Women in Business: A Young Leaders Learnings from International Women’s Day

Guest blog post by U.S. NZ Youth Councilor, Araina Kazia Pereira

On International Women’s Day I was lucky enough to take part in a number of events.  Firstly, a roundtable discussion with U.S. Consul General Melanie Higgins alongside some incredible NZ women, American Chamber of Commerce members, exchange program alumni and youth council discussing both issues and progress of women in the workforce.

This was followed by the Global Women/SuperDiverseWomen Speaker Series, a collective group of ambitious women talking about #PressForProgress.  

The event had an incredible calibre of women (Paula Penfold, Cathy Parker, Jodie King, Shahbeba Ali, and Jennifer Ward-Lealand) sharing their own personal journeys and their views towards how we, as women, can push for progress. This event I found both insightful and rather challenging.

Consul General Melanie Higgins leading a roundtable discussion with local leaders. Photo credit: Araina Kazia Pereira.
Consul General Melanie Higgins leading a roundtable discussion with local leaders. Photo credit: Araina Kazia Pereira.

I’m going start by saying, business is business, a job is a job, and a high-position role is a high-position role. It is not and should not be dependent on gender, race or age. Now being a woman of colour and age 19, I can say that businesses, jobs and roles should be fostering diversity in the workforce. Business in particular should foster diversity in order to accelerate innovation in the workforce and for their outcomes. Diversity would look like looking to the skills, strengths and experiences of people, not their genetic make-up. Cathy Parker put it this way: “Diversity is not just about gender balance”.

So with that in mind, here are some thoughts I had during the Global Women/SDW speaker series about women in business. Whilst I understand that not every case is black and white, I think collectively these points help us to see and ensure that our #pressforprogress is driven by action.

Global Women / Super Diverse Women Speaker Series at Auckland Museum. Photo credit: Araina Kazia Pereira.
Global Women / Super Diverse Women Speaker Series at Auckland Museum. Photo credit: Araina Kazia Pereira.

Capacity is a mindset. Adopt it.

Being a female does not equate to our capacity or what we are capable of achieving. It is based on our mindset towards the job or task at hand, and our hustle to get it done. The mindset to work hard, play to our strengths and get the job done should be adopted by everyone. At the same time, everyone’s capacity is different so we shouldn’t live based on someone else’s ability to achieve or their measure of success. Instead we foster our own measure of success and work to achieve it. At the event, Jodie King put it this way: “Don’t live on other people’s standards, create your own”.

As women, we should be looking for ways to increase our capacity and our hustle to reach our goals. Simply comparing our capacity to a male colleague or even another female is not going to help us reach high-positon roles or be in the industry. When you know what your capacity is and how you can increase it, you are able to confidently speak out, about what skills, drive and strengths you have that are worth the higher pay or pay equivalent to male colleagues. Know your capacity, test your capacity and work to stretch your capacity. It will keep you competitive, and in the game.

Adopt the mindset that, “my capacity and hustle will equate to my success, not my gender, race or age”.

Know your numbers.

Jodie King advised: “Set yourself up financially and get good at financial analysis”.

We need to ensure that we have financial literacy skills no matter what we want to do. Don’t be afraid to talk about it and reach out to others that can help you acquire this knowledge.

We need to get comfortable talking about money and about profit objectives. We are responsible for our financial stability and need to ensure that we know what we are doing. We need to stop being ashamed about talking numbers, profit and all things money.

Know your worth. Don’t settle.

When we know how to work the numbers and understand them we can get to know our worth.  When we know this, we can become good at negotiating our pay.

What experiences and skills do you bring to the table? How much time and effort is it going to take you? What is the evidence that is backing your skills? Have there been proven outcomes? Talk about that. We need to stop being ashamed to talk about why we are more fitted to get higher pay. We need to steer away from being shy or avoiding it when it comes to the pay discussion.  Fight your case about pay before you start the role or the job.

Pay equity is going to happen when women step up and negotiate what their skills are worth when applying for a job or high-position role, and not settling for less. We need to get confident at taking ownership when it comes to what we are worth and openly discuss it, with relevant leverage from our past experiences. Jodie put it simply: ‘Don’t put salary to luck – get good at negotiating in terms of your worth and actually knowing your worth.’

Bring your strengths to the table.

We need to know exactly what we bring to the table, and REALLY BRING IT to the table. Talk about it. But also PROVE it; we need to show the success outcomes of our strengths from previous roles and jobs.

Every job interview, don’t just sell the skills you have for the job, know what other skills you bring and how those can add value to the job or role. We need to start taking ownership about the strengths that we have and be upfront when talking about them.

Shahbeba Ali said, “take responsibility for your own happiness” – likewise, we need to take responsibility of our strengths and the areas of the job and role that we like, and ensure that we discuss it when applying.

Push for progress in your personal weakness.

Being a woman is not a weakness and does not correlate to a lower capacity. Of all the weaknesses we could have, it is not gender, race or age based. Don’t make it that.

In order to enter male-dominated industries or get the high-position roles we want, we need to shift our mindset in this area. Being a woman is a strength. We bring a whole new set of qualities, perspectives and aura to the table.  Use this. But again, being a woman is not the reason that we should be hired or given the role. Find the balance. We need to maximise how our experience as women can bring that fresh perspective within the workforce.

We need to know what our weaknesses are, and be selective about which ones we want to improve. Instead of dwelling on our weaknesses we should spend 25% of our time trying to improve in the areas that we need to get us to where we want to be. “Know what holds you back and work on it” as Jodie King said. We need to get good at applying the 70-25-5 principle in the workforce and when applying for jobs and roles.

We need to stop saying no to applying for jobs we feel less qualified for. Learn by doing. We need to use our other strengths and skills to get the job/role and make sure that the first thing we do after is start to grow and learn in the areas that we are less qualified for.

Have a support net that is diverse in skill and gender.

When entering a male-dominated industry or any industry for that matter, we need to have a diverse support network. Have both males and females in our corner to help us navigate, support, and champion us in the steps that we want to take.

We need to be intentional with the people in our support network and ensure that we pick the right people. Have people with different skills and views for different areas of business, work, development etc. We need to have people in our network who are going to challenge us, not just support us, but people who are willing to help us stretch our capacity.

Empower and develop.

One of the most rewarding things I’ve learnt is the value that comes from giving back and investing into others.

We need more women and men to stand with, empower and develop each other. As Jennifer Ward-Lealand said: “Educate those who are too scared to speak out”.

Above all, we must ensure that we have a support network, but also are part of a support network for someone else. This will help us collectively have action-driven progress. Shahbeba Ali put it beautifully: “Have people championing you in your corner, but be that person for someone else too”.

Take action.

Lastly, but most importantly, “we need to keep talking but we need to start taking action” according to Jodie King. Talking about the gender gap or the issues that we face in workforce is just not enough anymore.

Now that we have talked about it, we need to start doing things within our own businesses and organizations to shift culture and bring this change. The points above are a great starting point for all women when it comes to jobs, roles and being in business, but there is still more that we can do to gain overall diversity in workforce.

Progress starts with us – speaking up speaking out, taking action.

A big thanks to the U.S. Embassy and the American Chamber of Commerce for always putting me in environments that help me grow and challenge me in my own endeavours. Also a huge thanks to the Consul General Melanie Higgins and the Global Women/Super Diverse Women teams for hosting a truly remarkable event, and to every speaker for sharing very transparently their personal journeys in regards to this topic.