Women, across companies and industries, thrashing through intense personal and professional issues resulted in a very productive 4-hour session! We discussed some unique challenges women professionals face and how they can overcome some of these through cultivating and projecting a strong personal brand.
Here are some snippets of what transpired in the workshop
After a fun icebreaker, Sonali introduced the concept of Personal Branding and the myths about it. Unlike what most people misunderstand it for in terms of external appearance and how one speaks and carries herself, Sonali clarified that real personal branding starts from inside. She highlighted the fact that as one moves up the corporate ladder, it becomes more and more important to be visible and be seen as a capable leader.
“Your brand is a perception or emotion, maintained by somebody other than you, that describes the total experience of having a relationship with you.” – David McNally and Karl Speak, authors of ‘Be Your Own Brand’
For all professionals – and most especially for women – it is critical to start projecting themselves in a specific, well thought out manner. As careers advance beyond middle management, the challenges of the work are compounded by the cutthroat competition to advance up the ladder. This is when your personal brand could be the differentiator that keeps you moving up.
4 Key Aspects For Building A Personal Brand
The workshop covered the 4 main aspects of building a personal brand – self-concept, communication style, visibility and networking.
Self-concept is our knowledge about ourselves, including our beliefs about our personality traits, physical characteristics, abilities, values, goals, and roles. As we grow up our self-concept becomes more abstract and complex.
Our self-concept very strongly affects the way that we process information relating to ourselves. The participants went through an assessment and came to understand their own self-concepts and how it is impacting their behaviour and choices. This whole exercise actually set the mood for the workshop and made the participants think deeply about themselves.
The discussion then turned to self-talk and core beliefs. Our core beliefs are the very essence of how we see ourselves, how we see others, the world and the future. These are rules that we take as a given. They colour our way of thinking in any given situation. If we believe that the world is not fair, we will look for signs that confirm this belief and we will question everyone’s agendas and actions. Similarly, if we believe that we are not smart (because we have been constantly told so), then we will not even try to make an effort to do better.
The discussion on the core beliefs gave immense insights to participants when they shared how being a perfectionist is taking a toll on them. Delegating work to others is hindered by their own ‘Must’ and ‘Should.’ One of the participants also shared her experience of when she was micromanaging a family picnic to the point that after the outing she was totally exhausted.
The participants also realised how their core beliefs were shaped during their childhood and how important it is as a parent to be careful about what messages we give our children all the time. Someone who is constantly held up to a higher standard of performance may actually develop a belief that they are not good enough in any situation. This can be debilitating, especially in the work environment.
The discussion then veered to the fact that a lot of women do not aspire for leadership roles as their belief is that a leader needs to authoritative and aggressive and that they do not want to be that kind of a person. Sonali highlighted that the traits of successful leaders in the current age are very different from this age-old image of a dominating and aggressive leader. She urged the women to take on leadership roles as they have the capability to thrive in such roles.
#2. Communication Style
Our communication style also plays a huge role in how people perceive us. This point was driven through roles plays. Given our socialisation, women tend to be more passive or passive-aggressive. Sonali underlined the need to be assertive, especially in the work environment and while dealing with demanding and aggressive colleagues.
Women tend to feel embarrassed to say NO in many situations because of their conditioning. This self-effacing behaviour is especially obvious when personal issues crop up. They frequently feel – and are told so by colleagues and bosses – that the right to prioritise a personal life is not something career women have. This makes them feel very guilty and pressurised.
Participants were asked to reflect and identify which areas in their lives they needed to be more assertive in. They then discussed their rights and correlated them with the situations in which they need to be more assertive. Participants share that this is one area where they really need to improve as not being assertive can take a big toll on their health and personal life.
Sonali highlighted that to get ahead in the workplace, you have to be seen. Being visible at work allows employees to demonstrate their skills, land prominent assignments, and build strategic relationships.
Studies have shown that women’s contributions are systematically overlooked at work, especially if they are not visible and assertive. This limits their professional advancement and explains why the senior levels of organizations remain overwhelmingly male-dominated. Yet when women try to make themselves more visible, they tend to face backlash for violating expectations about how women should behave. This fear of backlash leads women to believe that if they try to be more visible they may even risk losing their hard-won career gains.
Many women shared how they struggle in their own organisation; they routinely deal with comments on their leaving on time, not being available late at night or for extra projects. They constantly tried to fit in and keep their heads down so as to fit in better and not create a stir. In fact, many even distanced themselves from other women who were perceived as aggressive!
Sonali shared the concept of Intentional Invisibility – how women tend to intentionally become invisible. This was something that almost all participants could relate to their behaviour. Women leaders also realised the important role they can play in support other women in the organisation by giving them the opportunity to speak up and share their ideas and in general be more supportive.
Sonali outlined several ways in which the women leaders can improve their visibility at work without feeling like there are being too aggressive or a show-off.
Networking touched off a debate where women opened up about the challenges they face on the ground trying to create work relationships. Many felt that networking was either unnecessary or sometimes sleazy (this was an important issue in a male-dominated workplace). They also felt that the whole process of networking is inauthentic in some way. It tends to also make demands on their personal time and hence women tend to avoid networking.
Sonali introduced the core concept of networking and clarified the myths the participants had about networking. She showed them how they can do networking without feeling inauthentic and pushy. She also shared how anyone can become a great conversationalist and leverage that ability to get better at networking.
The participants understood that lack of networking was keeping them stuck in their current roles. They needed to build relationships outside their department and organisations to establish themselves as thought leaders and get more opportunities to work on exciting projects.
The whole workshop was intense and made the participants realise how their own thoughts and beliefs may be holding them back. Generational conditioning is a big part of this internal roadblock which promotes a workaholic, aggressive image of a leader that most women can’t seem to align with. Now, of course, the millennial workforce requires a softer touch and organisations are rapidly reassessing the role of a leader – AND women with their heightened emotional intelligence and social skills are perfectly placed to approach leadership roles, which makes this a great time to be women at work!
The participants also realised that the power is within them to make a name and space for themselves and also help other women in their journey. All of them went away greatly motivated to start implementing the learnings of the workshop, and we wish them all the very best!
If you would like to know more about building your personal brand or if your organisation would like to encourage women leaders to grow, then do get in touch.