The Visibility Question
Wikipedia: Sarah Guppy was born in Birmingham, England. In 1811 she patented the first of her inventions, a method for making safe piling for bridges. Thomas Telford asked her for permission to use her patented design for suspension bridge foundations, and she granted it to him free of charge. As a friend of Isambard Kingdom Brunel and his family she became involved in the Great Western Railway, writing to the directors with ideas and giving her support. She continued to offer technical advice despite the fact that, as she wrote, "it is unpleasant to speak of oneself—it may seem boastful particularly in a woman."
And who was credited with the building of the Bristol suspension bridge?
Embedded in our culture
On the whole women are not socialised to be visible. We are brought up with the slogans: ‘Behind every man there is a powerful woman’, ‘Women are the weaker sex’ and ‘women and children first' We are encouraged to be relational, to include everyone, to build trust and to be good. On top of that girly things like crying, being sensitive to how others are feeling, caring for others, being encouraging, having babies, are inclined to have negative connotations at work. Take a look on everydaysexism.com if you need further convincing!
It is no surprise that we feel uncomfortable stepping out and telling people who we are and what we do. Somehow we fear we make ourselves open to criticism. We are prey to widely held generalisations about ‘a woman’s place’, which have to be changed if women are to operate on a level playing field.
To have an impact on these deeply held prejudices the only way forward is to change them and not just in the minds of men. Woman also have a responsibility to recognise that this view is counterproductive, keeping us small and tentative. As Marianne Williamson famously said "There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you”.
Women are adults and we are 100% responsible for our actions. If we want people to see us we have be visible and manage the consequences.
We can consider this at a macro as well as a micro level. On the macro level, there are more and more organisations, large and small, that are raising women’s visibility in every field of endeavour: Women on Boards-helping women take on board roles, Catalyst-publishing women focused research, We are the City-a resource enabling women to find out about relevant events, the City Women’s Network-a networking organisation for senior women, Makers-producing videos of amazing women’s stories and in addition, many industry specific women’s organisations. Then of course, there is the The Davis Report, which has played a major role in raising the official profile of women in the work place.
These are just the tip of the iceberg of organisations, groups and individuals, that are now dedicated to making women more visible. More and more women are understanding how much we need role models and stories to help us connect emotionally with how strong and effective women can be. In the last few years especially, they have been changing society’s perceptions. Think Sheryl Sandberg Lean In
The Micro level
At the micro level each one of us is realising the need to take ourselves on. We know when we are fully in touch with our own unique set of skills, we are capable of making a significant contribution, to the strategic direction of our organisations and are recognising the need to proactively make that happen. If we are to be successful, we need to have a visibility strategy, which can be challenging as our socialisation can bring up all kinds of limiting beliefs that have us feeling confused and uncertain. We may even project that outwards demonising men seeing them as ‘unconscious control freaks’.
But men are not the enemy, they have been brain washed in exactly the same way we have, making it just as difficult for them. Nancy Kline in her excellent book, Time to Think has a comparative list of human characteristics that men have to learn to systematically let go of as they grow to manhood in exactly the same way as many women have learned to let go of their executive potential.
By becoming more visible we are supporting them too, shifting their thinking by challenging it in proactive and thoughtful ways. If being shy and retiring holds women back, then I suggest that the list on the right makes it equally difficult for men to understand the value that women bring.
But there would be no women at the top of organisations at all if thoughtful men hadn’t helped them get there. By taking the actions to make ourselves more visible, we are opening up a dialogue encouraging men to ask themselves more questions about whether it really is the most profitable thing to do not to:
give you a pay rise,
acknowledge your contribution,
give you more responsibility,
listen to your ideas,
introduce you to the important clients,
di da di da di da!
More and more evidence is being published now that suggests that decisions that take advantage of a diversity of views are better decisions and make more money!
Your Visibility Strategy
Your strategy will be influenced by your internal energy system – who you are, what you believe you bring to the table and what is important to you to achieve and why. With an integrated sense of yourself you are in a much better place to consider: how your organisation can benefit from your contribution, who specifically, you need to be talking to and what you need to be doing both within and outside the organisation. When you have created a bigger picture then you can ask yourself, where is the easiest place to begin, to get your message across.
To help formulate your visibility strategy the format below will act as a prompt if you lose your momentum.
Make it easy
Who you are means that certain approaches will be easier to master/mistress than others. If you are happy to stand and present to people, you will feel happier raising your profile in this way or you may feel more comfortable to write papers. articles or blogs to get your ideas across. The important thing is to have a clear goal and a manageable next step towards it.
The list below will help you come up with initiatives. It isn’t exhaustive but reading through it will probably trigger other ideas.
· A presence on social media
· Taking on stretch projects
· Keeping key stakeholders in the loop
· Initiating something – a woman’s network, a book club, brown bag lunches, facing a challenge for charity
· Client feedback
· Speaking at conferences
· Being a thought leader – writing articles, blogs, being on panels
· Talking about yourself and your ambitions
· Knowing who are the key players who will make what you do visible.
· International assignments
· Telling stories
· Expanding your network across your industry – a mentor is good but sponsors are better
· Getting a coach to help with challenging communication.
· Offering to represent your team on planning committees at meetings or on projects
· Building a good relationship with your boss, tell him what you are thinking – build your plans into your appraisal, clarify his expectations. If you do deliver this what can you expect in return, by when.
· Making your boss look good
· Attending networking events, introduce people, make requests
· Demonstrating the skills you have that are not required in your role
· Attending trainings, cascading them down the organization
· Over deliver but make sure the right people know you did.
It will work better if you arrange your list of possible initiatives in order of difficulty and do the easier ones first. That way you will build your confidence and make steady progress.
Celebrate your successes
Although the progress of women out there in the world can sometimes feel very slow, we must remember we have come a long way since the suffragettes were risking their lives to give women the vote. The journey towards more diverse representation involves many individuals understanding what personal challenge they need to address next and taking that step in the way that best makes sense to them. And most important is making sure you celebrate your successes. If you you don’t believe in it, no one else will!