I was recently shortlisted for a well known Sheffield based business awards under the category ‘Young Business Person of the Year’. These yearly awards are well known in Sheffield and are seen as a must for any growing business in the area. In all honesty I never expected to have been accepted onto the shortlist and so it was a compliment from the judges to have the opportunity to show my face at such an event.
Unfortunately, I was bitterly disappointed with the evening and left with quite a bitter taste in my mouth. The bitter taste was not because I didn’t win my category; as I said I was glad for the experience of being there. Nor was it from the brilliant Alice and Wonderland theme, which actually took me back to a close friends wedding. From entering the building and standing in the reception area, I couldn’t help but notice the misogynist environment. Don’t get me wrong, I am not naive to this. I am a woman in business that also happens to be opinionated with probably too many political views. I am fully aware of the environment I have chosen to be in. But, even seven years down the line, I still feel a groan deep within me and the bitter taste of frustration and disappointment rise into my mouth.
As I took a glass of champagne from the waitress at the door I looked to my colleague waiting for me and instantly joked about the lack of women. But as the event continued I began to realise that the 5% (if that) in the room that were women, where in most cases work colleagues or partners of the male business leaders around us. There were a small amount of us females that were business leaders, and we were there because we had proudly made the shortlist. As they read my name out for the nominees for my category, I suddenly realised what a privilege it was to be a shortlisted female…
Wait a minute is this not the 2000’s?
Why does it have to be a privilege for me to be recognised for adding to the economy, creating jobs and building a business in a sector that has no funding. I have not taken Arts Council Funding to sustain my organisation, it has been done with business acumen and skill, and is sustainable without needing to rely on handouts, and is adding to this countries economy. And I might add it is a social enterprise with strong social values running through it! But still it has to feel like a privilege to be shortlisted, in a society that apparently demonstrates equality and diversity. So why am I regularly made to feel guilty for succeeding and choosing a career at this stage in my life? Or that I have to prove myself to a room full of men? Why is it so hard as a female business leader to feel valued?
Not surprisingly, out of over 12 categories, 1 woman won her category. But it’s OK, because as the organisers stated “it was a woman that won the overall Business Person of the Year award.” But it’s not OK. Because she just looks like she’s the token woman that will keep female leaders like myself happy. But the thing is, I’m not happy about that. We were still heavily overlooked. Is it that female leaders don’t feel the need for gratification of such awards, or is it more that we choose to not want to put ourselves into a misogynist environment?
Ironically I was at another awards the week before for Women in Business, and it did not feel that we do not know how to shout about our amazing work. We were celebrating one another and there was a great supportive atmosphere in the room for every woman that was nominated and every woman that won. Now, that’s the sort of environment I choose to be in!
I choose my networks carefully in business. I make sure I am around women that encourage, inspire and support me. I make sure I am around the men that see my professional ability, respect me for the work I do and encourage me to continue challenging and help me to grow. But there are those out there that do not value the female qualities we can offer as women, as the original ‘feminine’ of our society. Why don’t we value our female leaders? Where has it got us allowing our business and political world to be dominated by men? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to get rid of men. We all know ‘Women are from Venus and Men are from Mars’. I believe we were made with different qualities for a reason, and that we need to work together to support one another to grow in these qualities. Why do we as women entering leadership feel as though we must become more masculine or live up to our male counterparts? I do not want to be a male counterpart, thank you. I choose to be myself; to demonstrate an empathy that only women can often offer; to offer the qualities that I, as a woman, can demonstrate and my male counterparts can not offer in the same way. We need to start valuing our female leaders and accepting that although they consider things differently, although they sometimes value different things to men, although they might not make the same decisions as men, none of this means it is wrong!
I have had business men watch me through these early stages in my career and openly admit to me that they could not do what I have done. That they would not have been able to build a business from nothing, nor would they have found the guts or courage to push through the hard times we’ve had as a business. So one can only assume that I must have demonstrated calculated risk taking, strategic management and development, diversification through a recession, perseverance that apparently even these business men couldn’t have demonstrated and commitment and dedication to my cause (or organisation). If these are the qualities we have as female leaders, then shouldn’t we be valuing them? Shouldn’t we be valuing ourselves? Shouldn’t society start valuing us more?
If all of these things mean that I stand apart from the men in business and politics, then so be it. I am not better. I am not worse. I do not want to be like them, nor valued for trying to be them. I am simply me and I value all the women in leadership that are being themselves and working towards equality. It is time to value our female leaders and to recognise the qualities we bring to the table and more importantly the board rooms!