Thursday, May 23, 2013

Women in Leadership - Speaking Out!


Being an executive coach and an actuary puts me in a unique position. As an actuary, I’m assumed to have a workable level of financial knowledge and as a coach, I’m assumed to be able to guide people to certain levels of understanding, knowledge and awareness. Putting the two together creates an interesting dynamic around creating awareness about finances, our emotional relationship to money and a whole host of how to’s relating to financial savvy. The demographic that seems to require the most input in this area is women… and guess what? I’m a woman too! Putting all this together, often leads people to asking me why I don’t niche myself in this area?

The truth is that when I first went into coaching, that was the niche that struck me as an obvious link between my previous career and this one. You know – a South African Suze Orman of sorts. Yet, I haven’t done it and more importantly I haven’t wanted to do it.

The question I asked myself was – Why? Why don’t I want to create a niche that seems to be a much needed area of development and that I am well placed to do? I’ve given this quite some thought over time and when I came across Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean-In, I had my answer. Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, has written a book about what’s holding women back in the workplace. She gives interesting stats about how things haven’t really changed with the times and looks at some of the reasons why, moving away from the traditional arguments about glass ceilings and the like. Her reasoning is that women should embrace success, go for what they want and not fear being direct, forthright, ambitious and confident. The key idea is that – yes – society has a certain way in which it views women, but women have bought into it, lock stock and barrel.

This book was a light-bulb moment for me; it resonated on a deep level. I don’t want to buy into the story that society created about how we view women. I want to create my own story! And so should every other woman on this earth. So this one is for you, woman, what is your purpose? What do you dream of? And what will it take to make it happen?

I’ve seen women being complimented on things they do well and what do they say?
Oh, it was nothing
Really, you think it was good?
No, you do it so much better
Oh! Stop please!

Sounds familiar? How about saying thank you – yes, that took a lot of work and I’m glad it paid off.

In my coaching practice, when working with women, if it happens that I highlight that my client is so busy taking care of everyone else that she isn’t taking care of herself, I get the standard answer – I don’t want to be selfish. I’ve never heard a man say that.

We are buying into the story of feeling uncomfortable with our own power so that we can’t accept compliments easily. We think that taking care of our own needs and going for success is being selfish. Those are some of the things that may be reinforced by society but if we women take them on and start living within this story, we only have ourselves to blame.

Now, I know that I’m generalising and that every person is different. But, for me, creating a niche of working with women on their financial savvy is just buying into a story that women don’t/can’t/won’t take charge of their own finances.

This is a call to all women – take charge of your life, your destiny and your power. In Sheryl Sandberg’s words… Lean In! Now that is a message I resonate with.