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Published:April 4th, 2007 08:26 EST
Women and Business - A Recipe for Brilliance

Women and Business - A Recipe for Brilliance

By Simon Bailey (Mentor/Columnist)

As a businessman, I owe a great deal of my success to women. Three brilliant female executives in particular have helped to shape and inspire me to become the person I am today. I owe them more than my thanks, and I’m grateful to call them my mentors.

Pat Engfer, for whom I worked at Hyatt Hotels and Resorts in Florida, taught me how to listen intuitively, how to assess what is really being said at that specific moment, and then how to respond with clarity and insight instead of with emotion. Where I used to speak from my ego and my need to appear great, I learned from Pat how to speak from my heart and to add substance to a conversation.

Valerie Ferguson, Regional Vice President for Loews Hotel Corporation, polished me. It was she who taught me about executive presence. From her I learned how to look and act the part, how to articulate with power and passion and how to truly use my intelligence. Valerie, the first African-American female to preside over the American Hotel and Motel Association, is the one who told me never to forget where I came from. With words and actions, she taught me to always give back. No longer am I satisfied with just giving a “hand out" to others. Now I try to give them a “hand up" as well.

I am also indebted to Jan Bateman, a tourism marketing executive, for launching me in my sales career. Jan always believed in me, gave me room to make mistakes and allowed me to learn from them. Instead of spoon-feeding me answers, she made me do things for myself. She let me negotiate with clients the way I thought best. I made some costly blunders, of course, but learned many more priceless lessons.

From all three of these exceptional women, I learned the immense value of what is uniquely female and the importance of applying those traits in Corporate America. Unfortunately, I don’t see a lot of this same acceptance in the business world. What I see more than women embracing and engaging their own remarkable talents is “females trying to be male."

Somewhere along the way, women bought into the myth that in order to be successful, they have to play like a man and abide by the rules of engagement men have established. As a result, women push down and lock away the very attributes and skills that make them invaluable to their organizations. If women themselves aren’t acknowledging and appreciating their strengths, how can we expect the rest of the business community to do it?

Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why, still today, women are not typically paid as much as their male counterparts. This inequality is absolutely unacceptable. In my opinion, change is inevitable. But don’t look for it to begin in Corporate America – that would be about as easy as turning the Titanic around! Small businesses, those that employ 500 people or less, will likely have the greatest impact on creating compensation equality. Why? Small businesses, the backbone of the country, are the most nimble and flexible companies. They are the ones who can respond to and move on a trend.

Consider these statistics:

  • Women represent $7 trillion in consumer spending.

  • Women make:

    • 85 percent of all consumer purchases,

    • 90 percent of all vacation plans,

    • 75 percent of all health care decisions,

    • 62 percent of all car purchases.

  • Within the next 10 years, 3 million more women than men will be enrolled in college. At that time, the hiring population will be mostly female.

Hello! Get the picture?

Women are taking over! They’re moving in, and men who aren’t comfortable with educated, smart, sharp, financially astute women in authoritative roles are going to have a serious issue. These men need to begin to change how they think about women. In order for businesses to grow, they must have brilliant women in the executive suite and in the boardroom in order to stay in tune with the significant economic and labor power women will have.

In the meantime, there are several ways you women can improve your value within your organizations and experience greater success as well:

  • Find and exude confidence, meaning and purpose in your life. Tap into your passions and pursue them relentlessly. Give up the posturing, the political gamesmanship and the artificial barriers that limit you. Forget climbing the “corporate ladder." Instead, connect with people, take accountability for yourself in every way, and commit to being part of the solution.

  • Find a mentor, someone who “gets" you. I’m not talking about an executive coach, someone who wants to play it safe with your feelings. I’m talking about someone who knows you well, and who has the guts to tell you when you’re not cutting it, why you're not cutting it, and exactly what’s holding you back.

  • Develop a strategic business plan that charts what you want to accomplish and where you want to be in one, five and ten years. Begin to act as if everything is possible. Believe you can drive value, make a difference and take your team or company to the next level.

  • Sit down with your leaders and have a conversation about working styles, rules of engagement, ideal work environments and simply what makes you tick. Attention to that level of detail will ensure clarity, understanding and cooperation in your professional relationships.

Finally, I’ll leave you women with a challenge: The next time you’re in a meeting with men, don’t ask them if they’d like for you to go get the coffee. Instead, turn the script around. Ask if one of them wouldn’t mind getting you a cup of coffee. You never know, it just might happen!

Simon Believes…It’s Time for Women to Brilliantly Shine!

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