Corporate Perceptions

In specialised careers such as the medical, legal, investment etc. fields women are mostly seen as equals to their male colleagues. Therefore corporate perceptions are less of an issue. In the larger corporations, though senior women executives and managers still experience it is a man’s world where they need to prove their value. This is certainly the case in the Afrikaner white male dominated environments. Corporate perceptions here around women are strong. Men in English corporations appear to be more accepting of their women colleagues.

Unless a woman has specialised and offers some technical expertise she will most likely be appointed at senior levels in softer roles eg HR, Training. This often occurs across all kinds of industries. As a result many women subconsciously feel the need to prove their worth. They work harder, put in longer hours or feel pressurised to get more qualifications, especially from overseas institutions.

We have all experienced senior women executives in the corporate world who play the political game or model themselves on men. Their behaviour is often characterised by being accommodating and supportive with seniors and peers but calculating, ruthless and trampling on people below them.

These women are no longer seen as role models by their younger counterparts who have a need to be authentic and uphold their values. At the same time it does leave many women torn between their values and what they need to do to advance up the corporate ladder.

As women we need to ensure that we do not consciously or unconsciously fall into the trap of seeing ourselves as “lesser than”. It would be helpful for us to sit back every now and then and reflect on what we are experiencing in the workplace. This gives us the chance to consciously observe what is happening. We can then gauge whether we are taking issues too personally or if we need to assert ourselves.

Most of the successful women I interviewed commented that they did not react to comments from their male colleagues. However, one senior manager worked very actively at changing perceptions and beliefs among her male colleagues. She felt she could be outspoken because she was a top performer.

I cannot help wondering if women take the path of least resistance at times by keeping quiet? Surely if we speak up we change paradigms or at least provide our male colleagues with some food for thought. A woman general manager at a large institution is told by a male colleague that for a woman her board report is not too bad. Her response: she just kept quiet. But back at the office she gave the men who report to her a hard time. Could she not rather have dealt with the cause by taking him on about his inappropriate comment especially as she is highly competent in her job? Is she perpetuating this kind of behaviour with her silence? Many women in my research indicated that they prefer to ignore facetious comments and just focus on their work.

Challenges around corporate perceptions at work do create opportunities for self-empowerment. It is normal to have insecurities. It is crucial though to ensure that stereotypical perceptions do not break down your self-esteem and self-worth. What we need to work out is if there is any validity in the perceptions. If it is more about our male colleague’s ego, then decide if you want to say something or not. It may be worthwhile talking to him in a one to one meeting. On the other hand some people need to be taken on in a group.

It is crucial that you do not see yourself as a victim in such situations. A victim always feels dis-empowered. Women are socialised from a young age to keep other people happy. So over time we see our role as the People Pleaser who is responsible for the happiness of others, even if it comes at our expense. It is important to find our own voice: What do we feel strongly about? Are we subtly being “coerced or manipulated” to keep quiet about issues that need to be addressed? What can we do to change this?

When you have children you are more likely to have more gibes at work e.g. “Are you working half day?” (When you need to leave work at 5.00 to collect your child from day care). Unless you voice your needs your seniors will arrange conferences out of town. It is our role to assert ourselves about travelling and being away from home when we have children.  Not everyone is fortunate enough to have good support systems in place.

One executive commented that she found coaching invaluable when she was promoted. Coaching helped her to work through challenges, prioritise and address her needs. It also helped her identify strategies to address perceptions of women within the work place. There are many unspoken issues at work that have a direct impact on our emotional and physical well-being.

To learn more about the impact of physical and emotional well-being of women in the working environment, download my free guide to Balancing Work, Your Family and Your Career.





Posted in Well-being, Women.