Why women should aim for the top

A BRIGHT, young woman in her late 20s told me recently she was very confused about her path. She and her friends wanted to be successful but did not necessarily want "careers". "We can't have it all," she says.

When I asked her why not, she talked about her mother's generation, the first generation through the glass ceiling. "There is no way I want to be like my mother," she said emphatically. This was not just the typical immaturity of the young but a deliberate choice by her not to follow her hard working mother down a path of "stress, divorce and general business. And all for what," she asked, bitterly.

A suite of surveys have appeared in the last week - yes, it is International Women's Day - exploring women's attitudes to life. One from Shespot claimed that career is now well down on the list of women's priorities. In fact, the managing director of SheSpot, Katie May, says it appears that women have come to the realisation that they could not have it all and have chosen to focus on their families, health, friends, communities and husbands.

That research was conducted by women who are on recipe and parenting sites, so one does wonder if the data is skewed due to the lifestyles of the respondents. And other surveys, including one from Heat Group, indicate women want a career but face barriers along the way.

Whether they are actively choosing not to pursue careers or dropping out because it is all too hard, it was this finding from Shespot that stopped me in my tracks.

What were the biggest worries of the career shunning women? Money, weight and lack of time.

But don't women realise that two of those problems could be solved by a focus on career? And one might argue that with more time and more money, it is easier to address the third.

And then it struck me. Where were all the women talking about life at the top? After all, a lot of men know how good it is being the boss and they can't all be wrong. What stops women talking to others about life at the top and why women should get there?

Well, we know women are taught to be modest, to never talk about money and not to boast. Try getting them to talk about revenue!

Is that it? Are we missing something here? Is this a conversation women need to start having with younger women before we see another generation squander their opportunities?

When I am old and dotty am I going to have to listen to that woman and her friends blaming us again as a generation of Gen Ys in their 50s regret their choice of working in boring, low level careers?

So why is it better at the top? I did a quick ring around of female entrepreneurs and leading business women and we have come up with 10 top reasons.

1. You make more money

Many women work an eight to 10 hour day. At the top you earn at least triple what you earn in a middle-ranking position. With money you have choice. You can outsource, get the house cleaned weekly, have a nanny, buy in healthy nutritious meals, get a personal trainer and buy the latest gadgets. With money you can literally buy time that you can spend with your family and friends and on your wellbeing.

2. It is highly creative

Women like to have a creative outlet. Just look at all the craft activities that have sprung up in response to the GFC. Creating strategy and then working on its execution is incredibly satisfying. I often look back through old notepads and little plans that I have scribbled down and reflect on how I made the plan happen and how it is working. Often as a CEO working in online, I present my staff with problems that are new to the industry. Coming up with solutions is exhilarating. Much better than sewing, believe me.

3. You're the conductor

Do you like being told what to do? Thought not. It is a lot more fun telling people what to do and how to do it. Men have known this for centuries but preferred to keep this tidbit to themselves. Let me tell you - it is a lot more fun being the boss than being bossed.

4. You are never bored

Don't like a task? Don't do it. It is called delegation. And men are really good at it.

5. You get to shut your office door

You know that quiet click of the hotel door that signals that at last after a frantic day, you are alone? And that feeling of padding across the lush carpet in your stockinged feet to the mini bar? When you are the boss, you can choose when you need time alone. You can instruct your PA to hold all calls and you can shut the door and finish that report to shareholders in peace.

6. You get to set the culture

I was about to hire a salesman one day when I made that extra reference call. The referee told me the man I was about to hire was sacked from a previous job for spreading porn. He's a great bloke who just made a little mistake, I was told, and he would be a great asset. I didn't hire him.

For decades I had worked in finance journalism which was then dominated by a hard drinking, blokey culture that was openly sexist. On my first day at BRW when I went into the photocopy room I was confronted by a poster of a woman on all fours, naked with a dog collar around her neck being whipped by a man in leather. I should have ripped it down. But I was young then and preferred to make a big scene and insist HR take it down which made me instantly unpopular. One journalist always made sure he had a naked woman with enormous, bouncing breasts dancing around on his screen whenever I came to talk to him. I did what I could to change the culture over time but it was hard going.

So when I started SmartCompany I was determined the set the culture from the start, right down to banning the type of sexist jokes that men send to each other. And anyone who didn't accept the culture was encouraged on to sexist work places where they could feel more at home.

7. You can have flexibility

One of Australia's leading entrepreneurs Gillian Franklin, from cosmetics company Heat Group told me that a survey she did of women in 2002 revealed that 78% of women lied when they had to stay home and look after a sick child. In 2008, only 22% of women lied.

That made me laugh. Men never lie! I am constantly amazed at the open way men talk honestly about their family responsibilities. Just this week a manager from another company emailed me to say he was in a very bad mood because he was working at home with his young baby while his wife was at the office and the baby had screamed all day. Which brings me to my point: when you are the boss you never have to ask permission. You can structure your day how you please, with as much flexibility as you like and have a much greater work life balance.

Of course, running your own business requires long hours. I am writing this on a Saturday night because my work week was too frantic for quiet writing time... even though I shut my office door.

8. You learn

Know that feeling of going to work and doing same old, same old? At the top you are always learning. You have to. Because you soon find out what you don't know.

9. You expand your networks

Your phone rings and it might be a young hopeful who wants to pitch a smart idea, an old colleague who wants a job or an industry heavyweight who wants some inside gossip. One leading businesswoman told me she was aware that women did not network enough and so made a point of cold calling someone she wanted to meet every few weeks. She would book a new restaurant for lunch that had just got rave reviews, dress up and spend a few interesting hours conversing and picking someone's brains. Downside of network expansion? You drink far too much coffee.

10. You take risks
Forget your comfort zone. Your house is on the line, your employees jobs are in your hands, your reputation is on the line and you feel so very alive.

This article first appeared onSmartCompany.com.au, Australia’s premier site for business advice, news, forums and blogs.

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