by Vickie Milazzo, author of “Wicked Success Is Inside Every Woman“
The legend goes that prior to becoming the CEO of Hewlett-Packard, Carly Fiorina (now former CEO of HP) stuffed her pants with socks for a male-dominated meeting. Her message was clear: “I have everything it takes to compete.” Although Fiorina might be alone in literally stuffing her slacks, it’s a sure thing that plenty of other women have gone to great lengths—pulling longer-than-necessary hours, cutting maternity leaves short, and so on — to prove that they can keep up with the men. But the times they are a-changin’.
Today, the need to play down femininity is a thing of the past. The almost constant changes to the way we communicate, interact, innovate, and do business are setting up an opportunity-filled future for women — no socks required!
There’s never been a better time to be a woman in business. It’s undeniable that the more masculine command-and-control way of doing business is on its way out. Increasingly, businesses — and society in general — are coming to value more feminine qualities like participation, engagement, collaboration, relationship-building, and an appreciation for the greater good. Qualities that come naturally to most women.
Of course, that doesn’t mean women are suddenly getting a free ride to the top of the corporate ladder.
No wickedly successful woman ever got anywhere waiting for her big chance to be given to her or for women to suddenly become as valued as men in the workplace. And that’s not going to change anytime soon. However, it’s also true that a growing appreciation for collaboration, participation, and relationship-building have created a perfect storm for entrepreneurial and enterprising women. These qualities are at the very heart of what women do best.
We should not be afraid to express them. Women have every advantage right now. It’s time for more women to harness their strengths. We’ve never been better positioned to make our mark.
Read on for a few feminine features that make women primed to succeed in business, and how you can take advantage of them:
Women aren’t afraid to take action.
Whether it’s calling the plumber about a newly-sprung faucet leak while dressing your kids and packing your own briefcase… or changing your meticulously-planned sales pitch strategy on the fly because of a client’s last-minute request… women aren’t afraid to do what needs to be done.
Successful women know how and when to take action. They know that success is not about what you do when the road ahead is golden and every dip and turn smooths your way. It’s about how you respond when you hit the biggest, nastiest roadblock of all time. By taking action every day, you develop the habits and discipline to make your vision a reality. When you focus not just on the idea but on making it happen, you stay in motion, not merely dreaming your passions but living them.
Women aren’t afraid to ask for help.
Since they were little girls, most women have automatically reached out to friends when they needed help, advice, company, or a listening ear. That impulse isn’t surprising; after all, women are usually more communal and collaborative than men. And because women have often had to fight for everything they’ve achieved in the business world, helping each other has become a common practice.
I pioneered the industry of legal nurse consulting, so there was no one to teach me how to do what I set out to do. Yet I didn’t feel alone. I gathered the biggest CEOs and successful business owners in the country — at least those who’d written a book — and devoured everything I could find about launching a business. I became a successful student of business strategy for life.
Some of the best advice I received when I started my business was ‘Vickie, you will encounter many challenges you will not know how to handle. But there’s always someone out there who has already successfully handled that very challenge.’ Intelligent women know what they don’t know and when to seek answers. Smart women appreciate that what works today won’t necessarily work tomorrow, and aggressive learning is a competitive advantage to achieving any desired goal.
Women are highly engaged.
Women are the tycoons of commitment. Regardless of their profession, all women are CEOs; i.e., Chief Everything Officers. They manage careers, households, children, meals, shopping, event planning, and more — simultaneously — while doing everything in their power to make sure that not one single ball drops. The “edge” that this type of engagement gives them is a huge asset when channeled professionally. During good times it gives women extra fire, and during bad times it keeps them going when they’d rather throw in the towel.
Train yourself to engage (and overcome) your fears, to engage your goals strategically, to engage the not-so-fun-but-necessary details, and to carefully evaluate the goals you do (and choose not to) engage. This will give you the ongoing momentum you need to fulfill your ultimate vision for your life. Also, remember that a close companion of effective engagement is endurance, and that women have the true-grit type that can push them through everything from childbirth to years of night school on top of full work weeks. Don’t give up — but be sure to take a rest when your mind, body, and spirit tell you one is needed.
Women are enterprising.
Most women do a lot. They run a successful combination of a job, education, family, friendships, hobbies, etc. By anyone’s definition, that’s a complex enterprise! And the ability to keep multiple systems running and multiple people happy is an obvious asset to have in the workplace.
Because women do think differently and indeed process the world differently from men, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they can take a supposed ‘lost cause’ and save it, or make an already-fantastic process or procedure even better. Being creative and entrepreneurial is in our DNA — just ask any woman who has managed to successfully navigate the complex world of office politics to get the promotion she deserves. Or, like me, who has started a successful business with little more than a good idea and determination!
Women are great relationship-builders.
Most women want to give their all to every relationship they have, be it with a coworker, significant other, child, family member, friend, client, etc. — and when they can’t, they often feel guilty. Our complex society of family, friends, career, and spiritual and social obligations constantly pulls us in different directions. This bombardment does lead some women to over-commit, but when tempered to a manageable scale, a natural willingness to build relationships sets women up for great success today.
