Our challenge is to succeed on our own terms – not play by men’s rules

By Geeta Sidhu-Robb

The theme of this year’s International Women Day #ChooseToChallenge invites us to confront gender bias and inequality wherever we find it.

As a female founder and leadership coach, I have worked with thousands of women and my mission is to build their confidence, help them to step into their power and activate their voices so that is music to my ears – but I want to set a challenge of my own to every woman reading this.

I coach successful, professional women and the one thing that has consistently surprised me is how many of them fall back on ‘masculine’ traits as a way of dealing with life – probably as a result of working in male dominated environments.  So, my challenge to you is to show up in your life every day as a success; but without compromising your femininity.

I am Indian and I grew up in a world where the men made decisions and I remember thinking, ‘I want to be a man’. I see the same thing in other women who grew up in a male-dominated environments. You learn to believe that men have choices that women don’t.  A seed of behaviour is born that says feminine traits do not help you and, to succeed, you need masculine traits.

The problem is that our bodies pay a price when we behave like men. You start using up your small stores of testosterone to create pushy, driving behaviour to get you to success. But as women, we only have small amounts of it in our bodies, so once it’s used up we use adrenaline to push us.   Adrenaline is also something that we only have a finite store of, and we quickly use it up too.  Once you use up your adrenaline the body uses cortisol to power you and the payoff for this is that we put our bodies under constant, unremitting stress. We pay a price for living like this.

So, as a woman, how do you know when you are leaning on masculine rather than feminine traits to get ahead? The clues are that you want to do everything yourself and hate asking for help because you think you could do it better; you hate to cry or feel weak; you struggle with approval because it matters so much, you need to stay constantly in control.

The danger is that you are not managing your natural emotions, you are suppressing them in order just to get through your day. The good news is you can change this behaviour and it is much easier than you think. You are a woman and at your core you are built to be a woman. It is natural to your body, but if it feels unsafe to be feminine, you end up suppressing this daily.

The first step is to be aware of what you are doing. The core mistake is thinking, “If I express   feminine traits I will be weak and I cannot afford to be weak”. That is the wrong way of looking at it; I tell woman trying to make their way in the workplace to create a feminine version of ambition instead of modelling themselves on a masculine version.

The more you step into who you really are and understand your inherent gender programming the easier it is for others to see you as that person. Find a different way to be powerful – you do not need to earn respect from others, you more need to respect yourself first.

The PwC ‘Women in Work Index’, which measures female economic empowerment across 33 OECD countries, found that progress for women has been set back four years by the COVID-19 pandemic so none of us should be under any illusions about the scale of the challenge in the workplace.

We all find different ways of becoming empowered, but for me it was giving up work as a corporate lawyer and setting up my own nutrition business, Nosh Detox, in 2008. My business has helped me become more confident and own my successes. But one of the most important lessons I learned is: define your own version of success and stick to it. Do not buy into someone else’s.

Running my own business has also helped to inspire my children. My youngest daughter set up a business selling vintage clothes at 17 and learned to turn a profit as a teenager. I would love to think that her generation will learn to succeed on their own terms, not on anyone else’s.

There can be no more fitting message to share on International Women’s Day.

Geeta Sidhu is the Founder and Chief Executive of Nosh Detox and a health coach.

Get in touch with the team