Many of us are well aware that there’s a serious gender imbalance in the workplace, particularly across leadership roles and particularly in technology. But this imbalance doesn’t have to define women.
Rather than engage in divisive tactics, isolate ourselves at female-only events, or openly complain about an issue that needs to be addressed, we can all practice what I call complementary collaboration: simply recognizing, respecting, and embracing the fact that men and women bring different but often hugely complementary skills to the table that, if nurtured and developed, can be a very powerful and highly successful combination for any business.
It’s worth pointing out that this isn’t just a “feel good” thing. Businesses should be looking at the issue pragmatically to truly understand the significant impact women can have on a company’s bottom line.
Not only do women bring unique talents and complementary skills to the boardroom (and every other position for that matter), we hold tremendous purchasing power. Today, women make or influence a staggering 85% of all consumer purchases across all categories.
Considering the influence and importance women have in the purchasing process, their perspective should be more than just nice to have for companies that want to tap into a market’s full potential. Business leaders who recognize the power of understanding their entire customer base and who work hard to listen and make women’s voices heard will ultimately come out on top.
So what can we all do to help right the gender imbalance for current and future generations? Here are a few simple tips to help drive complementary collaboration:
Women and men often feel they have to act a certain way in the workplace in order to be successful. This is particularly common in female leadership roles where people wrongly assume you need a tough-as-nails attitude to get ahead, especially in male-dominated environments. However, a lack of sincerity can be felt a mile away and only perpetuates the problem, so it’s best to choose the authentic route and just be yourself. You’ll be surprised how much more receptive others are as a result.
According to Google, women-led tech companies achieve 35% higher return on investment, and when backed by venture capital, deliver 12% more revenue than their male counterparts. Most women, irrespective of their position, bring a high level of perceptiveness and emotional IQ that’s critical for leading teams and growing a business. So, rather than worrying about the skills they don’t have, women should recognize their talents and double down on them, while men can help ensure more women are part of the mix from the onset for optimal business success.
It’s important for women to have each other’s backs and foster a supportive, positive work environment. Try to make an effort to connect with other women in your company and industry by attending networking and skill development events, or by simply organizing your own casual meetups—and be sure to involve men in some of these activities as well.
Merely complaining about something you could absolutely play a hand in changing, or at least improving, isn’t helpful. Instead, take the bull by the horns and pave the way for change. In my opinion, women are natural born leaders, and the "matriarch mentality" can be a strong positive force within any business.
The key is to have both men and women align behind this mindset and drive change collectively. In this vein, let’s move past all the talk about whether Sheryl Sandberg is in touch with the realities of average women and instead celebrate her efforts to raise awareness for the issues we face. Collectively, at all levels, we can make a difference.
We can all do so much more to lead by example and help foster complementary collaboration and a better balance between men and women in the workplace. As women, we have a responsibility to help other women succeed and so we can all play our part, no matter how small.
Men share the same responsibility, so to those men who have worked with great women and seen firsthand what we can bring to the table, spread the word!
—Gina O’Reilly is COO at Nitro.
[Image: Flickr user Keoni Cabral]