“Seriously, …..what’s it like working with so many women?”
Being an entrepreneur entails meeting many new people, and moments when you realize someone has studied your LinkedIn profile, reaching conclusions about significant “key takeaways” from your background. Despite having led very gender-balanced teams most of my career, my last three corporate executive roles involved leading female-focused brands or large global women’s businesses with dominantly female teams. While this was not by design, women’s brands and businesses attracted disproportionately more women. There were very talented men on each of these teams, they just weren’t the gender majority.
People consistently ask me — “What was it like working with so many women”? I gather from the equally hushed and barely contained smirk within the question people assume it would be a constant “Mean Girls” or “Hunger Games” nightmare. It wasn’t. More importantly, this wasn’t an accident. Here’s why: because we overtly and deliberately decided not to hire jerks. Much like you don’t want to hire men that are jerks, why hire women that are jerks? It’s simple. It’s also fantastic. Because if you hire women that are smart, kind, and hard-working in addition to them not being jerks, you get all kinds of additional perks.
They bring lemons and tomatoes and leave them on the kitchen counter from their gardens and trees when they produce too much. They showcase how the team achieved the goal when they have every right to focus on their individual stand-out performance. They develop strategic presentations inspiring hundreds of people to take action against their vision, without it being about themselves, which is why it’s inspiring- the focus is on the redemptive idea. Dishes don’t pile up in the communal sink as often and when they do someone puts a note asking it to stop…. however, with a smiley face on it.
When I ask them how they believe the meeting went, they always point out all the ways they could have been better, stronger, tried harder to win. They never give up and never quit, because it takes so much to get in the room, why would they stop now. They discuss why bras are so uncomfortable, all bras. Every. Single. Brand of Bras. They discuss childbirth and child-rearing all while demonstrating the most incredible problem-solving skills, emotional resilience, long-term strategic savvy, and solutions mindset. They are creative, courageous and the best kind of strong selflessly focused on external realities while being deeply grounded about what matters most, the big picture; the long view.
No one optimizes their time better than a working mother; Tim Ferriss’s head would spin. In my last role, incredible alchemy occurred among the team showcasing extreme camaraderie, brand affinity, and company culture while also achieving double-digit revenue increases, building entirely new channels of distribution, and relaunching new digital platforms twice within 18 months, while also launching break-through patented product innovations.
Yes, the non-jerks accomplished all of this. To be clear- the outstanding business achievements didn’t occur despite the team being dominantly female. The dominantly female team cultivated a culture that inspired peak performance, driving and sustaining strong business results.
The most meaningful work my all-female executive leadership team and I did was show young women how to lead. We showed them how to be strong, smart, and kind. That it doesn’t have to be a double bind. It’s not only okay to be warm and strong, but it’s also necessary as it requires the best of ourselves.
Once my male boss complimented my female-led company because it had “low drama.” I understood the unspoken implication — it was surprising to him because we were a group of women, it was expected there would be emotional warfare. What he didn’t understand was that in addition to achieving our targeted business results, we led with the highest level of integrity and executed to a remarkable degree of performance because we cared that the women (and men) we had hired were watching us and paying attention. We knew our female customers cared and were paying attention. It mattered. They mattered, all of them.
Does it mean the only way women may avoid spending all of their mental and emotional energy strategizing ways to get ahead in a world filled with second-hand gender bias is to start businesses? Perhaps. It seems the double bind- “I need to be warm and smart, but not too smart……”, may represent a challenging corporate culture at some companies.
The question becoming louder and louder for many women is “do I want to spend most of my day as a smart, high achieving woman navigating insecurities surrounding the double bind and second-generation bias, or do I want to start my own business, leading a team of like-minded people? To this, I say: create the vision for your own business wherever you are now, don’t delay. Begin by treating the business you have been hired to lead, at the company you work for as though it’s your venture. Adopt an owner mindset now.
Expect the people you engage to be strong, smart, and kind. Show them how to behave this way. Oh, and don’t hire jerks- whether female or male. Moreover, if at some point you decide to start your own business, remember, it matters. All of it.