Myth-Busting with Successful Women in Business: Advice for Young Working Women

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The workplace can be particularly tricky to navigate for young people. Unlike at school, there are no assignment guidelines, no marking schemes, and no teachers making sure you've done your part. Instead, there are unspoken rules, myths that are communicated through word of mouth. The question is: which one of these myths are true?

To help clear any mysteries you may be facing, Vanna spoke with some successful women in business in Hong Kong to ask for their insight.

This is what they had to say.

Myth 1: Women should avoid showing emotions at work to establish credibility

Reality: Emotional Intelligence is something that all genders, both male and female, should learn to harness.

We've all been there. Your boss gave you poor feedback, or perhaps a hard time because you made a mistake (which is ok - everyone makes mistakes!). You came out red-faced, feeling a rush of emotions taking over you. You have two options: run to the bathroom and cry, or put on a brave face and continue your day as usual.

Which option would you take? If you’re the former, you are not alone! In her book on emotions in the workplace, It’s Always Personal, US journalist Anne Kreamer reveals that 41% of women cry at work, compared to 9% of men. Instead of feeling relieved after crying it all out, many women actually feel worse after crying!

Women feel like they cannot or should not express their emotions at work, because showing emotions, be it anger or tears, undermines women’s credibility at a workplace.

Research from Yale University explored how expressing anger affects the professional reputation of males and females respectively. They found that when men expressed anger at work, their emotions were justified due to external circumstances, or in other words, the fault is not theirs. On the other hand, when a woman expressed her anger at work, this reaction was attributed to internal characteristics, which means her response was as a result of who she is, “an angry person”. This would also negatively affect her reputation at work.

Does this mean that women should never show emotions at work? That it’s a sign of weakness if we do? Here are some tips for those who are prone to be emotional.

Develop your emotional intelligence

Director of LUSH Asia, Annabelle Baker, shared with Vanna that one important skill that all young people should develop is emotional intelligence. They should learn how to deal with these emotions, instead of suppressing and ignoring them.

Emotional Intelligence is the capacity to be aware of, control, and express not only your own emotions, but understand the emotions of those around you. To be aware of one's emotions and making a conscious decision to share those emotions with others is a sign of strength, and a quality of a great leader.

You should express your emotions, but with control

We also spoke to Shirley Adrain, CEO of Career Catalyst Group, an organisation dedicated to helping executives take charge of their career and overcome workplace challenges, so that they can excel as leaders. She agreed that emotions are not to be concealed, but channelled correctly. Having had over 20 years of experience in Financial Services in a variety of leadership roles, she had noticed that women tend to take opinions or criticisms to heart, which can make us more vulnerable to emotional episodes at work. If you are hit by a wave of strong emotions at work when dealing with a colleague or a boss, Shirley suggested that you take your time to breathe, calm down, and respond in a low tone of voice.

All this takes work, but it is not impossible. Remember that emotional intelligence is a skill we can develop, and like any other skill, it takes time and effort to be refined!

Myth 2: It’s a man’s world; I should act like one of the guys to be recognised

Reality: Women can be successful as women!

Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Professor of Business Psychology at University College London, pointed out that our society associates leadership with masculine features. Furthermore, in Hong Kong, the majority of senior management positions are held by males. This explains why when ambitious young women want to succeed in their career, they copy their male counterparts, and try to "man-up" -- because not only do we associate success in leadership with masculinity, but there are also less female examples to follow.

But of course, that is only a myth!

If you are struggling to believe that women can succeed in their careers while maintaining their femininity, these testimonials and research data might help change your mind.

Don't deny the inevitable difference between men and women, embrace it

When CEO of Matilda Hospital, Linda Burgoyne, worked as a midwife, she couldn’t help but notice a common theme amongst women; they always feel a need to prove themselves. Even as new mothers, they were compelled to prove to others that their new role as a mother would not hinder their work performance, and as a result, many were eager to get back to work soon after their labour. She had even noticed women going as far as checking and sending emails during their labour!

Instead of always trying to prove ourselves and copying what men do, Linda suggested that we should accept and embrace the inevitable differences we have between women and men.

Embrace your nurturing nature can make you a great leader

Linda's approach was also supported by Rocio Gil Moreno, a Procurement Manager at Cathay Pacific who has had extensive experience working and managing across Europe and Asia in the traditionally male-dominated aeronautical industry. Instead of establishing herself as an assertive leader, she embraces her motherly nature and uses it in her leadership style. She shared with us that she sees herself as a mother protecting her team, sheltering them from pressure from other departments, so to not affect their morale or productivity.

Dr. Chamorro-Premuzic supported Rocio's approach by citing a study which shows that women are more likely to be social leaders. They are good at facilitating behaviours socially, and they are better at attending to others' attitudes, values, and motivations, all of which are essential when it comes to people managment. In fact, he added, with AI automating data-driven decisions, people skills will become a great asset for leaders, as robots can yet reenact the human touch.

So the next time you think you need to be more masculine to get that promotion, think again. Your nature to nurture might help you stand out among candidates of similar capabilities.

Stay true to who you are

CEO of Go Bear Hong Kong, Sandy Lau, added that women should stay true to who they are with confidence. What Sandy’s experience in managing teams in international banks and marketing agencies had taught her, is that women can be great leaders just the way they are. The key to succeeding is to not be difficult or emulate a masculine persona, but to bring woman’s unique ability to communicate and empathise to the table. “It is important to be confident in yourself,” Sandy added, “because if you don’t believe in yourself, you are standing in the way between yourself and opportunities.”

Turn a disadvantage into an advantage

If you feel like embracing your feminine self is not getting you anywhere, this following tip might help.

Founder and Managing Partner of Click Ventures and “Top 5 Women to Watch in Asia” Carman Chan shared her tips on succeeding in a male-dominated industry; “turn a disadvantage into an advantage”. Being a serial entrepreneur and a venture capitalist, she’s one of the only 5% of females in this industry. Carman explained that gender has always appeared as a disadvantage in her career (even now!), be it in the tech industry or as an investor.

However, by utilising the fact that she is usually the only woman in the room, she shows companies that she offers a different perspective and outlook. By embracing that women are seen as good networkers and communicators, she leverages this to her advantage when building important relationships. She also embraces her role as a mother, often organising gatherings involving her own family and the family of others in order to further strengthen business partnerships.

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