“Brand of a Woman"
Interview by Alessandra Zocca
Ann De Jaeger, Partner at Executive Learning Partnership and founder of the “BRAND me” program.
PWI – Ann, you are running the very successful leadership program "BRAND me" (*).
What inspired you to create something for women and what triggered you to launch this type of initiative?
This program is just one of the many things I do with my company that deals with leadership development. In our programs we also deliver personal feedback tools (e.g. 360° questionnaire) and in this way I came to know that a number of women were unhappy about themselves and about the company they worked in, or they were successful but not happy.
I wondered what blocks people, given that they are talented and motivated, and I realized that women can be totally blocked by the fact that they do not know themselves or they do not appreciate themselves. As a consequence they are unhappy about themselves and their work.
I also realized that women are the majority of the young employees joining companies, but still the high levels are dominated by men. So I started thinking what women need to do and master in order to succeed and be happy.
Honestly Alessandra, I could have simply accepted the general dissatisfaction of women as a matter of fact, but I chose to engage myself in “doing something to help”. My talent is designing and running programs with lasting impacts, so I decided to create one for talented women. This is how I was inspired and I came up with the “BRAND me” program.
Through the “BRAND me” program women learn how to be “authentic”, meaning to know themselves, their strengths and their weaknesses, and how to deal with them.
As illustrated in this scheme, when women know what they can do and what they can’t, they are very well equipped to make choices and to take the actions in which they can perform. Women need to know when they can compromise (what/when it is not too important) and when they have to speak up.
Authentic people are ready to perform at their best and this is ideal for a company.
This is why "BRAND me” is “a journey through choices for talented women", designed to meet the personal and professional development of women.
PWI – Ann, according to surveys, women tend to be afraid to speak up, they fear to lose their job or to block their career …
True, Alessandra, but then these women are playing a role, they are not authentic people. Fear is a very bad counselor, which limits contribution. Additionally being in a company where actions are triggered by fear is not a nice/positive place to be and represents a sort of betrayal of oneself. Actually if you are happy with yourself and you know your strengths, there nothing to be afraid of.
PWI - How can women cope and succeed in a business world governed by male rules? Do you ever feel men are resentful of the fact that more women are on a path to the boardroom?
We cannot change history, companies started being built in times when most women stayed at home, women started working massively only from the seventies and now they are the majority at the entry level after education completion, but if you look at the top layers of companies, it is still male dominated.
To answer your question about resentfulness, honestly I think that there are more resentful women than men, and resentful towards other women. Women that have really made it to the top are sometimes what I call “she-men”, totally conformed to the masculine standards that they will make it very difficult for other women to succeed. It is terrible, Alessandra, but it a fact.
These are the women that will strongly oppose “quotas”; the rationale behind their attitude might be “I made it with great sacrifice, why should I make it easier for the other ladies? You will have to work very, very hard too and you will have to suffer, just as much I did ...”. That is a spiteful behaviour, these “she-men” are beyond the point of return, unless something happens in their lives like a tragedy or they become ill, or …
PWI – … they fall in love, maybe? Ha, ha!
… if these women still have the ability to do that, Alessandra, because to be able to fall in love you have to open up, you have to crack your defenses, otherwise how can you be with somebody else?
Fortunately there are many stages before reaching the total conformation to the male scheme, when women instinctively – as an act of survival – realize it’s not too late for them to do something about it.
So, knowing this, I wondered what I could do positively to help women to succeed in the current male business world and it took me some time to figure out a couple of things:
- There are a lot of business women that are successful but they are not happy and, if people are not happy, they cannot perform to their full potential.
- Talented women hate to become less feminine to succeed in a male business world. They do not want to be associated with the whole female leadership issue; on the contrary they want to be valued for their talent and their competencies.
What do women need to master in order to succeed and also be happy in a male word?
- First of all women need to know themselves thoroughly, and this happens when they are exposed to difficult and stressful situations. Women need to deeply understand what is important to them, what they really value, on what they can or cannot compromise. Unfortunately many women never ask themselves that question.
- Women should make their expectations explicit. In my experience inside the companies, where we run customized modules of the “BRAND me” program, I had the opportunity to talk to the participants’ bosses, who often have no idea of the expectations of the women who report to them.
