Secrets of a woman in business

Five things you might not know by Janet Toal
 
Being in business has changed quite radically over the last two decades.  Social media marketing, impact of global trends and the ever-increasing importance of sustainability has cultivated a generation of customers and clients with high expectations to have instant access to what they need.
 
It has at best, engaged business to become more innovative and creative but at worst exacerbated by the pandemic, has helped develop a high-pressure always on work culture.  So what can you do to stay sane in a busy world?  How can you juggle all the demands between work and home?
 
Here are my top five secrets that are too good not to share:
 
  1. The lay of the land
When it comes to spinning plates it can all get a busy messy.  As women, we take on lots of responsibilities between home and work.  Many of us including me feel that if we aren’t doing lots then others will think we aren’t interested or motivated in our career.
 
So what is the secret? 
 
Setting boundaries is YOUR responsibility.  Now I do not always follow my own advice and often I can be the person still in the office an hour after I said I needed to leave.  Really, that is just an example of my poor time management and lack of respect for my own boundaries.  Because what I have realised is, if I want others to respect my boundaries then I need to respect them myself first.  It does not matter if you work as a CEO or the Receptionist; it is your responsibility to establish ‘the lay of the land’ between what your job is and what you define as everything else.
 
To help you do this, take some time to ponder over a list of everything and everyone who is important to you.  Make a note.  Now how many people or things on the list relate to your work?  There might be a few but I am guessing they won’t be the top of your list.  Then think about how you prioritise and spend each day.  How can you allocate your time more meaningful to those people or things that rated high on your list?  Maybe you love a good book.  I understand that it is difficult with family or other responsibilities to schedule in time but it is important.  Even to read two or three pages before sleeping reminds yourself that you value what it is you need and enjoy.
 
Placing a value on your boundaries sends a clear signal to those around you.  It means when you spend time working on a project or collaborating with a colleague, they will appreciate that you have scheduled that time especially to focus on whatever the piece of work is.  Sometimes called a work/life balance, the very name suggests that we have to ‘balance’ what we want.  Yet in essence, it is more about organising the time we give and ensuring that we not only place boundaries around that but that we also actually respect them.  So next time you are frazzled, remind yourself of that list and ask yourself the question, how am I spending my time?  Where are my boundaries and most importantly, am I, respecting the lay of my land.
 
  1. Honey and Vinegar
Before she died, my Mum spent a lot of time in hospital.  Between tests, treatments, procedures and check-ups, she met many people, not all of whom were nice.  Yet despite however they spoke or treated Mum, she always asked their name and addressed them in good humour.  I always thought it was ironic how they could be so dismissive and abrupt yet in reality, it was Mum who was short on time.  Life was treating her abruptly enough; they didn’t need to add to it.
 
Her mantra was, ‘honey goes further than vinegar’, the secret being, sometimes the response you get will depend upon how you ask.  It’s no secret that we all like to be spoken to politely but perhaps we don’t always think about what we are asking for and how the request might be received by the other person.  Perhaps you could be tired having spent a night like a relay runner with a small person who seems to be nocturnal or perhaps, you have been under pressure trying to organise support or help for a relative and literally feel like you have been so polite but really got no-where.
 
Despite being in significant pain, Mum always chatted with the Nurse before she asked kindly if she could perhaps get some additional medication.  How her night had been, what she had up to when she was off duty.  When we are busy and pre-occupied it is easy to forget that we are all first of all, human.  Businesses first and foremost are made up of people.  People who show up but who bring with them all the experiences and circumstances of what is happening outside of their work hours.
 
Recognising the language you use, the time taken to ask and even perhaps, the time taken to follow up and thank someone for their help is not difficult to do but could make a difference to the person working with you.  From the barista making your latte to the MD, it really doesn’t matter who you are, honey really does go further than vinegar.
 
  1. Be your own coach
We all know that typically there is always something we don’t like about ourselves.  I guarantee if I asked you right now to name what you would change about yourself you could tell me without any hesitation.  Social media and the squares of picture perfect reality portray sassy, independent people who are everything and more that the world needs.  In comparison, you might think you fall short against this ‘norm’ but really, do you, believe all you see?  There is no secret that self-confidence starts with understanding yourself but secondly, accepting yourself, just as you are.  If you haven’t had it yet, you will someday have your Bridget Jones moment when you realise, you can only be yourself and others will take you as that.
 
To help you on this journey to believe in yourself you could practise affirmations.  My secret is to have conversations with myself where I call myself by my name.  Janet, it is time to step up, you have done difficult stuff before and got through it.  Let’s go!  I am reminded this makes me look like one of my Law Professors from Queen’s who used to walk around campus talking to himself quite extensively.  It was the joke in our year group until on one particular occasion, a fellow student asked him why he did so and he replied, ‘talking to oneself is the sign of an organised mind’.  Who could argue with that?
 
