Leading Women in HR: The Uniqueness of Women in the Workplace

“To try to be a man is a waste of a woman” 

– Allison Pearson

Ever since the first impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, women have been at the frontlines as essential service providers, innovators, and as some of the most exemplary and effective business executives who effectively lead COVID-19 response and recovery efforts in their nations, organisations, and communities.

 While some progress has been made in bridging the gender equality gaps, on average, women around the world spend twice as many hours as men doing unpaid work. In 113 countries around the world, there are still no laws to ensure equal pay for equal work among men and women and in most, women only earn between 60-75% of men’s wages – for the same work.

 During the International Women’s Day celebration by Workforce Group, industry leading Business and Human Resources women converged to discuss topics on gender bias, wage gap, female leadership and so on. Questions were also fielded by inquisitive participants. In this blog article, Adesola Adenuga, Director of Outsourcing at Workforce Group, addresses some of the most pressing female-related issues.

Leading Women in HR: Adesola Adenuga on the Uniqueness of Women in the Workplace

Uniqueness of Women in the Workplace

On how women can stand up to propaganda, especially during management meetings…

 Adesola explains that beyond the “agenda” that said persons may or may not be consciously propagating, women must forge ahead with the objective of being heard and maintaining their having a seat at the table. She says “As females in the workplace, what we should focus on is our objective. We want to be heard, we want to contribute, and we want to make a difference.”

 She also asserts that although confidence displayed by women can sometimes be perceived as aggressiveness or bossiness, that should never deter us. Keep politely and persistently voicing your ideas and opinions, and soon enough, people will begin to respect you, your opinions and listen when you speak.

 She also shared some short tips to getting your message across:

  • Take an outside-in perspective and understand your audience. Ensure you communicate in a way that you would want to receive the message if you were the listener.
  • Always be prepared, even twice as prepared as your male colleagues.
  • Do not let others interrupt you when you are sharing your ideas. When they do, politely ask to finish and be firm about it.
  • Been open to agree to disagree.

 Managing employee relationships: being firm without damaging relationships

 In the case where managers become very familiar with their employees, Adesola explains how to regain control without jeopardizing the relationship.

 The first step is to clearly understand the difference between being a friend and a leader/boss. She says “Sometimes when your friend does something that’s clearly not right, you don’t outrightly condemn what they’ve done. That’s because your friend always expects you to be loyal. It may even take a while before you eventually let them know what your true feelings are and you are very careful about how you pass the message across.

As a leader, it’s different. You have both the interest of your employees and the business to protect. You should give feedback as soon as issues come up to deter unwanted behavior or performance. That’s because individual actions in the workplace can have devastating consequences for other team members and the business. So I say you need to be firm, honest with them about their actions and consequences of their actions. You need to quickly course correct. The leader is always meant to lead, guide, train, and bring out the best in that employee.” 

 Also you must be consistent with your approach. Your employees/colleagues must always know what to expect. Do not be firm on issues today and ignore misbehaviour the next day. It sends mixed messages. If you have set performance, behavioral standards that are aligned with the organization’s policies, goals and objectives, you have to be consistent in ensuring that you are encouraging those. 

 Lastly being firm and resolute does not equate to being unkind and unfeeling about our colleagues personal struggles. We must show them we are as equally concerned about them and their welfare as we are about getting the job done.

 There is no perfect leader and we will not always get it right but we must be willing to learn from our mistakes and grow as leaders too.

 For first time mothers: managing the home and career changes

 For first time mothers: managing the home and career changes

 It takes a village to raise a child. Adesola advises building a support system around you to help ease the burden of the career and personal life.  Get a support system that actually works and that is on your side. What do I mean? I mean, have a mentor when it comes to work, this might be a senior colleague within or outside the organization. Belong to groups for career women where people share ideas with regards to such things. Belong to a support group who you can share your struggles with and get wise counsel.

 Having a mentor or more is so important. Sometimes your mentor may be a role model not within your immediate vicinity, but you have access to online or via social media. Go for people who have done what you are about to do, and have succeeded doing it. People who have walked the path you want to walk. I know sometimes we think that no one has ever been through the struggles we are going through.

