Career Magazine

Keep Your Femininity in Business and Be Who You Are

By Rebecca_sands @Rebecca_Sands

Femininity in the workplace

This topic is one that I think many women struggle with at some point.

The fact is, there are more men in leadership positions in Australia today and what’s more, men make more money than women. Women who are in leadership positions face more scrutiny than men (take Julia Gillard, for a very high-profile instance).

According to figures released in March 2014 from the Australian Government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency, quoting figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, “on average, full-time working women’s earnings are 17.1% less per week than full-time working men’s earnings (a difference that equates to $262.50 per week).” 

Rather than going into that issue and getting all depressed about it, I would rather focus on some of the ways that we - as women - can embrace who we are and really be the best versions of ourselves, while making the most of our strengths.

I believe there is still also an underlying fear of femininity in business. The reason that I believe this, is because I have felt it myself. I have mainly worked in the female-dominated industry of public relations where there are many strong, firm, savvy and super-smart women yet still, at some point many of us question how our femininity fits in with the idea of professionalism and the non-emotional workspace. Femininity is traditionally representative of emotional security, after all. During the first couple of years of my career, as a young, blonde woman I was always scared that people would see me as ditzy. I knew I wasn’t, but appearances scream a thousand words and I think my focusing on not wanting to be perceived in that way actually drew it towards me more.

I didn’t really know how to remove myself from that perception and come across as the smart, intelligent and professional woman that I was, without playing down my femininity in some way or reducing myself so as not to outshine anyone else. I really struggled with that a lot.

Now, with an increasing number of extremely successful, beautiful and feminine women with strong voices who are doing very well in business, I feel a lot more comfortable and have been able to see how others before me have embraced their femininity, embraced their strengths and who they are, and haven’t been afraid to outshine anyone else for fear of threatening them. (Take Marie Forleo, for one).

I believe that by playing down our femininity in business we are embracing a form of oppression – nothing good can come of trying to be something we’re not. Gender is constructed anyway – we’re all born looking pretty similar, apart from a few bits and pieces of anatomy. However I don’t believe we should try to be more androgynous, or less or more of something, in order to fit some social expectation of who we’re meant to be. Covering ourselves, smothering ourselves, will never lead to more, but rather it will lead to less. By having a mentality of lack, we face being smaller than we are.

According to an article published in The Conversation, and I directly quote, “There is no shortage of women academics, doctors, lawyers, political advisers or business strategists. But their numbers dwindle in the higher echelons. Women hold far fewer professorships, parliamentary seats, board positions, senior corporate law jobs and top business leadership roles than men. When women do get into high-status positions, they often face a range of challenges that men do not. Even once they overcome these, senior women can draw criticism for operating in ways that replicate the norms of the male-dominated professional culture, rather than challenging them.”

Whether we act in more ‘masculine’ ways or not, women are still scrutinised and criticised. I don’t think it’s the same in every organisation – it’s certainly a generalisation – but I think that it’s definitely still happening out there and we need to recognize and acknowledge that in order to create change.

To this point, there’s that old quote from Ghandi, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” I believe that the best way to subvert these old practices is to embrace the women that we are, embrace our femininity and our personalities, and really turn our assets into our strengths.

When have you faced confusion around femininity in the workplace? I would love to hear your experience – and it helps others to hear about what you are going through, or have gone through, as we are all probably dealing with similar situations. Leave a note in the comments sections below if this resonated with you! Bec x

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