As I am running a business, launching a foundation, and running this site, all at the same time, the subject of women in business is currently always on my mind. On the downside, we are inexplicably still not making equal pay for our work and there are still tons of confused women, of all ages, behaving catty towards each other, especially in the blogging and PR worlds.
However, on the positive side, it is so wonderful to see women finally banding together in other forms of business and realizing that supporting each other is the only way we all will succeed. Thus, I have decided to create the TGATP Business School, a series of articles with some awesome female business experts that will help my more entrepreneuial readers.
First up, we chatted with Bonnie Low Kramen, an amazing business coach, who has created the Speak Up! platform. Read on for an explanation of this marvelous Life tool.
TGATP: What is your background?
BLK: I am a native New Jerseyan with a degree in Theatre and English from Rutgers University. After graduation, I tried working as an actress for about five minutes (actually it was three months) and realized that I didn’t belong onstage. But knew I that I had to work in show business. After a few years of selling tickets in theatre box offices, I landed a job as the Personal Assistant to Oscar winner Olympia Dukakis. We were a team for 25 years and I wrote the book “Be the Ultimate Assistant” based on my experiences with Olympia who was one of the most important influences and mentors of my career. In response to the lack of training for Personal and Executive Assistants, I resigned in 2011 and started my business training assistants and speaking around the world.
TGATP: What inspired you to create the Speak Up! platform?
BLK: My work training and coaching Executive and Personal Assistants all around the world has compelled me to launch the Speak Up! Pledge. This is a call to action – a dedicated way to motivate assistants and managers to have better and more effective workplace communication. Based on my work, I observed that the #1 challenge in the workplace is “silence.” Typically, fear is holding back assistants from speaking their minds about all kinds of things. It’s time to start the conversation – professionally and respectfully – because the silence is hurting our workplace in a profound way and affecting staffers of all ages.
Through my career, I too experienced fear about speaking up when faced with a difficult person or situation. I understand the discomfort that comes from staying quiet when I knew that I should speak up, but still didn’t. I wished I had training or a mentor to support me through these situations. Fortunately, Olympia Dukakis empowered me to “speak up” in a professional way and demand respect. Now, I am doing this for others through the Ultimate Assistant training.
Here’s the heart of the matter. Really great things happen when people speak up respectfully, directly, and in detail. Suffering in silence damages individuals and companies and causes long-lasting trauma. Speaking up has positive effects for offices all over the world. More information is available on www.speakuppledge.com
TGATP: How much does the way we raise and educate girls influence their later ability to speak up in their careers? And if so, what changes can we make?
BLK: In general, young girls are socialized to not speak up or assert or confront. Rather, they are trained to smooth the way, not make waves, and to seek the approval of men basically “keep silent.” As a result, assistants will say, “I would do anything to avoid confrontation.” How this manifests are things like assistants working through the night at home because they don’t want to tell their manager how overworked they are or tolerating in silence the behaviors of a bullying colleague as opposed to addressing her/him directly. Many assistants will say, “I can’t speak up. I’m afraid to lose my job.” Fear holds back too many women from speaking their minds.
I strongly recommend the book “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg and it focuses on what it really means to be a working woman in 2015. One of the many gems in the book says, “The most important career decision a woman makes is her choice of a partner.” Very true.
We need to build confidence in young girls from a very early age. Ways to do this are things like playing sports, doing public speaking, and taking self-defense classes. In addition, we need to give plenty of positive reinforcement for young women to mentor one another which is the antithesis of the messages in mass media such as in the film “Mean Girls.” Confidence is the X factor for women in the workplace and can make all the difference between good and extraordinary achievement.
A bright and better future will be one with women helping other women – generously and without keeping score.
TGATP: How can women dress for success?
BLK: I believe in the saying of, “Dress for the job you want, not for the one you have.” First impressions are really important and unfortunately, women are judged much more critically than men. And contrary to mass media images, a woman does not have to be a size 6 to look fabulous. No matter what your size, be sure your clothes fit well, are ironed, and are in good repair. Pay attention to details like polished shoes, stylish handbags, jewelry, hair, and makeup. It is very important to dress your age. For young professionals, and especially new to a career, do not dress too young or too old. Clothing that is too tight and revealing is not appropriate. Need help with this? Most department stores offer a fashion stylist by appointment who will help put outfits together.
I suggest avoiding extremes in all of the above. For examples, red stiletto heels stand a very good chance of upstaging the excellent idea that you are eager to share with your manager. You want them focusing on your skills and ideas rather than your trendy shoes or overpowering perfume.
Exuding confidence has much to do with success in the workplace and one of the best ways to feel confident is to feel great in what you are wearing – whatever it is.
TGATP: How can women get what they want in the workplace?
