#Asia 5 practical tips for every current and aspiring businesswoman

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Your gender and your success shouldn’t directly correlate

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Not too long ago, I found myself listening to Jessica Alba, actress and founder of Honest, a successful company that has brought transparency to the retail world. Her company promises to tell customers the truth about where its home and baby products come from, what’s in them, and what their impact on the environment is. During her talk, she made a comment that stuck with me. She said, “I didn’t think I was smart for a really long time.” It resonated because I, too, always considered myself “less than” in the intelligence category. I realised many women suffer the same misconception — that they aren’t smart, so they’d better be funny, pretty, friendly, wealthy, or something more to compensate. Why do so many women in business feel like they need to overcompensate?

The current environment is complicated by conflicting expectations. On the one hand, it tells us that we’re plenty brilliant enough to perform in whatever field strikes our fancy. On the other hand, it tells us we’ve got to be fashionable, in shape, friendly and helpful. It can be difficult to navigate all of these expectations and determine which to try to exceed, and which to ignore.

Some of us navigate all of these factors and find ourselves in a position where we feel fully realised as entrepreneurs. Of course, that doesn’t mean we’re out of goals — but we’re able to look in the mirror and greet the powerful forces we are. We can see, concretely, that we have succeeded: we are successful businesswomen. That’s a crucial moment for us to feel proud of ourselves and reflect on the steps we took to get here.

So here’s some practical advice to women climbing up the ladder — or creating their own ladder to climb — who may be feeling “less than.”

Also Read: Isabel ‘Pao’ Barrientos on dispelling myth that women can only make it so far

Stand tall

From a young age, I was taller than most of the kids in my class. As I reached my teens, I grew to be the tallest girl — taller than 98 per cent of all of my classmates. Growing up in the 1980s, I was also told (not by my parents, but by peers, society, and the media) that women aren’t supposed to be taller than men. You can imagine the challenges I faced in my teens and through my twenties with dating, clothing and a lot of stares.

Figuratively, this example applies to many women’s experiences, but unfortunately not all are lucky enough to have the support I did and end up internalising what their culture teaches them. As women, we need to redefine the standards set and we need to lead by example with our children and our friends.

If you hear someone ridiculing another person’s appearance, for instance, don’t be afraid to speak up. Many people don’t realise how a seemingly small, offhand comment can be internalised. In entrepreneurial environments, snap judgments can get nasty in surprising ways. It’s essential that women in business hold each other to a higher standard.

Be bold

Be bold in your willingness to take risks, learn new skills and share your ideas. As women entrepreneurs, we need to take chances on our ideas and encourage our fellow businesswomen’s efforts too. We need to try things that nobody has ever tried before. We should be cultivating real, lasting business relationships using both our amazing skills as women and the business skills we have mastered.

Encourage the ladies in your life to lean into their own boldness. You can do far more than a pat on the back or a positive word. Think of how often a girlfriend mentions something they’re interested in, or a problem they’re trying to solve, or a cause in the world that keeps them awake at night. Be an ear, and do it consistently. Listening is the best place to start, in business and in life. Together, we make bolder business strides.

Also Read: When it comes to gender equality, China is better than Silicon Valley: Dr. Lee Ng

Walk in other people’s shoes

This is an exercise in perspective. Really look at your coworkers, your customers and your clients. We humans aren’t that good at hiding our emotions, even in professional situations. We’re pretty easy to read. Imagine yourself in the shoes of women you want to encourage. Explore solutions from different angles and share your insights. Invite them to do the same.

Network — Then network some more

You really never know when someone you met at a product launch party ages ago could be the perfect connection for someone else. Even when your mentees aren’t present, you can be thinking about what kinds of people will be helpful. Talk them up to new connections too.

If you really want to give practical networking help, file away resources like writing samples, resumes and LinkedIn profile URLs for the women you’re working to empower (with their permission, of course). The power of this is two-fold: first, you’ll have easy access to shareable information when you do run into someone who seems like a good bet for an empowering connection. Second, the amount of support and encouragement the offer itself can cultivate in young women helps them to be braver in their own networking.

Also Read: Not friends, not role models: Parents play key role in influencing girls to do STEM

Give It Time

Nothing worth doing was ever effortless. Think how much time and energy you’ve put into getting where you are right now: countless years, hundreds of connections, hours upon hours of brain-wracking work. Trying new tactics, failing sometimes and trying again. It’s important to be there for your fellow businesswomen. Collaboration comes in many forms, and support in the hard, dark hours is absolutely priceless.

We have opportunities every day to support, collaborate and encourage each other — both for women who are fighting up those first few steps, and for women who are on the (proverbial or actual) top floor. Spread positivity and dedication wherever you can, and don’t be afraid to ask when you need a little encouragement too.

Nicole Smartt is the owner of Star Staffing. She was awarded the Forty Under 40 award, recognizing business leaders under the age of 40. In addition, Nicole co-founded the Petaluma Young Professionals Network, an organization dedicated to helping young professionals strive in the business world. For advice on advancing in your career, go to www.nicolesmartt.com.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organisation comprising the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship programme that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

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