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Don't be an ice queen

Aug 07 2012 07:41 *Nicole Fannin

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AT THE tender age of 19 I set off to London on what was to be a "growing up" in the wonderful world of investment banking.

Terribly excited I started off, putting my all into each position I held with the sheer determination and enthusiasm that I am glad still resonates now that I am a little older.

To prepare for my journey I read many books including Liar's Poker, a non-fiction, semi-autobiographical book by Michael Lewis.

This was an intense story about "Big Swinging Dicks", swords, drugs and many other interesting and terrifying events that occurred at one particular investment bank. Surely they weren't all like that?

Nevertheless, I was not to be deterred and had no false illusions. I understood that this world was dominated by mostly macho men and that women were sadly not taken too seriously. 

I had no intention to burn my bra, but chose to learn as much as I could and gain valuable experience. I felt as though the odds were slightly stacked against me as a young South African woman in this massively scary environment.

My first real opportunity arose when I was offered a position to work as an assistant trader on the equity dealing floor of a German investment bank.

Once I had come to grips with my job and gained confidence and a desire for self-growth, I pressurised the head of dealing to be promoted to sales trader. I knew I would prove my worth if I was given a shot. 

He eventually succumbed, and I was now given the opportunity to be a player in the big league.

There were very few of us "gals" on the floor in that position and we ensured we all covered each other's backs, so to speak.

It was here that I observed two very different types of woman leader. 

One was promoted to head up the equity trading floor, while the other headed up one of the dealing desks. These two women had much in common including work ethics, and both were incredibly smart, driven and passionate. 

However, they were two completely different characters in their approach to managing people.

To date, this has been one of the most valuable lessons I have learnt about the importance of the qualities an effective and successful leader requires.

My past experience with most women managers was that they had too much to prove to their male counterparts. They were mostly cold "ice maidens" who were rather ruthless in their approach. 

They did not necessarily identify or connect with their employees, but were more interested in rising ever higher on the corporate ladder. It was a very disappointing observation, but I wondered at the time whether one had to be like that to be successful.

One might expect this of men, although my experience of them has - barring one swinging macho bull - been very good. Why did these women behave like this?

Quite frankly, it was offputting and I made a decision at the time that I would not follow suit.

But there was a glimmer of hope - my exceptional friend, who headed up the equity desk. She showed me that to be a highly successful woman leader, you don't have to replace all the oestrogen with testosterone.

Generally speaking, most women have qualities of compassion, understanding and love. We should not have to put these qualities in the broom cupboard when we get to work each day. 

Why not rather use them to build up our employees' morale and help them reach their business potential? Surely this approach would lead to achieving one's goals in the business world?

Regardless of whether you are a man or a woman in a position of leadership, it is something that is earned and yes, it is a gift. Not all of us want to lead.

But those that do and are of the fairer sex, remember you are still a woman, and therefore act with grace and have the compassion that is your birthright.

Don't get me wrong: being sharp, strong and decisive is very important in the workplace and particularly in a leadership role. However, one does not need to bring the bull whip to work to earn respect.

To Joyce Meyer (Christian ministry leader), Gill Marcus (SA Reserve Bank governor), Maggie Thatcher (former British prime minister) and my wonderful friend Kathy Smith: I applaud you.

You set the bar for me.

 - Fin24

*Nicole Fannin is financial consultant at deVere Group. She is the fifth guest columnist taking part in Fin24's Women’s Month campaign celebrating women in business. Fin24 welcomes your participation in the campaign. Send your views to editor@fin24.com and you could get published.


Previous women's month columns:

Get your hands dirty - Sandra Burmeister, CEO of the Landelahni Recruitment Group

Manage like a woman - Wahida Parker, director of Equillore

Four tips for working moms - Glynnis Jeffries, head: business development at Futuregrowth

Women a force for change - Amelia Jones, CEO of Community Chest


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