A whopping 85 per cent of Australian businesswomen describe themselves as ‘just functioning’ at work over the past six months, with more than 15 per cent flat-out languishing, according to a report by The Australian Pulse of Women in Leadership.
Perhaps it’s no wonder when for so long women have been told to change who they inherently are in order to find their seat at the boardroom table. Step up, be more assertive, and, in recent times, lean in.
The message has invariably been about ‘fixing the women’. Make women more like men so they can seamlessly fit into patriarchal organisational structures. Blend in, don’t make a fuss, suppress your femininity, don’t be too special or have different needs, and, god forbid, don’t let anyone actually notice that you are, you know, a woman.
Is it any wonder women are opting out of corporate careers, sidelining themselves or starting their own businesses when they feel demoralised from trying to fit a model that doesn’t serve them well?
Yet 75 per cent of business people surveyed acknowledge that business would better in Australia if there were more women in leadership roles.
So what do women need to be more successful in their careers?
Having more women in leadership roles is not just about offering childcare-friendly workplaces, part-time work, job sharing or paid maternity schemes, although these things are certainly required and valuable. And it’s not just about perceived ambition gaps, sitting at the table and getting the right mentor.
It’s about what actually happens when you show up for work. How you show up. And how it feels to you when you do.
We know from decades of research that when people get to do what they do best everyday, they thrive, and as a result, the business thrives. Engagement goes up, collaboration improves, innovation flourishes, productivity lifts and so does the bottom line.
A growing body of research suggests three ways we can enable women to flourish more at work:
1. Boosting their confidence by discovering their strengths – the things they like doing and are good at – and finding small ways to apply them each day.
2. Creating more meaning and purpose in their work – no matter what they do – by using the skills of job crafting.
3. Challenge their mindsets – the beliefs that hold them back – by making peace with failure and negative feedback as part of the learning experience.
Women don’t need to be fixed, moulded or modified in order to fit into the ready-made cubicles in our workplaces. But they do need to be supported in order to flourish. And they need to support themselves.
Perhaps one of the most important changes that needs to be made, is for women to grant themselves a new permission to thrive on their own terms, and to embrace the practices they truly need to do so.
Michelle McQuaid and Megan Dalla-Camina are Premium members of Business Chicks.