The worst thing you can do is try to act like everyone else.
The MPW Insiders Network is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: “How do you excel in a male-dominated industry?” is written by Kim Getty, president of Deutsch LA.
Earlier this summer, I gave a speech at the Cannes Festival of Creativity about the impact advertising and marketing have on gender bias. Others have taken a stance on the same issue, including many Hollywood greats like Helen Mirren, Cate Blanchett, Reese Witherspoon, George Clooney, and Tom Hanks, who are backing the development of more female-led films.
Women continue to close the gap for each other, and many male supporters are helping to change the dynamic of the workplace. With attention from both sides, there are many ways to bridge a disconnect between men and women.
When I was 39 weeks pregnant with my oldest daughter, I was giving a presentation to a room full of men. Halfway through, the shirt I was wearing couldn’t hide the visible baby kicks coming from my mid-section, and no one was looking at my face. I was incredibly self-conscious and uncomfortable. So, I just called it out. I said, “I think the alien’s trying to get out!” and the room erupted in laughter. Acknowledging the awkwardness of the situation actually put everyone at ease and connected us as a group. Sometimes, you just have to recognize the elephant in the room.
There isn’t a crash course in elevating yourself as a female in business. But there are a few things I’ve learned along the way that have bridged the gap for me:
Fight the temptation to be a chameleon
You have to remember that you’re at the table because you bring something unique with you. The worst thing you can do is try to act or think like everyone else. It’s one less point of view. Being in the minority can often be a strength, as you’re more prone to challenge the status quo. So speak up and try to overcome the insecurity of being outnumbered.
Don’t let fear motivate you
A lot of women choose flight over fight. We naturally tend to avoid risk and let uncertainty or fear cause us to shy away from our intuition. In order to move forward, you need to be willing to take strategic risks. It’s okay to fail, and you don’t always have to have the right answers. If you’re not willing to take a leap, you’ll never reap the benefit of your ideas.
Choose a partner who knows what you’re capable of
My husband has been my biggest supporter throughout my career. He’s helped us create a family life where two thriving careers can exist. When you have a partner who recognizes your value in the workplace, it gives you the freedom to excel in both areas of your life.
Don’t take bad advice
Commonly heard pieces of advice that aren’t helping anyone:
“If you want to be heard, you need to lower your voice two octaves.”
No, we don’t need to mask the fact that we sound different. That’s one of the ways we stand out. Leverage that when you share the smart things on your mind.
“Don’t be emotional.”
Passion motivates and it sells. Being emotional is a plus in this business. It makes you a good storyteller, shows that you’re human, and draws people to you. You lose that and you lose your identity.
“Don’t remind people that you’re a mom.”
Being a parent is not a weakness. It opens you up to having a much broader perspective. And in our business, being a parent connects you to our most powerful consumers.
Make the workplace more appealing for other women
If you’re in a position of influence, this is where you can make your biggest impact. Companies are challenged to create an environment where women feel they have an opportunity to build a career and the personal life they desire. Yes, we’re outnumbered. We need to shift traditional practices to flex more with modern life to change the ratio. We still haven’t fully cracked the code on helping women feel like they can be kick-ass moms and businesswomen. Moms make excellent leaders in the workplace, and the more we find ways to support them, the more we’ll see women at the top of our organizations.
Get comfortable with the fact that all of us are in a constant state of learning. You have to sell who you are. That means first believing in who you are, and recognizing the contribution you make. People are excited to have us in the room, so don’t doubt that you belong there.
Use your position to make the world more welcoming to women.