to accept my premise that fairness is a fairy tale. You can reject it and/or work to change it. We all have different purposes and objectives. But if you want to get ahead in the corporate world or build a successful business, I recommend that you think strategically about how you can turn perceived disadvantages to your advantage by bending the rules. Business is a game. There are winners and losers. And if you try to force yourself to play by rules that have set you up for failure, don’t be surprised when you come up very short.
Category: Career Girl