“How lovely to be a woman…” I often catch myself humming that tune and thinking of the old movies, such as Gidget and Bye Bye Birdie, my mother and I would watch together.
By: Michelle Van Jura, CEO, Intersect Communications
“How lovely to be a woman…” I often catch myself humming that tune and thinking of the old movies, such as Gidget and Bye Bye Birdie, my mother and I would watch together. Each of the female leads was a wonderful illustration of what society thought it meant to be the ultimate feminine character with all the right virtues. Cut to the movement in the ‘80s where we saw ambitious characters like Melanie Griffith in Working Girl, giving little girls a new ideal to live up to — the working woman who can have it all!
I determined early on that I associated more with Melanie Griffith’s character, Tess McGill, than I did to the stars in the 1950s who were cleaning homes and baking pies in their pearls. My father was that dad who came to my sporting events and heckled me instead of my opponents and told us that if we didn’t achieve what we wanted, then it was no one else’s fault but our own. “Anything is possible if you work hard and believe you can do it,” he used to say. “You can be anything, you’re the only thing that will stop you from reaching your dreams.” These were the kinds of statements that stayed with me throughout my life and especially during my college years as I rushed through school eager to start ‘adulting.’ I offer this background because it provides context in order to understand the advice and insight I’m about to share with you about what it takes to be a woman business owner today. Really, what it takes to own, run and grow a successful business, full-stop. It’s quite simple: Hard work.
I’m about to give you some tough love ladies, so listen up. Today, we hear a lot about unequal pay for women in comparison to their male counterparts and how it’s rare to see women in the role of CEO and other high level leadership positions. However, if you take a moment to look at how far we’ve come from the suffragette movement of the early 1900s, it’s quite impressive! The role of women in the workplace is at an all-time high and continuing to climb. Sure, we’re not yet where we ultimately want to be, but there’s no denying that we’ve come a long way. As I said earlier, I’ve been in the technology field for more than 20 years and have enjoyed a salary well above most of my male counterparts. How? It’s simple: Here we go again with that concept of hard work. You have to stop expecting someone to give you something just because you’re a woman and instead outwork the people around you to prove your value and worth.
Some things I’ve learned and am always shocked to have to explain to my female friends boil down to seven simple truths:
- No one will give you anything unless you ask.
- Mean girls finish last.
- Nothing replaces hard work.
- Know your value and how to market yourself.
- Never stop learning or challenging yourself.
- No company is loyal to you.
- Quit whining!
No One Will Give You Anything Unless You Ask
I have friends ask me all the time how to negotiate or ask for a raise, and I’m continually shocked when I ask why they deserve it, their response is, “Well my other colleagues make X.” STOP! I actually used that very argument to get a massive raise once, but I used it against my boss because I was prepared. She told me she couldn’t possibly give me the raise I wanted because my peers at my level weren’t being paid that. That’s when I whipped out my fact sheet about me — I worked 80 hour weeks, managed more business than my peers, managed a bigger staff and was involved in bringing in 90 percent of the new business for the agency. I asked her to give me two examples of people at my level who were carrying the same load for the company and I would accept her reasoning. Guess what? She couldn’t, and when I put it that way, she saw my value. It wasn’t personal; it was business and I proved how important I was to her business. Stop whining that others are making more than you and focus on what YOU bring to the table: numbers, bottom line profits, skills, etc.
Mean Girls Finish Last
I once worked for an agency whose CEO was male, and he was so worried about being liked that he wanted to be the quarterback, not the coach. So, he’d put people on my team when they needed to be terminated because he couldn’t handle it and I would get it done because it was business. If someone wasn’t carrying their load and preventing us from hiring real team players who would contribute, I had no problem telling them that they were fired. So, who’s more emotional in this scenario? On the flip side, where we women go wrong is we turn into backstabbing, paranoid mean girls. We use backstabbing and undermining our colleagues to get ahead. Notice that men basically have a kind of work “boys club” so they don’t deal with this nonsense. For whatever reason, we women seem to think the way to get ahead is stepping on other females. This “mean girl” behavior is what often gives us the emotional label. STOP giving them a reason to call us emotional. Help each other grow and succeed and then you will really win.
