If you’re a woman who’s just entering the workforce, you will find a myriad of obstacles standing in your way to success. Learn how to speak up for yourself especially in a male-dominant environment. Join Rosie Zilinskas as she talks to Jane Wesman about what holds women back in progressing in their business. Jane is an entrepreneur, marketing expert, and mentor. She is the President of Jane Wesman Public Relations. When things get too hectic, learn how to break things down and surround yourself with the right people. Remember, you can’t do it all alone. Tune in and be inspired to build your own community today!
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Helping Women In The Workforce With Jane Wesman
We are going to be talking to Jane Wesman, who is a leadership expert. She understands how women hold themselves back in their careers. She is an entrepreneur, marketing expert and mentor. She is the President of Jane Wesman Public Relations based in New York City. She is one of the country’s top book publicists with an impressive track record of creating national bestsellers, particularly in the areas of leadership, management and personal growth.
She is also a staunch supporter of working women providing guidance as a writer, speaker and consultant. Her book called Dive Right in – The Sharks Won’t Bite: The Entrepreneurial Woman’s Guide to Success was one of the first to offer concrete advice to women to help them launch and grow their businesses. Let’s learn from Jane.
Jane, thank you so much for being on the show. I appreciate you being here. I’m going to start asking you right away. I know that you are very savvy on how women are holding themselves back. Can you start talking about maybe one thing, right off the bat, that you know holds women back in their careers?
The thing that I noticed that holds women back in their careers, no matter what level they are at, whether they are starting, managers, senior-level or even they are running their own businesses, is this need to do everything perfectly. Perfectionism can stand in the way of women’s ability to rise and move up the corporate ladder to build their careers. The sense that everything has to be right and their inability to let go of any mistakes they may have made.
I couldn’t agree more. When you talk about letting go of mistakes, you had mentioned before that it is ruminating, so they are holding on. Give me an example of how they are holding onto things.
We all do it. First of all, it’s human nature to focus more on our mistakes than what we do right. That’s evolutionary science. I have read quite a few articles on it. It’s natural. What I’m saying is to do something unnatural, which is to stop blowing your mistakes out of proportion, stop ruminating about your mistakes or stop thinking, “If only I had said this, then they would have done that. If only I had made a better presentation, I would have closed the deal,” or anything else. “If only I hadn’t gotten annoyed, everything would be fine.”
We tend to focus on these mistakes, and it can also be a mistake in a report, presentation or meeting. The research that I have read, and this seems to be true in real life, is that men seem to be able to let go of their mistakes and move forward much more easily than women can. Women tend to ruminate on what they did wrong, and I say, “Go against nature and stop ruminating.”
That applies to our relationships as well because I know my husband can let things go much quicker than I can.
I’ve got married a little bit late in life, and I kept noticing that women who were married often had more tolerance for men who would talk and say things, even if they weren’t right. They thought they were right and would move forward. Also, it is true. I have noticed that if my husband and I have a disagreement, the next minute, he can act as if nothing happened and move on, and I used to want to ruminate and go, “Why did you say that? Let’s examine it.” He’s looking at me like I’m crazy. Men and women have different ways of thinking both about what is perfect, what’s right, and what they should say, whether or not they should express their ideas even if they are not 100% fully formed. Guys seem to have the ability to push through that.
That’s quite a startling distinction between men and women, and that’s probably why women, we are holding ourselves back. You had mentioned something about women taking on maybe too much work, and they don’t delegate. Is that part do you think of being perfect?
Absolutely. Part of perfectionism is thinking that you can do it better than someone else or the other way we think about it is by the time I teach someone how to do it, I could have done it myself. That’s very shortsighted because it takes the time to show someone else how to do something that you can delegate, and in the long run, they will be able to continue doing it.
It’s a mistake to think that way. When you don’t delegate, you don’t free yourself up to do the things that are important that only you can do. When you are caught in this perfectionistic trap to, take a step back and break down whatever it is or whatever project you are working on, break it into smaller parts, and take a look at it and see, “Are there any parts of this project that someone else could do?”
