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'Gutsy': Women need to get serious about being taken seriously

In "Gutsy," Sylvia Lafair, PhD gives the reader the encouraging boost to speakup and be assertive. By applying Lafair's techniques, you can clear the impediments from your path to success.Here's an excerpt.

Changing Our Mind-Sets

“Tell me what it is you plan to do with your one wild and precious life.”
Mary Oliver


She sat down; more like slid down on the loveseat in my office, placed her Louie Vuitton bag like a best companion next to her and started to unload her frustrations. Her voice was a combination of strong and unsure. She began somewhere in the middle saying, “I actually felt my intestines twisting in knots. It was a creepy sensation. I felt powerless, frail, frightened. And, most of all I knew I was letting all the women in my company down by not taking a stand. And worse for me, OMG, so much worse I sensed those damn tears forming; ready to roll down my cheeks. Not a way to behave in a hard core meeting of men and minds.”

Kathy was the only woman on the senior leadership team. She was tall, thin, and pretty in a non-threatening way. Her short brown hair and beige clothing kept her from being overly noticed. It was just the way she wanted it.

“There they were” she continued, “talking about the next VP of sales. I knew that Doreen would be perfect and when I suggested her for consideration, the rest of the team, the eight guys, simply kept talking and ignored me.”

“I raised my hand, palm out in the international symbol to stop. Nothing happened. I then put my hand up again, like a traffic cop, same palm out manner and coughed rather loudly. Again they kept going.”

“That was enough so I said, ‘Excuse me gentlemen. I have something to say.’ I looked over at the CEO and said, ‘Michael, I want to discuss my suggestion, and I need some time to speak.’”

“The room became quiet; quiet in a way that smacked of nonverbal annoyance, a way that says ‘can’t she just shut up and go along with the program?’ I had a flash of a memory of those thick, nasty moments when I would challenge my father. My mother would give me that ‘shut up and behave look and I would back down. Yet here I am, a high level executive, Senior VP of Marketing with stellar credentials who was given a promotion for great work and not because I sit down to pee. They, on the other hand, thought I was there to keep the legal department from grumbling. I am their token female. Can you believe it, in the 21st Century? ”

Decisions are too often made behind closed doorsbefore meetings even start.

Her tale ended in a whimper of pity. Seven men plus the CEO told her they would consider her suggestion and then went right back to Game Plan A and the already decided decision, the one they had agreed to before the meeting ever happened, the behind closed doors meeting from which she had been excluded.

“All the executive meetings are like this. I am simply ignored”, she said deflated and defeated.

“So,” I asked with curiosity. “Now what?” The tears Kathy had fought back in the leadership team meeting began to cascade down her cheeks.

Kathy was at that place so many women in business come to; doubting herself, doubting her choices, doubting that real change had or would ever really come in the corporate world. Maybe she was giving up too much of herself and too much of her family life, to be with a bunch of men who would just as soon keep her girdled, locked in submission, not wanting her to speak out. Were they seeing her claim for authority as brazen? Was she making a big mistake taking on the entrenched world of the old boy’s club?

We talked at length during the next month.

More and more women question, “Is it better to be a small fish ina prestigious organizationor be the boss in your own company?”

Kathy needed to decide. Was it worth it to be a small fish in this prestigious organization or would she be better off starting her own marketing company? She sat, straddled on that fence of change, leaning from one side to the other yet not making a definitive move. That fence which is so familiar to women. The one so many of us sit on for years.

Kathy, typical of many modern women, is well educated and knows how to be politically correct in today’s highly competitive business world. She can be direct and clear, commanding attention most of the time. She is able to lead a team and gain the respect of her direct reports. Yet there looms ahead in the careers of so many competent women, a heavy steel door that appears impossible to open. It requires gusto, being GUTSY. It means pushing past a mind-set that is generations old. One that labels and demands females to be nice, appropriate, and domesticated so they do not get the reputation of being a bitch!

Kathy was ready; ready for new ideas and possibilities.

She was ready to look at why the tears were so fast to flow; why she buckled when the men in the room ignored her; why she was willing to throw away all the time and effort she had made climbing toward the top. She wanted to face her fears and frustrations head on.

She asked me for concrete examples of what to change and how to change.

So we started going back, way back, back to what had been lost in her story, what had been trampled on, what in the past had made her become passive and placating rather than provocative and powerful.

Some of us learn better by indirection. Often there are ways to get the answers we want without having to punch our way out, without being bruised and battered. And that is where I started with Kathy. I had her buy three children’s books, books that are for and about little girls.

From "Gutsy:How Women Leaders Make Change" by SylviaLafair. Copyright © 2013. Reprinted by permission of InfinityPublishing.