When you’re in pursuit of a great opportunity, one source you can count on for harvesting more energy is positive relationships. We all know at least one person who lifts our spirits and makes us feel more alive. It might be your mother, your spouse, a good friend, your children, or, if you’re truly fortunate, all of them. Surround yourself with positive relationships, especially with those who support your passions, and you will be eternally rechargeable.
Women are natural multi-taskers.
Chat up any group of women with a variety of talents, emotions, and intelligence and you’ll find most of them are juggling a dozen different projects, a handful of important relationships, and at least one pressing dilemma. Women excel at multi-tasking — a true leg up in a world that is constantly asking us to do more, more, more.
Flexible and adaptable, women handle unexpected change gracefully. We’re not thrown by 10 things hitting us at once — that won’t wreck our day. We’re wired for agility. Hand a woman an iPhone and you turn her into a captain of high-tech industry. She’ll set appointments, answer email, snap and send photos to friends and family, update Facebook, arrange a party, make dinner reservations, and text her husband to pick up the dry cleaning. We’ve learned to bend technology to fit our needs and increase our agility for handling more complex situations at increasingly higher and faster levels.
Women know how to collaborate.
The rising use of Wikis and other collaborative software indicates the rapid acceptance of a growing need to share knowledge, ideas, and energies. Office technology has advanced to provide a platform for sharing, reviewing, editing, and completely rethinking documents or graphics. As our workforce has gone global, software has permeated the vacuum created when we are unable to meet simultaneously. And all of these things play to women’s communal natures.
It’s only when we come together and engage in conversation that we raise new questions and think of possibilities at a collective level we would not have considered on our own. Collaboration is not just connecting with people. It’s also an attitude of helpfulness. Wickedly successful women know that playing nice is a sign of strength. Inside every woman is a natural collaborator. That’s a wicked advantage we have as women, an intellectual edge we can leverage for using our genius at the highest possible level.
Women know the importance of mutual support.
According to a landmark UCLA study on managing stress, the bonds women form with each other also benefit their health and longevity. The hormone oxytocin, enhanced by estrogen and released as part of their stress response, encourages them to gather with other women. The bond that forms helps to fill emotional gaps and lowers the risk of early death. Men experiencing stress go into a fight-or-flight response. Women’s broader response system may explain why they consistently outlive men.
When women come together and share their passions, visions, experiences, fears, and promises, an amazing bond occurs. From that bond emerge sparks of brilliance and insight that none of these women alone, or in any other combination, could have inspired. Female fusion is a truly powerful force.
Women understand the power of giving.
In business — and life in general — the best long-term strategy isn’t to get ahead and stay ahead of everyone else. Instead, it’s to partner with others—to give everyone a piece of the pie and build up the people around you — so that everyone has an incentive to win. When you give other people a bit of advice, a word of encouragement, a few minutes of your time, or even a sought-after opportunity, you’ll usually see valuable returns.
Giving does not always mean pulling out your wallet. Time is a valuable gift. Mentoring is a valuable gift. Spiritual or emotional support is a valuable gift. If you want more money, encouragement, or love, give it today and you will receive it tomorrow, but not necessarily from the people you give it to. It comes through other manifestations. By giving back, I have received more abundance in every aspect of my life than I ever dreamed possible.
Women know how to trust their intuition.
Women’s intuition is actually a scientific fact. Women have a larger splenium of the corpus callosum which accounts for greater interconnectivity between the left and right hemispheres of their cognitive brains. Some scientists believe this broader connection enables women to access both sides faster and easier than men.
Women are not more “right-brained,” as is the myth; their brain functions are actually more holistic and generalized. Women fluently engage the limbic brain, where higher emotions are stored, and the instinctive brain, which is responsible for self-preservation. This holistic combination of emotion, instinct, and cognition equates to women’s intuition.
Does it make sense to have such an extraordinary tool and not use it? Not in my book. By trusting my intuition, I created a new industry where a void formerly existed. My intuition told me lawyers needed nurses, even if they didn’t know it yet themselves. If anyone ever tells you one person can’t accomplish anything big, or you shouldn’t go against the odds, don’t believe it. Intuition worked for me. And it will work for you. It all starts with your intuitive vision.
I’m not saying that women are ‘better’ than men, or that men don’t have as much to offer. That’s certainly not the case. What I’m saying is that as the business world comes to value collaboration, participation and relationships more and more, women are going to be able to put their natural skills to work for them. And many women are already doing just that by taking advantage of greater opportunities to insert themselves into the big picture.
Who knows? In the not-so-distant future, a male CEO might come to a meeting and feel the need to stuff socks in his shirt!
Vickie Milazzo, RN, MSN, JD, is author of “Wicked Success Is Inside Every Woman” (WickedSuccess.com). From a shotgun house in New Orleans to owner of a US$16-million business, Wall Street Journal best-selling author Milazzo shares the innovative success strategies that earned her a place on the Inc. list of Top 10 Entrepreneurs and Inc. Top 5000 Fastest-Growing Companies in America. Vickie is the owner of Vickie Milazzo Institute, an education company she founded in 1982.