NEWSLETTTER | WOMEN IN MOTION
Master the Art of You
One of the key findings of the 2009 Most Influential Women (MIW) judging process was that most businesswomen do not know how to sell themselves in the corporate world. We spoke to Professor Shirley Zinn, the Deputy Global Head of Human Resources (HR) for Standard Bank and HR Director for Standard Bank South Africa, Jenna Clifford, the founder of Jenna Clifford Designs, and Diane Frank, CEO Communications’ Employee of the Year 2009, to find out their perspectives on the matter.
Why are most women struggling to ‘sell’ themselves?
Shirley Zinn (SZ): The development of a personal brand is still a complex journey, as women do not consciously think of themselves as a brand, even less of selling themselves. The legacy of the disempowerment of women in the workplace has silenced and/or diluted the positioning of women. It has also impacted on the self-esteem of women. Women have a lack of confidence and are concerned about what others might think and they tend to be reticent about the promotion of themselves and their achievements.
Jenna Clifford (JC): Women’s entry into the business world is fairly recent and patriarchy has had an effect on women and their perceived ‘role’ in society. The perception that women are not ‘business oriented’ and that they belong at home has significantly and negatively contributed to the psyche of most people, resulting in a women’s lack of confidence in the business world. This perception needs to be broken, which will result in a new and level playing field for all. Women need to let go of the FEAR (false evidence appearing real) and shine as they are meant to.
Diane Frank (DF): For so many years, ‘woman’ was synonymous with wife, mother and grandmother, with duties ranging from cooking and cleaning to housekeeping. In recent years, women have realised the importance of being self-sufficient and are carving a future for themselves in previously male-dominated arenas. There are, however, still prejudices regarding a woman’s place in the business world and some old-fashioned people still believe in the concept of ‘bare-foot and pregnant in the kitchen’.
As a woman leader, how did you learn to ‘sell’ yourself?
SZ: I am constantly inspired by role models to lift my game. I try to sell my ideas and initiatives, rather than myself, and build relationships with key stakeholders so that they understand my intent and where I am coming from. I take risks and step out of the ‘fear’ domain, to being comfortable with who I am and what contributions and differences I can make. I am true to myself and take a stand when the old oppressive practices and behaviours emerge.
JC: It was only through desperation that I was able to learn how to ‘sell’ myself, as I had no other option but to become my own personal brand. If I wanted to succeed I needed to possess a confidence that was unquestionable, so I was forced to spend a lot of time reading and networking and through this my confidence developed and my presence grew. If one becomes proficient in their field of endeavour, one can only build on confidence and ultimately, succeed.
Which women leaders do you believe have mastered the art of ‘selling themselves’?
SZ: I admire women leaders in business and government internationally, like Aung San Suu Kyi, Gail Kelly, Michelle Obama and former South African first Lady, Graca Machel.
JC: There are many good examples, particularly Wendy Luhabe, Pam Golding, Joan of Arc, Helen Suzman, Helen Zille, Patricia De Lille and Hillary Clinton.
DF: Yolanda Cuba, the CEO of Mvelaphanda and Dr Anna Mokgokong of CI Holdings. My other mentors are my mother and my former Sunday Times colleague Anna Whielers. Is it not ironic that I started my career with a mentor whose initials were AW and my current mentor at CEO is also AW – Annelize Wepener – who believes in me and constantly inspires me to follow my dreams and achieve my goals?
What advice will you give young women, aspiring to be leaders, in selling themselves/their skills?
SZ: Be authentic. Your performance is key to who you are and how people experience you. Seek mentorship from successful leaders. Always be on top of your game and continue to learn. Never lose your femininity as you climb the career ladder. Live your values and principles.
JC: If you believe in your career and yourself, don’t give yourself a back door. Stay resolute to your dream, and don’t become side-tracked by what is perceived to be a good or bad opportunity. You must remain absolutely focused on the goals you have set for yourself, remain sure of the dream and you will get there. Many women today give up on their ‘dream business’ when things get slightly uncomfortable and challenging. The key ingredients for success are integrity, compassion, perseverance, responsibility, respect and honesty.
DF: Believe in yourself and know that only you have the power to succeed. Ensure that, while you are still young, you equip yourself with the necessary skills to carry you on your way to success. Never approach anything with hesitation and go forward boldly. Take advice, listen carefully and always respect everyone around you. Chose a mentor and follow in her steps. Remember: knowledge also comes from the most unexpected sources so keep your eyes and ears open.