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Women in business mark International Women's Day

Adam Zuchetti
Adam Zuchetti
08 March 2017 4 minute readShare
Diva Works team photo

Wednesday, 8 March, marks International Women's Day, and while the day aims to highlight gender inequality, it also acts as an opportunity to explore the successes of women in business. Here are tips from female leaders around the world on how women can succeed in business.

Competing in a man's world

The SME space is often cited as a more diverse landscape where merit and skill, rather than gender and tradition, are the determining factors of success.

However this isn't true universally, with some industries remaining to be heavily male-dominated. One of these is the construction sector.

“The good news is the days of walking into a side office or something like that where you might have to sign in, or a security office where you might have to sign in on-site of a tradeshow; the days of them having up the nudie calendars is pretty much gone. That's good for a start. However, the bad news is that there are dinosaurs still out there that have trouble in working with females on a professional basis,” explains Fiona Jefferies (pictured right), who operates 3D marketing firm Diva Works, which is specialising in servicing the construction industry.Fiona Jefferies, Diva Works

“I've had to adapt and learn over the years. I've made mistakes in the past where I've tried to – you want to be liked by people because you think that's how you're going to get through, and I've made mistakes in the past where I wanted to be likeable to the detriment to the overall intent, so it's good that I'm probably as old as I am because I've made any mistake, and luckily enough I've learned from it.”

According to Fiona, even subtle sexism remains rife in the industry, noting that one builder in particular refuses to look her in the eye. Other issues she has faced on the job include being ignored in meetings, having her ideas ridiculed or being patronised.

Her advice to other women in business, first and foremost, is to understand what is driving this behaviour and to not take it personally.

“It's not you, look past that,” she says.

 Other advice Fiona has for female entrepreneurs and business owners includes:

  • Don’t get emotional: “Look at the job that you're doing rather than the emotional context around it. Knowing your work and you've earned the seat at the table, you've done the hard yards. You're a professional, so you never should either apologise for that or shrink back from that.”
  • Only apologise when it counts: “I've told my team I want to get rid of the word sorry in our business. Not to say that you don't apologise for things that have gone wrong, that's totally different, but it's surprising how many women – and I'm one of them too – they'll start off going, 'Oh sorry, but can I ask...'. There's no need to say sorry, you have the right to ask, so I think language matters, and how you ask for things, whether you're putting yourself automatically in a position of lower power by saying, 'Oh sorry, can I just get you to do this?'.”
  • Know your value: “Understand that you've earned your seat at the table, and just be confident. Even when times that you don’t feel it, just act confident and be sure of the decisions that you're making. Don't look like you're questioning anything, just make a firm decision and think, 'If I've really stuffed that, I'll fix it later', but you just need to move forward with confidence and purpose.”

My Business has also previously spoken with Kate Middleton, CEO of structural engineering consulting firm Censeo, and owner of Career Oracle. Kate is one of very few women occupying a senior role in the male-dominated engineering industry, and has overcome significant adversity in life to get to where she is now.

Australia mirrors global trend

As non-profit organisation WaterAid points out, the issue of gender inequality in the world of business isn't confined to construction or Australia.

It says that despite the world's population comprising some 3.7 billion women and girls, none of the world's top 50 companies are run by women.

WaterAid says that women are crucial to driving change, and as an organisation, it is trying to practice what it preaches. New WaterAid Australia Chief Executive Rosie Wheen was appointed in November 2016. Today, WaterAid’s chief executives in America, United Kingdom, Sweden, Canada and Australia are all female.

Women leading the pack in businessHere are 10 insights from WaterAid’s female CEOs about how other women can succeed in business:

1. Believe in yourself

“I think that we teach young girls to doubt themselves. For some reason, the way that we bring up our girls doesn’t inspire confidence in themselves. So I would say just give it a go – you can do it.”

Rosie Wheen, WaterAid Australia CEO

2. Take risks

“Take some big risks, have a big vision, and believe in yourself.”

Barbara Frost, WaterAid UK CEO

3. Find your passion

“Go out and try and find your passion. It’s when you have that passion and that commitment that you can actually make a difference.”

Cecilia Chatterjee-Martinsen, WaterAid Sweden CEO

4. Find a mentor

“Find a mentor, find someone you believe in, someone you trust who can accompany you on your path.”

Nicole Hurtubise, WaterAid Canada CEO

5. Be resilient

“Have courage and resilience. Keep believing in yourself even when it’s tough, even when others don’t believe in you, and even when you don’t believe yourself – just keep at it.”

Sarina Prabasi, WaterAid America CEO

6. Leave your comfort zone

“The sky is not going to fall in if you make a mistake. You will actually learn more from giving it a go and getting yourself out of your comfort zone. What I have really found is 80 per cent of success is just giving it a go.”

Rosie Wheen, WaterAid Australia CEO

7. Say yes

“Try out new things. It’s okay to fail, but just go out there, say yes, be brave and try out. You will make a change if you really want to.”

Cecilia Chatterjee-Martinsen, WaterAid Sweden CEO

8. Give it your all

“Really believe in what you’re doing. Do a job that plays to your heart, to your values, so that you’ll give it your all.”

Barbara Frost, WaterAid UK CEO

9. Be patient

“Be kind to yourself. You can’t change the world overnight; you can influence bits of it at a time, but it can’t be done overnight.”

Nicole Hurtubise, WaterAid Canada CEO

10. Smile

“You need determination, a really, really good sense of humour, and self-confidence, of course. Remember to smile – smile through adversity.”

Nicole Hurtubise, WaterAid Canada CEO

Women in business mark International Women's Day
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Adam Zuchetti
Adam Zuchetti

Adam Zuchetti is the former editor of MyBusiness and a senior freelance media professional, specialising in the fields of business, personal finance and property. In 2020, he also embarked on his own business journey – inspired in part by the entrepreneurs and founders he had met through his journalistic work – with the launch of customised pet gifting and subscription service Paws N’ All.

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