A woman boss in a male-dominated business
How one woman boss at a trucking company in the UK got her male employees to follow her lead.
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How should women bosses behave in male-domated arenas?
The whole question of female leadership came into sharp focus recently when Hillary Clinton reacted to a question from a Congolese student on her African tour. She thought he'd asked her about Mr. Clinton's opinion: "My husband is not the Secretary of State, I am. So you ask my opinion, I will tell you my opinion; I'm not going to be channeling my husband."
Earlier in the month, Harriet Harman, the deputy Labour leader in the UK caused a stir when she said a company called Lehman Sisters might have been different from the disastrous Lehman Brothers. Her reasoning was that more women in the boardrooms might have helped financial institutions avoid their meltdowns.
Are women managers different than male ones, with a different approach to problems? It is said that women are more outcome-orientated while men confront. If that's true, how should a woman leader behave in a traditionally male environment -- like a trucking company?
Nikki King is the managing director of Isuzu Truck in the UK. She had started her career later in life, when she was 40, but she felt that the skills she learned as a housewife helped her in the business world:
"I learned a lot of skills during the time I brought up the children that were just the same for running a company," said King. "So, negotiation, anger management, politics, time management, budgeting, people motivation -- all came out of actually running a family."
King believes that the feminist battle has been won for women in business, but when it comes down to the practical application, "You're going to have to win hearts and minds, and really that's the same for any manager male or female. You're going to have to earn respect, you have to make them know that you're going to support them -- and that comes in the passage of time. I don't think you can walk in on Monday morning and say I'm your boss, I'm female and please love me."
In Japan where there weren't many female senior managers in her line of work, King found that she needed a more dramatic approach:
"When I got there -- I was with three male colleagues -- I was taken to one side and asked if I would like to go to the shops while my male colleagues talked business; when I was speaking at a meeting nobody interpreted because it really wasn't important enough to listen to me. And that became very, very difficult.
"Finally we ended up on a test track near Tokyo to drive the trucks, and we got down off the bus and in the middle of a turning circle was an umbrella and a table and some iced tea and ... [I was asked] would I like to take tea while the men drove the trucks -- and I'd really had enough. So I got in a very small seven-and-a-half-ton truck and drove it around the test track ... when I came back, what had been six Japanese colleagues became 60 Japanese colleagues and the biggest 32-ton truck you've ever seen in your life.
"So I was told, would I like to drive this now? So I thought alright, ok -- I had never driven a truck in my life and I remember climbing this ladder in a tight skirt and stilettos and sitting down in the driver's seat and throwing a pair of shoes and a handbag at a very, very terrified Japanese test driver. And then thinking, please god, just let me find a gear. I managed to find one and I drove the truck around the test track and came back, and from then on, everybody was fine. From then on they listened to me, they took me seriously ... it needed to be something dramatic like that in Japan to make them do it, I think."
As for the trucking industry in Britain, King thinks it's less sexist than some other industries, "... for example, dare I say the police force."
King says the challenge for women in leadership roles is getting over their lack of confidence: "I have a number of female chief exec friends, and we all say that at two o'clock in the morning, there's a little voice saying, 'get back in the typing pool, they're going to find you out.' Because we all have this underlying, are we really doing a good job, should we be here?
"So I think women have to first work at the confidence that they can do it ... then think outside the box, do something different ... don't give up ...".
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