International Women’s Day: Celebrating Women in Business
To mark International Women’s Day taking place today, March 8, there is no better way of celebrating the occasion than speaking with our alumni, the women of the hour, about their achievements and challenges they face as leaders in business.
In the interviews, we asked these inspirational women about their experience as female executives leading teams, if they felt valued in their sector and if they perceived any gender differences when it came to the team and people management. Another aspect covered was the matter of maternity leave and whether it could prejudice women’s career prospects.
Experience as a Team Leader
Managing a team of different individuals will always have its difficulties, but none of the interviewees felt that they had faced particular barriers for being women: fast and critical decision making, successfully meeting clients and business needs being the main challenges mentioned.
However, sometimes when the manager comes on board to lead an existing team, the conflict is more likely to arise. Often some team members might feel that they should have been promoted instead of a new hire. This situation might lead to withholding information, contradicting or putting down the person in charge, sabotaging the project, etc. Tess Guetat, management consultant in UAE, says that the best way to approach this situation is to engage even more closely with the problematic members of the team and in addition, maybe, let them work on separate projects that allow them to shine. If none of that works, it would probably be better to turn to HR for assistance and ask the member to be transferred to another team. In her experience, however, it is much easier to build a new team from scratch as it establishes a relationship of loyalty between the members and the leader who hired them.
Raghad Muath, who has worked as a team leader at a social media agency, is a small business owner and acts as a freelance social media consultant in Jordan, narrates that at the beginning, before officially proving her value, she felt slightly undervalued, and states: “Which is ironic, as most of my team, and company, were females, and the majority had outstanding performances and showed excellent capabilities.”
Others also found that it might take a little bit more time for a woman coming into a new role to establish trust. “It will require her more consistent effort and several consecutive wins to prove herself,” states Tess Guetat. But at the end of the day, it comes down to if the individual is knowledgeable, skilled and has a professional attitude.
However, the experiences vary from country to country and the corporate culture of each company also plays a role. Maria Isabel Quintero, a business strategy specialist from Colombia, finds that there are still some mannerisms and work practices that unwittingly prejudice the women at the office. Sometimes there are the women themselves who impair their value as professionals, for example, women leading the meeting tend to sit on the sides of board tables not accustomed to occupying the seat at the head of the board table.
As another example, Quintero brings out the lack of lactancy rooms in the offices and that women should not be afraid to insist on the incorporation of those spaces so that at some point everything at work doesn’t look like it is only designed for men.
Different Leading Styles
Teodora Croitoru, Senior Client Relationship Manager in Luxemburg feels that women are highly appreciated for their relational and communication skills, diplomatic abilities and talent for conflict resolution. However, she regrets that women are more prone to modesty and sometimes lack self-branding.
Other interviewees also highlighted the unique skill-set related to higher emotional intelligence that sets women leaders apart from men: women are often more respectful, organized, focused and set the collective benefit above individual benefit.
When it comes to establishing one’s authority as a capable leader, Tess Guetat recognizes that men often have it easier at the beginning and team members are more inclined to trust them. However, “if the man lacks professionalism, knowledge, and skills, the authority and trust will diminish with time no matter the gender,” she concludes.
Maternity leave and its repercussions
When asked about if maternity leave affects women’s career development, Maria Isabel Quintero finds that even though nowadays it is easier to balance career and family, there still remains a lot to be done. The key to success is seeing men equally capable of taking care of the children and therefore dividing the home responsibilities. That way of thinking should also be reflected in the maternity and paternity leave policies of the country.
Raghad Muath highlighted many prejudicial human resource practices in Jordan that should be avoided if not forbidden, like asking married women when do they plan to start a family or assuming that pregnant women can’t suddenly perform well at their jobs. These misguided assumptions eventually slow down the pace of career advancement of women.
When speaking about Luxembourg, Teodora Croitoru believes that when the man has also the right to benefit from the parental leave, maternity ceases to be a barrier for women’s career: “Here every pregnant woman is entitled to an 8-weeks maternity leave prior to the anticipated date of delivery and 12 weeks postnatal leave. The father is entitled to take 10 days of leave after the birth of the child. Furthermore, since December 2016, the new parental law offers to both, mother and father, the flexible period of leave, with the same equal rights.”
However, after the initial maternity leave, other factors enter the game and some industries might be less accommodating than others. Tess Guetat narrates that in the advertising industry, that requires long hours, frequent evening and weekend work, traveling, etc, will be hard on a mother who wants to get back home on time to pick up the kids and have the weekends to spend with her family. That is why the industry is also made up of a majority of young people under 40.
Encouragement and inspiration
To end on a high note and proceed to celebrate in style the working women around us, we asked our interviewees to inspire us with an encouraging message and here are their quotes:
“The road to success in business, like in life, is long and full of pitfalls. I encourage all the women to remain strong, to keep their focus, to not let themselves become overwhelmed by the family obligations, to learn to delegate not only in their professional life but also in their private life. And of course, success means a lot of hard work and learning. Lifelong learning is nowadays, more than ever, one of the keys to success. Don’t forget that success is the sum of all your daily small efforts.”
– Teodora Croitoru (42), Senior Client Relationship Manager in Luxemburg
“Strive to be the best version of yourself no matter what your gender is, treat everyone with the same respect and professionalism you want others to treat you with. Realize that the good you do on your way up will come back to you on your way down.”
– Tess Guetat (49), Management Consultant in UAE
“Believe that you deserve to work on your career because it is just as important and because YOU CAN. My favorite saying is, “if a man can do it, we can do it better.”
– Raghad Muath (29), Social Media and Digital Business Consultant in Jordan
“If women support women incredible things will happen.”
– Maria Isabel Quintero (29), Business Strategy Specialist in Colombia
This article is based on questionnaires completed by our alumni of the Global MBA in Digital Business. We would like to seize the opportunity and thank them for their insights into the business world. Thank you, Teodora, Tess, Raghad and Maria Isabel. Happy International Women’s Day!