Breaking it down and trying to identify what you are uniquely positioned to do yourself is going to make a big difference. There’s also a situation when women, instead of making a statement about whatever they are talking about, ask a question. Can you comment on that and why women do that or how it impacts their careers?
It’s part of how we are socialized to tell you the truth. When you say, “Ask a question,” what’s interesting is women may make a statement but they bring their voice up at the end of the sentence, which turns it into a question. I made it a statement of question by how I raised my voice at the end. It goes back to this idea of being unsure of ourselves but it’s not that easy to go out there and make statements. There’s a fine line that we are socialized to sense both men and women is the woman being too pushy. Is she being bossy? This is not easy. Just because I say, “Make a statement,” doesn’t mean that you can go into your next big meeting and blast out your statements.
What I would recommend within the corporate structure is to look at women who are succeeding within your company and see how they make presentations and look to see how they speak. Some of it is going to be body language. Some of it is going to be whether or not they look people straight in the eye when they speak with them. It’s not just making a statement but it’s your whole presentation and understanding the subtleties of how both men and women feel about how women speak. It’s tough. It’s certainly not black and white. There are a lot of grays.
That’s exactly why we are having this conversation so that women are aware of the difficulties but at the same time, you are giving valuable, actionable items that they can do and being aware of the fact that they might be speaking in questions instead of statements. That is going to be one thing that people can be aware of. The other thing that I was going to say, sometimes women say sorry a lot. Have you noticed that at all?
Yes. Way back in my career, when I worked within a corporate structure before I started my own business, I ran into a situation where I thought I had made a mistake. I was pretty young. Let’s say I was in my mid-twenties, and I remember calling back the person and apologizing, and I discovered it didn’t make any difference.
All I did was take a situation where I may or may not have been wrong. It was a woman who got annoyed with me. She may have been right or wrong. It wasn’t clear but apologizing made me totally wrong. Apologies are necessary at certain times but you need to be careful about when you apologize. Do not apologize for every little thing.
One of the women who worked with me for a long time as a publicist in my public relations agency used to say she was sorry all the time. I used to say to her, “Please stop it.” One of the things that were annoying to me as her manager was that she would think that by saying she was sorry, it was over, and I would say, “If you are sorry, I want the solution. I don’t need to know that you are sorry. I need the solution to fix whatever the problem was that you are apologizing for.” Am I clear in what I’m saying?
You are absolutely clear. I do know and have heard women myself say, “I’m sorry, can I ask a question?” I always think like, “Why are you sorry to ask a question?” Whenever I am able to give someone a little bit of feedback, I specifically call that out. Don’t apologize for asking a question. Apologize when it’s warranted but don’t apologize because you are sending them an email or maybe you don’t want to bother somebody. That’s a very valid point.
I have two comments. One, I find it interesting that you have seen women apologize to ask a question, and here we were earlier talking about the fact that women don’t need to ask so many questions. They can be making statements. I have a feeling that what you are referring to is a woman saying, “I’m sorry but I don’t quite understand what you were saying,” because the truth is she knows that what was being said was wrong or didn’t make sense.
Instead of being able to say, “That doesn’t quite make sense to me. It seems like there might be a better solution,” because I’m very solution-oriented, she uses this commentary of saying, “I’m sorry, may I ask a question?” Maybe there’s a different way of saying it. It’s like, “Can you clarify your point?” It might be another way to say it but I want to part on this. If you are about to say you are sorry for something that you did, something your team did or something that happened, the second part is, what is the solution? You should have cross out, “Sorry,” and have a big sign that says, “Solution.”
That’s very actionable. Another way that women are holding themselves back is by not putting themselves out there. What have you seen or observed about women not putting themselves out there?
The biggest problem I see, particularly with younger women, and to me, that’s women in their 20s, 30s or maybe early-40s, is they speak too softly, especially in a group setting. When often, in a meeting, people don’t know each other, and you have to go around the room and say who you are, and women will explain who they are using that question. I’m a publicist. I can’t quite do it because I try not to talk that way.
