I am tired of reading endless reports and articles about women under-represented in board level positions, significantly underpaid and generally drawing the shorter straw in life. Not only do such features make depressing reading, they reinforce the prevalence of barriers for women to progress and in doing so create self-fulfilling prophecies for us women.
I read the statistics, note the multiple barriers and accept that this is the reality. It then becomes perfects plausible if I am not progressing. If the vast majority of women can't progress to board levels, I tell myself that it is ok for me to become complacent and not try. Furthermore, if I do manage to get there, I will earn less than my male counterparts anyway and work harder to prove my worth as a female sitting on a management board. So what is the point of me trying to challenge the status quo?
In the last week alone, I came across two such features. Firstly Mckinsey published the "Global Agenda" Report with the headline in bold font stating that "women continue to be under-represented at senior management levels in Asia, Europe, and North America". They noted that the combination of "structural obstacles, lifestyle choices, institutional and individual mind-sets" hinders the advancement of women and that these obstacles are "deeply entwined". Reading the first 2 pages of the Report alone was enough for me to realise that a). this is a global issue, so moving overseas is not going to help me and b). overcoming these obstacles is no easy task. I may as well give up.
In case I have some motivation left in me to try - I then come across the Chartered Management Institute's Report. Here I read that on average the gender pay gap for British bosses is more £10,000 a year and the average female company executive earns more than £400,000 less than a male counterpart over her career. Now I really should give up. I will go the extra mile or mile(s) judging by these reports to progress and even then will not be fairly rewarded - what is the point!
Fortunately for me, I am the eternal optimist and chose not to believe everything I read or I am selective about what I choose to believe. If it is research showing that chocolate is good for me - I will totally believe that. If it is a report stating that women have no hope, as Anne-Marie Slaughter's "Why Women Still Can't Have It All" feature in the Atlantic suggests, I will choose not to believe it.
People often ask me whether I have ever been held back professionally as a woman working in predominately male dominated environments. My simple answer is no. Not because I am any different to other professional women, rather it is because I choose not to believe that any glass ceilings can hold me back. I acknowledge that some barriers do exist but women should not consider these to be insurmountable. There are many organisations that have been set up specifically to help overcome these barriers. The Women of the Future Awards are one such example; they champion successful women by providing them with a platform to showcase their talents and stand out as inspiring role models.
Let's look at some of these commonly cited barriers:
1. Lack of role models: so you work in a male dominated environment where there are very few or worst case scenario no women in senior positions. Your workplace does not represent the world. There are plenty of role models you can find outside of work, be it through your networks, your family, social media and so on. The key here is that YOU need to be proactive and seek to find them. Take control. And when you do find these role models don't be afraid to approach them - ask them for advice and tips on how they became successful.
2. Networking: the "old boys network" in some professions still exists. Since promotions often depend upon how visible you are to senior leaders, men often have an advantage through the relationships they have built whilst socialising with senior leaders outside of work. So what can you do if you don't want to fit into these boys drinking and golfing clubs? Be proactive, network through other means to ensure you are visible to the right people. Most organisations have women's networks, diversity networks, volunteering schemes - join these and take active leadership roles. If your organisation doesn't have such networks, you could set one up. Also make a conscious effort to build your external networks. Social media platforms such as Linked In are an easy and effective way to build networks. Also think about who you already know; be it your family, friends, ex colleagues, neighbours, former school friends - think about who they may know and ask them to connect you with those that may be helpful professional contacts.
3. Motherhood: working mothers have it tougher - fact. Balancing motherhood, a career and other responsibilities requires more than simple multi tasking skills. But many organisations offer flexible working opportunities, such as compressed working hours, flexi time, remote working and on so on. These options are more acceptable now than they have ever been. If your organisation doesn't offer these options, look elsewhere. The organisation Working Mothers recently did a survey of the best 100 companies for working mothers, so scan through this list. You could also consider switching to entrepreneurship; where you will have more control over how and when you work. Again, YOU should make choices on what career path will allow you to flourish as a working mother - don't let your current situation constrain you.
YOU chose to enter the race and it is now YOUR choice as to whether or not you want to win. Do not let any reports, statistics, colleagues, bosses hold you back. Hope to see you at the finishing line!
Aekta Mahajan is a shortlister of the 2012 Women of The Future Awards.
The awards ceremony will take place on Tuesday 20 November and is hosted by Real Business in association with Shell.