Nothing Replaces Hard Work
You have to out hustle, out think, out work and out plan everyone. Once you’ve paved that road, then they will have no choice but to see your value.
Know Your Marketability
Do your homework. If you’re going to negotiate a raise go in prepared. Know what other companies pay for someone with your skill set, know what you add to the company’s bottom line, know what skills you bring to the table that are unique to you, (For example, how much budget do you manage? How large is your team?) Companies that claim standard salary increases are just negotiating with you. For the most part, many women take the first offer a company makes. By knowing your value you come into the process with leverage. You don’t have to take what they give you, you have to know your worth and ask for what you want, by backing it up.
Never Stop Learning or Challenging Yourself
You have to take on the roles that push you out of your comfort zone or you’ll never get ahead, increase your marketability, increase your value and improve your skill set. When I was 27 years old, I was asked by the CEO of a NYC-based PR firm to build him a West Coast presence, starting with an Los Angeles office. At this point, I’d been in a firm handling account management, new business effort and managing a staff, but to build a firm from scratch? Holy shit! Terrifying! This was in 2002 right after the great technology bubble burst of 2000. People were still digging out, and a lot of my friends had moved out of technology marketing. But in my eyes, nothing risked, nothing gained. I told myself that if I failed I could always go get another agency job. So, I took the job because I knew I was smart, resourceful and I had a skill at closing new business that is rare. In six months I was hiring, building an office, managing business, training staff, running accounts, doing account work, bringing in new business and had started restructuring internal processes, mentoring staff from NYC and L.A. and had become the CEO’s right hand woman. I didn’t sleep for about four years, but it prepared me for the business I have today and gave me the confidence to accept new challenges as they came. When I moved on to my next job at one of the top five PR agencies in the world, I was told by a partner that I would likely have a hard time managing a business that was paying them $30 million annually because my previous agency made $5 million to $8 million in profits total. I looked her in the eye and politely asked (well, as polite as I can) if she had ever worked at a small agency? She told me, “No” and I explained that my old job was more difficult because my clients paying me $200,000 annually wanted the same level of service her $30 million annual client does, and we had to pull rabbits out of our hats with much fewer resources. I got the job and the pay I wanted. Bottom line, when you’re asked to step up, don’t let fear of the unknown stop you because the cliché no reward without risk is very true. You have to be willing to take the new challenge and figure it out. If you don’t take the opportunity, someone else will…and then what?
No Company is Loyal to You – It’s Not Personal, It’s Business
If your boss gets upset with you for not delivering the output you had agreed upon, it’s not because she hates you or your outfit, it’s because you didn’t deliver what you were supposed to. Ladies, remove your personal feelings in business or you will not get ahead. Companies have goals to achieve and if you can’t help them do that they will find someone who can. Men know this; women are still figuring it out. Don’t cry at work; don’t whine to your colleagues; don’t gossip — leave that at home or save it for wine night with your best girls. It has no place at work. In fact, it can impact a company’s perspective of you. You don’t want to be perceived as the mean girl or emotional basket case who can’t keep her mouth shut.
Stop Whining and Start Doing
People who spend their lives whining and complaining miss out on the greatest adventures. This world doesn’t owe you a thing; those who work hard, hustle, challenge themselves and face their fears always excel. Don’t let fear stop you and certainly don’t let your own inner voice whine you into submission. Fight back, work hard and apply yourself. Always counter the need to whine with an action plan. If you don’t like your role in business, come up with a plan to change it. If you think you deserve a raise, ask for it.
So, ladies, I hope you’re all using this day as a new day to make-a-plan and get what you want out of this life. Remember you’re responsible for achieving your goals. You have the power to etch your own mark of greatness on this world. Stand up and make it happen! Show this world #LadyBosses are here to stay; not because we’re women, but because we’re equal to the task.