They talk so softly that even if people can hear them, they come across as insecure. One of the things that I tell women, especially when I’m mentoring college students or young women entering the workforce, is to use a deep voice. Speak from your chest. Don’t keep it all squeaky up here. Project and make sure people know who you are and who can believe in you. It’s a question of presence, and here I am. If you look at my hands, I’m a little bit low but look at how I’m talking and projecting out saying who I am. Think about your body language and your posture, whether or not you are looking at everybody that you are speaking with, and tell them who you are and what your ideas are.
What about someone that is working hard and is waiting for somebody to notice that they are working hard but they are not saying anything about it. Have you seen that happen?
All the time. Women fall into this category more than men do because women don’t want to talk about themselves. Based on research that I have read, it’s one of those tough situations because we both men and women are socialized to see women who are talking about their accomplishments often as bragging or being full of themselves.
It’s a bit of a difficult line to tread but I would say, “Err on the side of saying what you have done.” One of the ways that this happens will be if you are a team leader. You give all the credit to your team, and you take no responsibility for what you have done. It depends on the situation. Maybe in a one-to-one meeting with your manager, that’s the time to tell your manager what you have done. In a group situation with the rest of the team, it may be more advisable to speak in the we but if there’s any way that you can show your leadership in that presentation, you should show you need to express it. I would look to other women who do this well as role models because it’s not that easy to do.
You need to look for women to emulate within your organization and support each other because otherwise, if you are not speaking up for yourself, maybe another woman will notice your hard work, and they can put a good word in for you or say, “You did a great job in this particular project. Make sure that you tell your manager or something.” We need to bounce ideas off of each other. I believe you mentioned this last time that we spoke to build a team around you. How would you suggest women can start building a team around them?
The first step is to try to get to know other people within your company. Look around. See who’s doing well and who you can have coffee with. Don’t push it. Don’t be obnoxious, and don’t be needy. You need to be giving them something in return for them giving you something. I want to give you a concrete example of how I see this working.
If you are going into a meeting and you want to present a new idea or strategy, or you think that something needs to be changed, do not go into that meeting without having gotten some allies. Before you go into the meeting, you need to start talking to people and sense, “What is it that they are thinking?” Tell them your ideas. Start to get a little feedback so that you can find the best way to present your idea or what I call position your idea. What resonates with people?
When you go into your meeting, if a couple of people in the meeting are already supportive of that idea, that’s where the comments are going to come up like a good idea. This is based on research. What you see in meetings is a woman can present an idea, and nobody hears it, and then a minute later, a male colleague presents the same idea, and everybody says, “That’s great,” but she presented it. If you can garner support for your idea before the meeting, that works or have a quick pre-meeting to say, “I see this as the agenda. What do you think of this or that?” I say, don’t go into meetings called, especially important meetings.
The other thing is everything has changed, hybrid workplaces, we are working from home or we are not seeing each other that much. It used to be you would go have lunch with people. You say, “Let’s go to the cafeteria. Let’s go get a bite to eat. Do you want to meet for coffee? Do you want to have a drink?” Invite someone to dinner. What I would say is, “You create allies by socializing with them and getting to know them a little bit, and don’t rush it.”
Think about a step-by-step way for people to get to know who you are and for you to get to know who they are and find ways that you can be supportive of each other and avoid people who bring you down and who somehow figure out what your buttons are and they start pushing them where you are not sure about something, and you are around somebody who figures out what that is and keeps pushing that button. It makes you feel insecure. Please stay away from those people.
Did you have that experience where people were pushing your buttons as you were coming up in your career?
I certainly did many times. I have been working for a very long time, long before we had email, even before we had fax machines. I have been around a long time. One of the great things about getting a lot of experience is that you get smarter at interpersonal relationships, and you start to understand what’s happening better.
I remember early in my career, one of my biggest problems was a woman who was the head of another department. I worked in book publishing. I was the Head of the Publicity Marketing Department. She was head of a completely different department but for some reason, she decided she was my boss and used to tell me what to do. I used to get into these battles with her, which were a huge waste of time. I couldn’t engage with her. Now, I wouldn’t engage.
