The feminine version of ambition – how women can be powerful in different ways

Employment & Skills | Reports
Geeta Sudhu Robb
Geeta Sidhu Robb

Business Leader recently caught up with performance coach and life strategist, Geeta Sidhu-Robb – CEO and Founder of health and wellbeing firm, Nosh Detox – to discuss female entrepreneurship this International Women’s Day.

Political changes in the workplace and the global resonance of movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp have elevated the global consciousness surrounding the personal and professional hurdles that women face in their daily lives. More and more women in leadership positions are now taking the necessary action to grow their confidence, become more empowered in the workplace, stand up for equal treatment and set their own boundaries.

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

That is music to my ears. As a female founder and executive coach, I have worked with thousands of women and my mission is to build their confidence, help them to step into their power, break through the barriers that are holding them back and activate their voices – 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 deploy masculine traits as a way of dealing with life and work, as opposed to feminine traits. So, my challenge is to achieve success 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 women who grew up in a male-dominated environment. A seed of behaviour is born that says feminine traits do not help you and, to succeed, you need masculine traits.

The problem is you start using your testosterone, but you only have a small amount in your body so you use it up. You then go to adrenaline – this is not natural behaviour so you have to be driven, for which you need adrenaline, but you only have a finite store and you use it up. So, you are then using cortisol and when you do this you are putting your body under constant, unremitting stress. You pay a price for it.

So, as a woman, how do you know when you are exhibiting masculine rather than feminine traits? 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. At your core, you do not want to feel unlovable.

The danger is that you are not managing your emotions, you are suppressing them. 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. But you are 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 women 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 have to be a ball-breaker to earn respect.

Women will always feel that they don’t do enough. They will always feel a little guilty. They will always think they need to do more. As a working single parent my whole adult life, allow me to assure you that ‘work/life balance’ is a total and utter myth. My mentoring helps women to navigate this need to over-compensate, to over-prove, and for many, to manage the guilt and pressures of being a working mum.

It’s also a valued career enhancer and a powerful tool for my clients in the workplace, honing their communication skills and enabling them to work with and talk to men more effectively, and indeed with greater confidence.

And confidence can be harnessed and learnt, but it can also quickly fade amid the turbulence of our daily lives. I help women to maintain that confidence and keep them on track.

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.

When my son was born with severe food allergies, I retrained as a food technician and nutritionist and quickly discovered how nutrition affects the body’s functions. I learnt how to provide a healthy, balanced and safe diet for him and other people suffering with similar ailments. This led to the growth of the UK’s first-ever home detoxification and weight-loss food and juice delivery service.

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.

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