Post by Mary Sinker, Media Manager
Although this blog post is about the most recent VivaWomen event, this content is not solely meant for women; men, you too can learn from these discussions and are highly encouraged to read on!
First off, for those of you wondering what VivaWomen is, it’s a network within Publicis Groupe that was founded in September 2011 aimed at supporting women in their personal and professional growth. Performics Chicago has formed a VivaWomen group within the network which meets monthly. Whoever would like to join, female or male, is welcome. We haven’t had any men attend our meetings yet, but we welcome male participation with open arms. Workplace equality can only continue to progress through a joint effort by both men and women. It’s also a great opportunity to meet other peers while engaging in interesting conversation.
In our most recent meeting on September 11, we had guest E.T Franklin, EVP Head of SMG Americas Experience Strategy, join to facilitate our conversations around “Navigating Careers.” The topics we covered ranged from gender disparities in the workplace regarding salary negotiations and interviews, to building relationships.
It’s important to recognize that gender generalizations tend to get thrown around in these types of conversations; we aim to consciously identify stereotypes so we can avoid focusing exclusively on them. In our meeting, we often concentrated on asking “why?” when discussing various topics in an effort to maintain more thoughtful dialog.
Negotiating: Differences in Perceptions
Negotiation was a hot topic for discussion, as it often is when talking about women in the workforce. There’s a common conception that men are stronger negotiators than women. Rather than debating about the best ways to negotiate, we asked “why?” Why do men tend to be better at negotiating than women? Popular answers involved the idea that men are more confident and assertive than women. While this may be true in some instances, perhaps a more thought-provoking answer was that women tend to have different perceptions than their male counterparts.
Dictionary.com defines “perception” as “immediate or intuitive recognition or appreciation, as of moral, psychological, or aesthetic qualities.” Essentially, one’s perception is a result of self-awareness, personal experiences and societal interactions. Thus, everyone perceives differently—both men and women.
In the topic of negotiation, all men aren’t necessarily better at negotiating than women, but they may perceive opportunities differently. For example, a man may go into his annual review with the awareness that he’s eligible for a raise and negotiate for a pay increase. However, a woman may not be conscious that this is something people do during their annual review, thus the thought to negotiate her salary never crossed her mind, even if she too was eligible for a raise. It’s not that she is incapable or bad at negotiating, but she didn’t perceive her annual review to be an opportunity for negotiating.
Interviewing: The Importance of Being Confident and Authentic
We also spoke about the differences in how men and women interview. In particular, women tend to apply for jobs they are fully qualified for, while men may be more likely to apply for jobs that they’re only partially qualified for. An interesting anecdote was shared on this topic in which there were two individuals interviewing for the same role—one was a man, the other a woman. The woman had stronger credentials and qualifications for the position than the man, however the woman started her interview by apologizing that her experience in one aspect of the job description was limited. The man, who was less eligible for the position, said he knew how to do everything that would be desired of him during his phone interview. During his in-person interview when he was asked more prodding questions, he struggled with answers and revealed it was other members of his team who were actually responsible for certain tasks.
Neither interviewing style was wrong. However, if they both would have focused on talking about their areas of expertise, they could have then used that confidence to address how their existing skillsets would help them become more knowledgeable in their weaker areas. Through this approach, they both would have appeared more confident by focusing on their strengths, while remaining authentic by sharing the areas where they have less experience. The key takeaway here is the importance of being authentic and confident.
Socializing: Building Relationships to Create a Support System
Finally, we conversed about women’s work relationships in comparison to men’s. Although there are more women holding C-level positions today than ever before, it’s still prevalent for a company’s senior management to be dominated by males. The perception that it’s easier for men to “get ahead” earlier in their careers through male-to-male bonding with their superiors was addressed. Regardless if this perception is true or not, it addresses the importance of establishing work relationships, not only with superiors, but also with peers and subordinates as well.
The book Mentors, Sponsors and Advisors by Carla Harris was brought up. It discusses the three types of relationships vital to a successful career. A mentor relationship could be with a friend or relative, someone you can confide in; a sponsor is usually a more professional relationship, someone you can trust to stand-up for you or champion you to receive a promotion; an advisor is similar to a mentor but typically someone you work with that can provide professional guidance based off similar experiences.
These relationships don’t just happen overnight; they take work to build and usually develop organically over time. Most people likely have relationships that can fulfill the “mentor” role already, but it can be more challenging to establish relationships that fulfill the “sponsor” and “advisor” roles. We discussed some key attributes to building strong relationships:
1) Remain authentic and stay true to yourself; you don’t need to change your personality to fit in or “get ahead”
2) Have empathy; remember that everyone has different perceptions and experiences, sometimes you may have to adjust your way of thinking or stretch yourself to understand someone better
3) Opt to take the positive route; practice self-composure to react constructively in negative situations
Everyone is different, and that’s a good thing, but sometimes it can be difficult to relate or even get along with those different from us. By practicing being authentic and empathetic, we can stay true to ourselves while broadening our outlook to find ways to relate with others. This may start with something as simple as talking about the weather or even a work-related topic; but as you talk with this person more, you may find you have more in common than you thought.
By actively seeking out opportunities to socialize with co-workers and superiors, whether that means going to happy hour or just striking up a conversation in the kitchen, we’re investing in building relationships that are vital to a successful career. These relationships become the foundation of a support system.
If you take nothing else away from this post, we hope you’ll challenge yourself to seek out new relationships and opportunities, both personal and professional, with authenticity, empathy, and positivity.
If you’re Chicago-based, please join us in the next upcoming events:
October 19th at 5:00PM VivaWomen! Book Club @Performics Chicago “Lean In” by Sheryl Samberg
November 13th VivaWomen! Discussion @Performics about Networking