BLK: First – read “Lean In” by Sandberg and “The Confidence Code” by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman. Join at least one professional networking group. Then, take a class in Negotiating. The data shows that only 5% of women will negotiate a compensation package versus 57% of men. We know about the wage gap – women make .77 cents for every dollar a man makes and one of the main reasons is because 95% of women don’t ask for more? Why? Fear of not being liked. Education is the key to turning this around.
Women need to strongly support other women to rise to positions of power and leadership in companies, organizations, and in government. The data shows that women are talented leaders when supported and encouraged to do so. It also shows that organizations that have more diversity are more successful.
TGATP: Why is women to women networking so important?
Women now represent more than 50% of the workforce. No one understands what women are going through in the workplace better than another woman. It is deeply and profoundly empowering for women to ask other women, “What can I do to help you?”
Check out the great success of www.leanin.org The concept of the Lean In “circles” is for women to gather with other women with the only agenda being to support one another’s choices, whatever they are.
TGATP: What five daily practices should every woman incorporate into her success plan?
1. Be overtly generous to help other women.
2. Be active and vocal on social media. Become the brand you can be proud of. Publicly celebrate and applaud other people’s achievements. Be known as a “giver.”
3. Attend at least one networking event each week to build your network and reputation.
4. Resist the urge to say “I’m sorry” when you have done nothing wrong and using the words “girls” and “bossy” to describe your colleagues.
5. Respect everyone you encounter – in person, on the phone, and via email. I promise you this behavior matters and will reward you in untold ways.
TGATP: How can career women speak up in the workplace and demand respect?
Prepare and practice ahead of time for the times when speaking up is called for. Ask for time alone with person with whom you have an issue. Speak calmly, directly and in detail. Say what you need to say and then- here’s the hardest part – stop talking and simply wait. Decide the clear objective of what you want to accomplish.
Whatever happens, you have now changed the relationship forever. You are now known as someone who will speak up when there is an issue. That inspires respect.
Most people value and respect honest feedback. There is great power in calmly and seriously saying, “I have something on my mind. Can we have 15 minutes to talk?”
TGATP: What are the top 3 issues women experience as a challenge in a work environment? And what are the solutions?
1. Workplace bullying. Confronting the bully right away. Say, “I need to speak with you about what you said in the meeting yesterday. That cannot happen again. It is not productive. I want us to work well together and that means we must respect each other.”
2. Not being taken seriously. Work with a career branding coach who can advise on personal presentation – appearance, voice, body language, etc.
3. Being underpaid. Work with a coach/mentor to work through the strategy options for the next annual review.
I am happy to support you with any of the above. www.bonnielowkramen.com
TGATP: Is the media portrayal of women also covertly playing a part in how women feel about speaking up for themselves?
Absolutely. Examples: The Bachelor, Real Housewives of New York and Atlanta and New Jersey and Beverly Hills, and all the images of women, who are valued more for what they look like rather than what they have to say.
TGATP: With the added double whammy of sexism and racism in the workplace, there is a greater fear of retribution after speaking up for women of color. Is there a way to empower this community?
The way to conquer this very real double whammy is for more women of all colors to rise to positions of power in companies and government. We must have mentoring programs and positive role models for behaving as respectful professionals. Speaking up does not have to be mean or ugly. On the contrary, speaking up in a calm and direct manner reaps the best results.
TGATP: How can we as women, empower and support one another?
Actively seek opportunities to gather with other women for the express purpose of helping one another. Give one another resources and coaching and leads for new work. Celebrate other women’s success on social media. Support women who have ambitions for leadership positions. We will all benefit when there are most women in positions of power.
TGATP: How can women assure the male hierarchy that our empowerment is for everyone’s better good?
The first thing we need to notice is that we didn’t get here in a minute so it is going to take time to move to a place of total agreement with the male hierarchy. The status quo is a tough thing to break but the inertia has been broken. That’s good news.
We must involve men in the conversation and as part of the solution. As men see that companies benefit/profit from having more women in power, it will become the “new normal.” We’re not there yet but we are on our way. It will be a huge achievement for the United States to have a female President. Firsts are always difficult. We need to break that ice and the glass ceiling will shatter a little more. I am very optimistic about our future.
About Bonnie Low-Kramen
Bonnie Low-Kramen is one of the most respected advisers in the administrative profession. The author of the bestselling “Be the Ultimate Assistant,” she is known for her passionate commitment to professional assistants and leaders and affecting positive change in the global workplace. She is an international speaker, contributor to magazines and blogs, teacher and corporate trainer. Low-Kramen is one of the only workplace/career coaches who offers in-depth and comprehensive professional training for both executive and personal assistants. She is a New Jersey native with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Rutgers University and was the personal assistant to Oscar winner Olympia Dukakis for 25 years.