Can women attain top jobs and retain feminine qualities?

What does it take for HR to successfully help women to succeed?

Can women attain top jobs and retain feminine qualities?
It has often been suggested that women can only successfully progress in their careers by adopting masculine tendencies and abandoning their femininity, with many questioning whether women are being encouraged to do so as a means of getting the same career opportunities as their male counterparts.

Karen Chaston, author of A Journey to Becoming Your Own Best Friend, spoke to HC about the importance of encouraging the maintenance of femininity in the workplace.

“Women who retain their femininity become great leaders because women want to follow them and men want to have them around, so these issues are very important to implement into the workplace,” she said, adding that the corporate world needs female leaders. “So many studies show that gender balance in a management team leads to companies being more successfully operated and more profitable. Customers want to go to these organisations, as they provide a nurturing and intuitive environment that other companies lack.”

She also emphasised the importance of employers allowing women to prioritise, suggesting that accepting their choice to say ‘no’ will lead to higher retention and a better performance.

“In the past, women have come along to hear me speak about these issues, but they often think that they don’t need it – however, when they are asked, they admit that their lives are far from perfect,” Chaston said. “This is because women take on too many misaligned projects and relationships – they do not know when, or how, to say ‘no’. My book lets women know the importance of knowing and being who they are, highlighting the issues we have regarding all the things that we do and think we should be doing.”

Chaston told HC that without the ability to prioritise properly, working women cannot reach their full potential or be completely fulfilled, adding that men and women need a business education that acknowledges this.

Chaston continued that she does not blame men for holding women back progressively, suggesting that women can actually hinder their own careers by trying too hard to fit into the masculine corporate environment.

“I believe that business education is to blame [for women masculinising themselves], as well as a lack of models to follow,” she said. “Most people blame men but I feel it is the fault of women having low self-esteem; in fact, most men are interested in achieving what I aim to do, and want to champion women from a business perspective. Women can be quite nasty to each other, which all comes back to self-esteem – when you have it there is no need for all of that.”

Ali Cavill, owner of Fit Fantastic, agreed, claiming that often women can be their “own worst enemy” – both to themselves and female colleagues.

“Instead of building each other up and showcasing each other, we compete unnecessarily, through our aggressive and defensive approaches to our work,” she said, blaming “a misguided perception that the only way to get ahead is at the expense of another [woman].”

Chaston added that “self-esteem makes it easier for women to successfully collaborate, as they know who they are and where they are going. Collaborative spaces work out better for everyone, male and female.”

Cavill suggested that employers should not overlook women who do not use “aggressive, assertive traits,” but praised the advancement of opportunities offered to women.

“In the past promotion has sometimes come as a result of long hours and visibility in the workplace instead of actual work product and ability,” she said. “However, as the number of women in the workplace grows and the structure of societal relationships and working arrangements shifts to flexible options, it is more possible than ever before for women to be successful in the workplace without detriment to their personal commitments.”

Cavill added that “it takes strong commitment, perseverance and organisational skills” for employers to provide the right opportunities for women.

Chaston said that the key is to allow employees to “be in the present by fully focusing on being where they are.” She added that employers must make it clear that they can “have it all,” and that saying no is an option which will not affect their career prospects. The option to prioritise effectively will allow female staff to “be present wherever they are,” allowing a healthy work-life balance and maximum productivity. 

Karen Chaston is the author of A Journey to Becoming Your Own Best Friend, and can be contacted here


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