Let’s stand together as women

2014-08-12 00:00

IN my line of business, construction, I am surrounded by all things masculine; not just the men around me, but even the tools and methods used. But I’ve learnt to stand tall and be the rose among the thorns.

I’ve had to put in 10 times more effort than my male counterparts. Over time they have come to respect me — I give as good as I get and break boundaries in the process. My opinion now matters and is respected. To help change people’s stereotypical views, one needs support from one’s better half. My husband, Sbu, is my biggest champion and has let me be in a space that, looking from the outside in, seemed destined to be a colossal flop that would damage my “fragile” ego. With very few women in my industry, what has struck me has been the way women treat each other.

Just because we exist in a male-dominated industry, does not mean that we should undermine each other in order to gain a piece of the smaller pie. People talk about how women are still new to the mentoring game, unlike men who have been mentoring each other for generations. These days, you find women unwilling to be mentored by men, as the connotations of that tend to be misconstrued by other women and society.

It is always baffling to hear that many women have never “experienced” mentoring or even provided mentoring to others. When I recently posed the question to a friend, her response was: “I need to be highly strategic in who I help out.” This left me asking why women have always been their own worst enemies. Is it due to not having enough hours in a day for us to be wife, mother, daughter, sister, and friend, and yet still find time to take care of the self?

Perhaps it is due to us not equipping ourselves with the appropriate tools to handle stress-related anger, so we take our anger out on other women — by directly or indirectly standing in their way. I have learnt that we programme ourselves to compete against each other more than against our male counterparts. This makes us each other’s targets.

I recently had a conversation with a young woman who is in the entertainment industry about how she copes with the lack of female mentoring and the competitive nature of her industry. Her response was: “Going to an all-girls school and being involved in different sporting codes taught me not only to compete against other girls, but how to be a team player with other girls — which teaches you to live with what the other gives or takes away from you. You continue with the game as best as you can, without losing your individual game plan, within the team game plan.”

Sport instils the discipline of team spirit, but you also learn appropriate competitive behaviour that can be applied to work situations. From this young woman, I learnt never to undermine my female counterparts. See them as partners who will cheer you on.

I always say to women who come to me seeking career guidance: “What is your career development plan?” You need to have a plan that will inform and carve your career path. Developing your own career plan allows you to follow specific steps and it keeps you focused on your goals without being worried about other women and how they are doing. Most importantly, do not allow anyone to have power over your destiny. Let me share tips that I follow to ensure I never cross the line when engaging with other businesswomen.

• No woman is my enemy.

• I develop and follow my career plan.

• Teach at least one woman how to develop her own plan.

• Have a male and female mentor.

• Reach out to women on a sisterly level.

• I manage my time so that I am always available to other women.

I think Clare Boothe’s quote is a befitting way to end my column: “Because I am a woman, I must make unusual efforts to succeed. If I fail, no one will say: ‘She doesn’t have what it takes’. They will say: ‘Women don’t have what it takes’.”

It is true that when women work against each other, it is a poor reflection on womanhood. This Women’s Month, let’s be women who stand up together, as displayed by those 20 000 women on August 9, 1956. Let’s be united in celebrating each other. Let us be the vehicle that carries a sister to her finish line and stand as her cheerleaders and participate with her in her victory lap, knowing the sentiment will be reciprocated.

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