But that’s never the case. There are always people who have had similar journeys. The great thing is that they help you walk that journey faster and avoid the same pitfalls they fell into while on their own journey. So you do not need to make the mistakes that they’ve made, it doesn’t need to take you 10 years because they help you collapse it into 4 years through their shared experiences and guidance. They know where the roadblocks are and are able to quickly advise you. 

 On the home front, you will also need a strong support system. It doesn’t have to be just your husband, it can be other family members, neighbours and friends too. Communication is key with all of those you need in your corner. Since you are a first time mum and also juggling a career, your home support system needs to know and understand your present needs. 

Communicate what changing a job will mean and how it will affect other areas of your life, what it will take. Talk to them, actively seek their help and let them know the exact type of support you need. For instance, you will need to let your husband know where exactly you need him to pitch in to support you at home. Let him know the sacrifices you may both need to make to succeed in this new phase in your life. A lot of times we get stuck because we have not effectively communicated and reached out for help.

 How women can gain insights about opportunities for growing their career in HR and tech

 The key here, Adesola says, is to join relevant human resources and tech groups. “By joining the relevant groups, conversations are happening every day, people are inspiring each other, people are sharing opportunities, etc. That’s how you can do it. Join the groups, volunteer in the groups and participate actively in what’s going on there. There’s so much resource that is at our disposal these days, that it’s almost impossible to not know how to get ahead.

But in terms of the opportunities, they are there. Register with the relevant bodies and associations in these industries, so that you receive information about webinars that are happening, training etc, all of those things. So it’s about being connected with the right people and developing the right relationships. And you can do that by belonging to the right associations that support your career aspirations.

 Also mentors, because they also are definitely people who can connect you to the right resources and people. Developing relationships with senior people in your profession as well as developing the right relationships, internally and externally, of your organization. So that’s it.

 On fostering and encouraging other women to embrace each other

fostering and encouraging other women to embrace each other

 On this question, she asserts that the first step to embracing each other and becoming cheerleaders to one another is acceptance. First of all accepting who we are as women, accepting our beautiful sides and flaws, successes and failures. 

 “We give ourselves this negative self-talk, because of the way society has reflected back who we are, because somebody said something, or society thinks something, or culture says you shouldn’t have a voice because of your gender, and those kinds of things, depending on what part of the world you come from. These are real issues. Then we pass this attitude to other women.

To prevent that and ensure that we continue to be each other’s greatest cheerleaders, we must make sure that we embrace ourselves, we need to identify our unique qualities and what makes us. That’s why I say knowing your strengths, knowing your weaknesses. I read a beautiful quote recently, and it said “to try to be a man is a waste of a woman”. That’s a beautiful quote and it underscores the fact that we are uniquely and deliberately crafted as women to be just that, ‘WOMAN’.

 When we find ourselves, when we discover who we are and why we are, it’s easy to support and celebrate the next woman. We do not see her as competition, because our journeys are different. We recognise that each woman’s success and achievement paves the way and makes it even more possible for other women to succeed.

Kamala Harris is now a Vice President in America, she has made it easier for other females to aspire and attain the same. If a woman becomes the first female Managing Director of an organization, she has paved the way for other women to rise easily into that position. So it’s about perspective and understanding that we each have our unique place, we all have different paths we must walk, and as we support other women in their journey to the top, we open the doors for ourselves and millions of other women to rise as well.

On managing impulsive bosses who don’t communicate

 Before labelling anybody, Adesola first advises taking an outside-in approach to understanding what the boss has to deal with daily in terms of employee, resources, time and so on. She advises employees to try the following strategies:

  1. Take an outside-in approach; put yourself in their shoes and try to understand your boss as a human being and relate with her as such. When you understand people, you find better ways of communicating with them and having them com So learn how to manage your boss also.
  2. Always seek further clarification when given tasks. Ask questions to ensure you and your boss are on the same page about what needs to be done. Get all the details that will allow you to meet their expectations.
  3. Seek advice from other senior members of the organisation or your mentors about how to relate better with your boss.