- •Women should solve the dilemma between career and staying at home and not hang around thinking about it, but make a choice. The home front is just a matter of organization, period. It is much more crucial whom you marry than the decision to have children, for instance. If a woman wants to have a career and in the tough moments she is not supported by her partner - somebody who understands and accepts the consequences of having a career - it will become very difficult for her.
- •Stop perfectionism! Women want to be perfect in everything: the perfect wife, the perfect mother, the perfect house-keeper … They want a perfect career, a perfect look, perfect dresses, a perfect car … forget it, it’s simply not possible! Women should take care of themselves, dress the way they want to be paid and …
PWI – Sorry to interrupt you, Ann. Would you please clarify what you mean with “dress the way they want to be paid”, it sounds intriguing …
Well, don’t dress dull, your dress expresses what you think, what you feel. It is important to take good care of our look, because it is a fact that people judge us immediately by our attire, women are the first to do that, so we should check our look first.
Going back to women’s addiction to perfectionism, I recommend women to drop things that are not so important, for example is it so key that your house is shining clean all the time? Or your car? These worries might make women nervous with additional unnecessary stress. In my opinion, Alessandra, if women want to have a career and be successful, the point is:
- Know very well upfront the related consequences of having a career
- Stop nagging about these consequences and stop being perfectionist at all costs
- Get the support of your family, partner and children
- Organise, organise and organise!
PWI –You state that "Women are not men", how does women's leadership differ from men's one, if there is a difference in your opinion?
What do you think - generally speaking - women still need to develop (attitude, skills etc.) to show true leadership?
The first big difference in leadership between men and women is that women have a typically feminine “radar view” opposite to a man’s “laser view”. In a meeting men tend to focus on single issues and numbers, women see what numbers do not reveal; for example in a commercial plan men look at the numbers, while women grab what does not match in it.
A radar view includes feeling intuitively the situations and people, something which in general men do not have time for.
Another difference is that for women the economic profit alone is not enough, they also want a benefit to the society, a wider purpose. For example, if a company has a profitability of 7% and they want to increase it to 9% because of shareholders’ pressure, then women will be happy to find ways towards this target, but they will raise objections to pursuing it, if this implies damaging people or the environment. Women are very sensitive to the environmental issues, and if women stop raising these objections it means that they have given in and conformed to the male culture.
Another difference is that men see their job as a step to their next role. If you ask women, they do not concentrate on the next step, for them it their current job that is important and they are not willing to sacrifice the present for a promise: their present life has to be worthwhile in itself.
Self-promotion is another issue for women, women are so afraid of that; even though they perform much better, they think it is normal and they are confident that the person they work for will automatically reward them for their contribution. In other words, implicitly women think: ”If I perform well, I will get what I really want”, which is not at all true, it is a huge mistake.
Let me make another example: if you show a job description of a higher position to a woman and she meets 90% of the requirements, she starts focusing on the 10% she doesn’t meet and doubts whether to apply for it… Given the same opportunity, a man would apply even if he meets only half of the prerequisites!
Linked to the women’s poor self-promoting is their scarce ability of negotiating for themselves: women are good at negotiating for their team, for their products, but not for themselves.
Women lack social capital, they perform, perform, but they forget that the higher you climb, the more you have to make sure you have antennas everywhere in the company to capture the dynamics that affect them. Men have a wider social capital, they tend to know everybody.
Other very typical feminine traits are the ability to connect with people and the lateral thinking. This is reflected in the female language, e.g. women use metaphors of connection and socialization, while the masculine language includes war and sports terminology: attacking, conquering, winning, etc.
The huge contradiction here is that women – despite the high importance they give to socializing – are not good at networking! Women tend to have a very narrow but deep network (friends), while men tend to have a very broad but superficial network, nevertheless men have no difficulty to pick the phone up and ask somebody a favour … Women, on the contrary, feel embarrassed to ask.
Last but not least is the fact that women do not speak up if they do not have facts or are not 100% sure to have all the competencies. This is also why a lot of men think that women are not visionary, but women are visionary! Just they don’t like to talk about things they are not certain about. Vision is about the future, the uncertainty, so in general women are more uncomfortable with that than the average man, but this does not mean they are not visionary.
PWI - How do men usually react to their female colleagues/employees, who attended "BRAND me "? Do they feel the positive benefits?