Using this tool can help you be your own coach.  After all, who knows you better than yourself? Choosing a level of objectivity can help change perspective and assist with more creative thinking.  If this is you and you’re in need of some confidence or clarity about how to move forward, check out, the creators of the Squiggly Career, Sara Ellis and Helen Tupper http://www.amazingif.com/
 
  1. Wellies are the new stilettos – getting your feet dirty
I grew up on a dairy farm where my forte was milking cows.  When I passed my driving test, my mode of transport to the local grammar school was the Landrover Defender that had meal bags in the back and go faster stripes from slurry.  It never bothered me, in fact, I am quite glad my childhood involved running around fields after cattle and cooking food for silage time.  The variety of jobs meant you always had a level of curiosity and an appetite for adventure.  Most important, I wasn’t afraid of getting my feet dirty. 
 
This has been not so much of a secret but a real revelation when it came to business.  Having an interest in how to do things and getting involved has meant that I have found ways to stay engaged with what I do.  Having that level of curiosity has meant I have explored new things to learn, undertaken part time study and challenged myself to learn more.
 
Has it always been plain sailing?  Of course not.  I have had to pull on my boots and do hard graft in the literal sense but it has been worth it.  Being a woman in business means you might on occasion have to do get involved in jobs or tasks that aren’t your within your skillset.  For many that can bring anxiety but if you can change your perspective and instead, take it as an opportunity to explore, learn and challenge yourself, you might find it leads to something else completely unexpected.
 
Taking the easy path in business is not always simple but it is not as complicated as when you go off-piste.   Part of the allure of trying something different is the opportunity to enable you to keep surprising others and perhaps, even yourself.  The pandemic has provided an opportunity for reflection and many are thinking about what they could do differently.  If this is you, challenge yourself to look at other paths, which are not as well trod in your experience.  What are you curious about?  Is there something you would like to learn?  What could you do in a different way? 
Fill your boots!
 
  1. Winging it
Finally, my last secret to share, in business and in life, we are all just, ‘winging it!’ It does not matter who we are, how much is in the bank account, type of car we drive or where we live.  Every single one of us shows up each day with all our baggage and aspirations on our back.  We show up and do what we can.
 
There are days when that will mean small victories like winging the contract, nailing the to-do list, not forgetting child number three’s birthday – whatever it is, those days do happen but they happen less often than the days when things will not always go to plan.
 
I am the very proud but also very tired mother of four boys.  I am often told by other women that I am remarkable in that I work, look after the boys and run a home.  This is very much an exaggeration of the truth.  I do work, although if you ask my colleagues they will tell you I am not always calm and collected.  I try very hard to look after my boys but have been known to ignore private number calls on my mobile, which turn out to be the School Nurse advising that a small person requires hospital attention for broken bones…ooops.  And occasionally, I run a home.  Run being the operative word when someone calls unexpected and I have to undertake a sprint to grab washing from seats and clear a path from the front door to the living room. 
 
The secret to being a woman in business is to make no secret of the fact that it is difficult.  I am, most of the time, ‘winging it’ and in my experience that resonates with so many women. 
 
I very rarely watch TV these days but one of my favourite dramas on BBC1 finishes this month, ‘The Split’.  If you haven’t watched it, catch up on good old iPlayer on the story of Hannah, the high flying lawyer who at first glimpse appears to have it all.  The story centres on her family and the experiences they share as women.  In the final episode, it became clear, Hannah, despite the great job, beautiful home and outward appearances, was, like so many others, simply trying to get through. 
 
We all juggle, depending upon circumstance but don’t be fooled into believing that you are missing some secret skill that means everything will work out right.  Sometimes it does but sometimes; life offers challenges that mean a very different ending to what you anticipate.  Whatever the outcome, using these challenges to build resilience provides you with life experience that is never lost. 
 
If you have read to the end, thank you.  Writing a blog has been a secret ambition of mine and I am glad to have had the opportunity.  I hope that having shared my experience as a woman in business you might be inspired to get involved with Women in Business too.  Check out the great training courses that are available.  The Mentoring programme which I can highly recommend and of course, the networking events which provide real opportunity to meet other women and build your contacts.
 
Because if you ask me, the benefits of being a member of Women in Business is the best kept secret of all!
 
 
Janet is a Mum of four boys, who in her spare time is Operations Manager for Innovation Programmes at InterTradeIreland.  A qualified yoga teacher, she enjoys teaching as JustBe Yoga with JT.  Currently completing studies in Coaching and Mentoring for Senior Executives she is also a Boardroom Apprentice with Southern Regional College.  Like to connect?  Find her on LinkedIn