 In the end, if all of this does not work to improve the relationship, it might be time to exit such situations. First, weigh the pros and cons of the relationship. Is value being added to you? Are you improving as an employee? As an individual? Or are you becoming less effective and losing your sense of self-worth and value. Your evaluation of the environment would aid your decision.

 On growing to become Head of HR while working for only one company…

 I would say it’s very possible because I’ve seen that happen. In the bank where I started my career, the staff who started at very junior levels eventually rose through the ranks to lead various departments and divisions.

 I think the important thing is to ensure you are developing yourself whether within one organization or across different ones. Build capacity, expand your knowledge of several areas of the business in the company because as the head of HR, you will be required to sit with various heads of businesses and the board in meetings.  At these meetings, it is expected that you can contribute to all discussions ranging from Finance to issues about Marketing etc.

Your ability to engage effectively will depend on the knowledge, experiences, education and exposure you have acquired over the years. All these come into play when you want to rise to the top of your career ladder. As the Head of HR you would be interacting with different people who represent the organisation in various roles and you must be able to speak their language. So yes, it is possible. It’s not always the case but it’s possible.

 Dealing with criticism and negative feedback

 They say don’t throw the baby with the bathwater, right? So when it comes to negative feedback, you want to leave your emotions at the door, even though we’re all emotional beings and obviously, words will hurt. If the feedback is focused on addressing wrong behavior and or performance, try to stomach it and focus on the aspect of the feedback that relates to how you can improve in the areas noted.

 Everyone is on a personal career journey. That’s the truth. And so you need to be selfish with your career journey and keep your emotions in check, take the feedback needed for you to improve and grow, positive and negative. We all wish things could be said to us in nicer ways but that is not always the case.

 Taking the outside-in perspective helps as well. You know, the person giving the feedback could have had a bad day that had nothing to do with you, and the criticism can come from those situations. If that’s the case, try not to let it get to you, talk to a friend or family to get it off your chest and go on with your day.

 However, if you’re talking about constant negative criticism that focuses on attacking the individual instead of the work or behaviour, then I would say that is not right and you may want to exit that type of toxic environment. 

Major factors that predicted the success of the ladies on the panel

A lot of things come together to result in the success of individuals. For the women on the panel discussion, Adesola alludes to some factors in addition to the earlier requirements of having a strong support system both on the professional and personal level. She discussed extensively around the following factors:

  1. Clarity of vision of where they wanted to be
  2. Finding the right mentors to guide them
  3. Putting in the hard work required
  4. Seizing opportunities when available
  5. Tenacity and doggedness; never giving in
  6. A non-compromising and strong value system
  7. Developing the right network and relationships 

 Women development we can all embark on

 On the development of women as a whole, she alludes to the importance of starting from your immediate network. More women are dealing with things that you are probably not aware of that is why we must all be perceptive and conscientious. 

 “I recognize some of the women I work with are at different stages of their lives and because I’ve passed through some of those stages — whether it’s the person who’s still fresh out of school or getting married or becoming a new mother — I try to support them.  We’ve had instances where people have had to work from home for a while, because they didn’t have a support system like a nanny. It truly is recognizing what stage of life or season each woman and being there to help where we can. It’s also about creating an environment where they feel free to discuss and ask for the help and support they need.

 In terms of opportunities within the system. I always try to challenge them to see and take on opportunities that exist for both males and females within the company.  But conversations like the one we had with the panelists on IWD always make me see I can and should be doing more. So we keep improving.

 Final words…

 Women hold a unique position in life. We are nurturers, we are builders, and we have what is called ‘intuition’. Those are special gifts that have been placed in us by design. These are great attributes that make us uniquely positioned to be great leaders. So don’t dispel them. Don’t put them away. Use them to help you build capacity, exploit them to help you produce better, relate with people better, and ultimately help others and you shine. Those would be my parting words.

 To get more insights from other leading women across Nigeria, click here to listen to the full conversation. 

You can also schedule a consultation to speak with Adesola today to learn how Workforce Group can help you engineer female inclusion and empowerment in the workplace.

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