Overall the biggest compliments I received from male colleagues or bosses of women that have attended our program are:
- “BRAND me” is not about polarisation, meaning it is never women against men. Actually I have even been asked to do a “BRAND me” version for men too.
- Participants show an increased self-confidence, an ignited force that becomes visible.
- The benefits of this program are recognized as long-lasting. This is because I adhered to Aristotle’s three main principles of persuasion in designing our “BRAND me” program, namely:
- à Logos à The argument itself, the head, the content
- àPathos à The emotional state of the hearer ,feelings, heart
- à Ethos à The character of the speaker, credibility, behaviour.
These three elements are all necessary in a program to provoke change in the people involved and to ensure lasting impact. In fact, if people are only intellectually involved, nothing will change: their heart has to be in.
PWI - What is the importance of the project “BRAND me“ for you personally? What have you learned and how have you grown from running the project? What keeps you motivated to continue running it?
The first big lesson I learnt is that women attending the “BRAND me” program don’t want to be associated with “female leadership”, but they want to be addressed as “capable managers/leaders”.
I have also experienced a lot of confidentiality from the participants, with no fear and no risk that it could be used against any of us, the created bonding is very powerful. I am always amazed by what gets unleashed in this program: power, beauty, generosity, trust, emotions and energy …. Like attending a mental spa that unlocks new light and initiative in the professional life of these women.
I keep being motivated because I like what I do, I like to run this program, and because I like it, then I do it well.
PWI – Which are your professional dreams that have not yet come true?
Well, our leadership interventions and programs are paid by companies for their talented employees, so it is still reserved for a privileged minority.
One of my dreams is to be in a position to offer these services to people who are important for society: teachers, police, doctors, nurses, civil servants, etc. It would be beneficial to society, if these people - who have a crucial role in creating a better life for citizens – could have this kind of education and become fully empowered. Now I do not know how to make this dream come true yet, I don’t have the solution unfortunately.
PWI - Since I have met you, I spontaneously felt trust in you; would you like to share with the PWI readership who is Ann, beyond the charming business woman?
I come from a very modest family background; everything I achieved was gained by my own hard work. I am reliable, ethical and modest – modesty is an imprinting from my family -.
I love arts and I am married to an artist, who brought me an enormous consciousness of beauty in music, in cooking, in conversations and in life.
I like emotions, I guess I share it with Italians, I can act the business woman but I like emotional people, people who care, laugh, show humour and who are engaged and enjoy every moment of life.
Emotions are the opposite of indifference, Alessandra; emotions are the secret behind many things: if you put genuine emotions into what you do, people understand you care.
I can work like a slave, as well as be a party animal, these extremes belong to me also on other fields: for example I am passionate about tennis and on the playground I can be your biggest enemy, I want to win, but outside of the game we are friends again and, if you win, I will shake your hand sincerely.
Ann De Jaeger holds a master’s in languages from the University of Ghent (Belgium) and was also awarded the Government’s Medal in Theatrical Art and Poetry. She obtained an MBA at the Vlerick School for Management (Belgium) where she started her career as a Programme Manager and Lecturer in Marketing. She was particularly successful with a groundbreaking programme for startup companies, which brought out the entrepreneur in her.
In 1988 she founded Video Management together with a mix of Belgian investors and renowned professors in management. The company produced and distributed videos featuring world-class management authorities. This allowed Ann to become an expert in popularising difficult management subjects for non-specialists.
Video Management was sold to Pearson in 2000, where Ann ran the Executive Education unit. She co-produced a wide range of e-programmes with the world’s leading business schools. As such, she became well-versed in the blending of teaching techniques and in the project management of complex executive programmes.
In 2003 Ann joined Executive Learning Partnership as a Partner. She designs and directs tailor-made programs and has particular expertise in diversity and the effects of social media on the leadership expectations of digital natives.
Ann De Jaeger
Executive Learning Partnership
STRATEGY & LEARNING ARCHITECTS
3001 Leuven, Belgium
T: +32 (0)16 24 19 10
F: +32 (0)16 24 19 19
Disclaimer - Any views and opinions presented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of ELP, nor do they constitute a legally binding agreement.
Upcoming the “BRAND me” program dates:
• Fall 2012 - October 16 - 18