Guest Post by Natasha Clark (author bio is available at the end of the article):
“I imagined you in a power suit, heels and to be a bit mean!” exclaimed my friend’s mother upon meeting me for the first time. The friend in question was a colleague from my students’ newspaper, whom I was staying with to complete a magazine internship. After assuring her that despite taking the top spot as editor just a few months ago, I still thought of myself as a fairly nice person. It was only later on that I found myself wondering if a woman can be both a good manager and a nice, approachable friend.
Miranda Priesley (The Devil Wears Prada) is the traditional stereotype of what many people think of as a successful ‘career woman’ or manager. A tough, well-groomed lady in a fashionable, well-tailored suit and heels, carrying a briefcase or large handbag. We think of them barking orders down their iPhones as they get a manicure and snap at their assistants for their soya lattes. Though inspirational as a business woman, in the film Miranda’s family life falls apart and her stony exterior is far from friendly. She is feared by her co-workers and eventually left by her assistant.
On the other hand, consider the kind assistant Betty Suarez (Ugly Betty). Considerate, cute, sweet and sympathetic, despite her family-orientated nature and approachable style, she is strong, career-driven and is respected by (most of) her colleagues. Yet, she is not a manager; she is the editor’s assistant for the majority of the program, until she finally becomes promoted to another job.
Is there not a leadership style in between? During my time as Editor of my students’ newspaper, I wanted to combine the two. I was working with my friends, but also professionals at the Union and the University. It required professional executive leadership, dealing with printers, lawyers and PR spokespeople, but for a publication with a small circulation, mainly read by students. A balance between being approachable and friendly, but firm and decisive, was needed to bring the paper out of its £20,000 worth of debt, and restore its reputation on campus.
As I leave university and enter the professional world with management aspirations, I hope to continue to develop my personality into a leader who is both listened to and respected, but friendly and approachable. As a woman, this can be even harder, in entering an industry such as journalism which is dominated still by men, especially in management positions. I do not want to be walked over and known for being a push over, but neither would I wish to be cold-hearted and friendless managing a company where none of the employees like me.
Overall, I think that as any form of manager, leader or supervisor (male or female), you must learn to be firm but fair. This means respecting your colleagues, and ensuring that they respect you. This is far more important than being liked, but does not negate the importance of good communication skills with those you work with. Though managers are paid to make management decisions, this does not mean being unkind or scaring people into submission on the way.
My top tips for being a successful, friendly and respected woman manager:
1. Be available.
Whoever I work with, whether freelance or voluntary, I give my phone number to. They know that whenever they have an issue, they can talk to me about it, and I will try my hardest to understand them. After all, I would rather know about a problem and try my best to collaborate and fix it, as opposed to not knowing and being kept out the loop.
I made sure I was in and around the office to help them out as much as possible, and always on hand over the phone, email and Facebook to help them when they needed it. Obviously, there are times where everyone must switch off, spend time with the family and away from work, but be open and easily approachable, an open-door policy of management.
2. Make inclusive yet firm decisions.
Though my management style always involved trying to include every member of my team in making the decisions for the newspaper, I had to remember I had been elected for a reason. Sometimes, that meant that hard decisions had to be made, which may upset or inconvenience others. Luckily, my love for the job and for the newspaper made it easier for me to do the right thing for the organization.
Your decisions need to be firm, but fair, and as a woman manager, many people might stereotypically see you as indecisive. Prove them wrong by listening to the people around you, look at the figures, bear in mind the different suggestions and recommendations to make the most informed decision possible, and stick to it.
3. Remind your colleagues that you are human.
By this, I refer to some subtle humour, crack a joke, and make your employees feel at ease. Know their names, get into a habit of asking how they are, and what they’re up to, even if just for a few seconds. Engage with your colleagues out of work too, whether at the pub or by going for a coffee. By reminding them that you are human, you immediately become less feared, and less considered as a machine. You may be their manager, but you are not superwoman.
About the Author
Natasha Clark is studying for a masters degree in journalism, and is the Digital Marketing Executive for iMutual, a unique cashback website who offer their members free shares in the business. She was previously the editor of her students’ newspaper at the University of Warwick, and aims to work in media management.