Sunday, June 8, 2014

How Women in Business Are Moving Forward

Guest post from Sarah Sherwood

“Don’t be a woman in drag,” went the article. “Act like a lady,” was the advice.  In my 20+ years as a publicist I have seen this kind of counsel hurt women both personally and professionally.  The truth is that women have been transcending this kind of advice since we have worked outside the home, which is as long as men have been working, actually.  We’re acting as if women just walked into the boardroom and they can’t figure it out, when working is what women have been doing for many, many years. It’s mildly annoying to be told how to be, how to act, or how to go through any “how-to-be” training program.

At American University, where I studied public communication, there were basically two different camps in communications theory, a.k.a. preparing clients for how to be, in public.  One group believed that public communicators must tightly control the client and then manage closely, moving them with the script.  People in politics tend to follow this formula.

The other group believed more in authenticity, arguing that you can damage their communications with too much control.  This group of communicators give their clients a few perimeters based on their goals and work with the client’s own style to bring out what they want to say. This makes some communication professionals nervous.  What it does is force them to sign good clients who have positive intentions.

I’ve been in the later camp since I left graduate school, but even more now.  This is what we women need to do:  lovingly, and without worry, self-police ourselves.  Speak up, yes, and speak authentically. People can see right through the kind of personal positioning that Penny refers to in her post because the words you choose are insignificant compared to the tone you use, which come from your beliefs.  When you come from what you believe you’re always more powerful.  This is what I tell women.

Successful women have figured out that to solve problems, we need to first prioritize, hire what we need, work hard and be who we are.  That’s it.  These women are taking time out to raise their children, or looking for good quality childcare.  They are having long talks with their husbands and their bosses.  They are concerned about quality relationships in and out of the office.  And they are making it work. They always have.

From my perspective, it is easy to see that people everywhere are oversold.  They see through the B.S. and yearn for a quieter place.  What do they want besides an efficient solution to their problem?  They want honesty-- basically a friend in business.  How many companies have this kind of relationship with their public?  I applaud those who do.

So please stop telling us how to behave.  We moved on a long time ago, figuring out that it is much better and much easier just to be us.

Sarah Sherwood is a publicist in the San Francisco Bay Area and the former executive director of Silicon Valley Women in Business.

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