It was not good for my career because the senior people in the company at that time were all men and what they saw were two women catfighting or not getting along, so they didn’t take either one of us seriously enough. It’s interesting because I ended up leaving that company and going on to another book publisher, and in the end, that company almost went bankrupt. It was a 100-year-old book publisher that was being run into the ground by a bunch of guys who thought they knew everything.
I want to go back to something that you said a little bit earlier as far as, “If a woman speaks an idea, nobody hears her but if a male counterpart says the same idea, a minute later, they hear him.” Why do you think that is?
I am not a psychologist. I do not know but we see this over and over again in research. I have experienced it. I was at a meeting years ago. It was obviously before COVID. We were in a big conference room, and there was a man running the meeting, a VC guy. He had invested in a huge tech company which I will not name, which probably now makes him a billionaire but he was running the meeting. There were about twenty of us.
A bunch of women who were younger than me looked like they were in their 30s. They were mid-career, starting to have managerial positions, and a bunch of guys the same age. I heard the women, A) Ask questions instead of making statements and, B) Present ideas that the man running the meeting totally didn’t hear, and then a young man in his 30s would make the same statement and the man running the meeting would hear it. I have no idea why but it happens.
I’m going to have to research that more because I am curious as to what is the psychology that happens in that particular situation. I know you referred to people as thought leaders. What makes a person a thought leader, and what could that do for their careers?
A real thought leader is somebody who has some great and unique ideas. In my life, I have met a lot of thought leaders, like Charles Schwab, who created Charles Schwab and Company. Look at what he did. He had this great idea about making investing easier for the average person. He created a whole online brokerage company.
He was cutting edge. He was a thought leader but other thought leaders that I have worked with or I’m working with now, usually in business, have observations about the way things work, people behave, to be successful, to have better relationships, lose weight, make money and be loved, that they can express in a way that other people can hear, absorb and do something with that information.
A lot of times, thought leaders are breaking through with new ideas like Daniel Goleman, who broke through with the idea of emotional intelligence. That’s real thought leadership because he came up with this concept of how our understanding of other people impacts our careers and our lives, etc. You can be a thought leader by doing the things I’m talking about, observing that women aren’t always heard in meetings.
I did some research on it and keep seeing this come up over and over again. When I articulate it, it’s part of my thought leadership. To be a thought leader, you need to be observant. If you are in academia, you need to be doing research. If you work with a company where you can do research or survey, and you have new information or results, that’s good but you also have to write. You need to put your thought leadership in blogs or articles. You need to try to get it published. You could write an article that you post on LinkedIn. You could have a personal blog. You could do it through social media. You can write a book but your thought leadership needs to be concrete, and I will say written out in some form.
People can start within their teams so they can observe things that are maybe aren’t working within their teams, come up with process improvements, better ways of doing whatever it is that they are doing, and bring it to their managers. That, to me, is a baby step to becoming a thought leader because they observe things that they can improve, try to bring a solution, and then bring it to somebody’s attention so they can improve on whatever it is that they are trying to improve.
That’s the first step toward being a leader. Thought leader refers to what I’m talking about, where you are articulating your ideas for a broader audience. If you want to be a thought leader within your company, I would say, “You bring these ideas up but you also write them down.” There’s a memo, email, and some documentation that can be saved with your thought leadership. Otherwise, especially as a woman, what happens is nobody hears, so you want to document your thought leadership.
That’s a good clarification there. The last thing I’m going to ask you is, can you give us a couple of minutes overview of some of the challenges that you had to overcome in your career?
I have had such a long career. I would say insecurity in the early stages is not always paying enough attention to where other people are coming from and not understanding the other person’s point of view. Getting into the little turf battles was a mistake. Things that helped me were aligning myself with the right people. Doing a good job, letting people know about it, aligning myself with the right mentors and managers, and making sure I had support for what I was doing.
Can you provide us with two actionable tips that people can implement so they can easily start implementing them in their careers?
We have already discussed one of them, which is my belief that you should surround yourself with positive people or look at it the way that I described it before. Don’t try to do everything on your own. Don’t try to do everything in a single-handed way. Make sure that you test your ideas on other people and create a tribe.
A tribe might be 1 person or 5 people. Maybe what we call a posse but surround yourself with positive people and look for ways to find allies in your workplace and be their allies, too. It’s not about you. It’s about what you are going to help them do because people can rise together. This is not a zero-sum game. Careers are not zero-sum games. It’s about everybody building their careers together. It’s about teams being effective and growing together. That’s one thing. Surround yourself with positive people.
The other thing is if you are overwhelmed by a project, if you feel stressed because you think it has to be perfect and therefore it seems so gigantic that you can’t possibly get it done, please break it down into smaller steps and figure out or say to yourself, “What is the one thing I can do now that will start moving this project forward?”
Choose that one thing. It may be something very simple like writing an outline for a report or putting down a couple of sentences to get a memo going. It may be identifying the person who can help you get the job done but break down the job into smaller parts and ask yourself, “What can I do now to move forward?”
Those are great tips. Any final words before we call it a day with our episode?
Tap into your own brilliance. Think about what you are good at doing. Go for it. Make sure that you play to your brilliance. Don’t play to your shortcomings.
That was such a great and enlightening conversation with Jane Wesman. I learned a lot and I hope that you did too. I want to recap the two tips that she provided us during our conversation. The first tip is surround yourself with positive people. It could be 1 person or 5 people such as a posse. The one quote that I wanted to bring to your attention that she said was, “People can rise together.” That’s very true. You are looking for allies but you can be an ally together. She said that it’s about building careers together. That’s tip number one.
Tip number two is if you are overwhelmed by a project and you are so stressed out because you think it needs to perfect and it’s such an enormous project, then the tip is break it down into smaller steps. It could be as simple as starting to write an outline or writing the first couple of sentences of the memo that you need to write but essentially, break down the project into small steps so that you can start moving that project forward. If you are interested in learning more about this conversation, please by all means, email me. I’m on LinkedIn. I’m on all the social media. Remember to be brave, be bold, and take action. Until next time.
- Jane Wesman Public Relations
- Dive Right in – The Sharks Won’t Bite: The Entrepreneurial Woman’s Guide to Success
- Charles Schwab and Company
- LinkedIn – Rosie Zilinskas
About Jane Wesman
JANE WESMAN, PRESIDENT OF JANE WESMAN PUBLIC RELATIONS, INC.
Jane Wesman is an entrepreneur, marketing expert, and mentor. President of Jane Wesman Public Relations, based in New York City, Jane is one of the country’s top book publicists with an impressive track record of creating national bestsellers, particularly in the areas of leadership, management, and personal growth.
Jane is also a staunch supporter of working women, providing guidance as a writer, speaker, and consultant. Her book, Dive Right In – The Sharks Won’t Bite: The Entrepreneurial Woman’s Guide to Success, was one of the first to offer concrete advice to help women launch and grow their businesses. Jane has lectured on entrepreneurship at organizations such as the Fashion Institute of Technology, NYU’s Stern School of Business, and the National Women’s Business Council. Her writing has been published in entrepreneur.com and Enterprising Women among other media outlets.
As president of the New York City chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners, Jane started a mentoring program that still helps women today. She currently sits on the boards of two non-profit organizations: ArtSail and the Women’s Media Group, plus she provides funding for an internship program at Simmons University to help students kick-start their careers.
Throughout her career, Jane has been a pioneer. In the 1970s while working at a small publishing company, she helped turn it into a national powerhouse through creative book publicity, especially the use of author tours that crisscrossed the country. In the 1980s, she helped innovate television and radio satellite tours, and most recently, she has been an innovator in using video and social media to market books.
What truly sets Jane apart, though, is her deep commitment to the well-being of everyone she works with – including staff, clients, suppliers, and partners. She combines business acumen with people skills, keeping an eye on the bottom line while running a business that enhances the lives of everyone connected with it.