20 November 2018Last updated

Real Women

Are we equal yet?

We ask six successful career women whether the glass ceiling is intact in their industry

Louisa Wilkins
8 Sep 2015 | 12:00 am
  • Priya Bhatia.

    Source:Aiza Castillo-Domingo/ANM Image 1 of 5
  • Madeleine Mendy.

    Source:Aiza Castillo-Domingo/ANM Image 2 of 5
  • Anita Baker.

    Source:Aiza Castillo-Domingo/ANM Image 3 of 5
  • Elsa Roodt and Katie Harvey.

    Source:Aiza Castillo-Domingo/ANM Image 4 of 5
  • Emma Banks.

    Source:Aiza Castillo-Domingo/ANM Image 5 of 5

Entrepreneur Priya Bhatia, 34, from India, is the founder and owner of Hautletic, a stylish sportswear retailer

“I think the situation has changed tremendously in recent years. I’ve never experienced discrimination personally. However, one thing I have noticed is that people will say a woman is being emotional and yet when a man acts in the exact same way, nobody says he’s being emotional. At the same time, some people think women can make better managers as they’re more in tune with people’s emotions.

“I’m looking forward to the millennial generation coming through to the workplace…that will be a shift too. So there are two things going on today – not only is there the gender shift, but also the generational. Also I think it comes down to parenting… my father never made me feel like I was the lesser sex. There were the same expectations from me as from my brother, which gave me confidence 
as my work was taken as seriously.”

British/French Madeleine Mendy, 34, is a solicitor and legal consultant at James Berry and Associates

“Is it possible to be a nice person and still get to the top? I have always been faced with that issue throughout my career. 
As a young, female lawyer I never really felt the need to be mean to get myself noticed and heard – the cases I won and the reputation I built up spoke volumes in the courtroom. However, outside of court it was a different ball game… 
I was always mindful of people’s feelings and egos in the office. As a Family Law lawyer, I mainly worked with women and unfortunately, because of our often manipulative nature, when someone is ‘too nice’ we mistake it for stupidity and naivety. Thus when appraisal time came, I would be overlooked, and less, shall we say ‘caring’, colleagues got better results.

“With time I realised that I was doing myself a disservice. I wrestled with myself as it was not in my nature to be mean. But in the end I came to understand that I am not responsible for other people’s feelings and that I just have to say things straight, especially when it comes to career progression.

“The bottom line for me now is that I have to be an advocate for myself first before thinking of others. If that means I have to hurt other people’s feelings along the way, it will be unfortunate, but a necessary evil. And how a person feels about what I think and say is simply not my responsibility.”

Anita Baker, 35, from the UK, is MENA director for Lush Cosmetics

“I’m currently taking a course based on the book Playing Big by Tara Mohr about overcoming self-doubt and accessing your inner wisdom to implement change in business. It is a 12-week programme designed to coach women in the workplace. It has made me realise there are lots of successful women out there with self-doubt. Perhaps men have the same thoughts but just ignore them, or hide them better? Perhaps society has positioned men to have less self-doubt?

“I didn’t think I lacked confidence as I’m quite outgoing. But I can see now that early in my career, there was always someone higher up to make the big decisions, and as I moved up the ladder, I would find excuses not to make decisions. I’d think, ‘There must be people better qualified to decide this.’ Even when asked to do this article I thought,’Why would people be interested in me?’ The course has helped me identify my inner critic – an irrational, harsh, anxious voice in my head.

“I am learning to make decisions without doubting myself, I’m understanding and learning from mistakes, and I am also listening and adapting to other’s needs.”

Elsa Roodt, 35, from South Africa, is one of the co-founders of Q Communications

“It pays to be nice. It is a misconception that being nice is a sign of weakness – it is not. From experience, treating others with respect and the same courtesy you would expect goes a long way. Trying to gain power through instilling fear or being ruthless is a short-term solution and does not lead to long-standing relationships – something you need if you are to be successful.

“Being nice does not mean being a pushover either – decisions still have to be made, and you can’t be everyone’s friend, but you can be fair and do it with a smile. It is worth remembering that you need to be careful of who you step on as you rise up the ladder, as you may need them to catch you if you fall.”

Katie Harvey, 30, from Ireland, is also a co-founder of Q communications

“We both grew up being told we could be whatever we wanted to be, so the idea that our gender would hold us back never occurred to us. Now, owning a business, we have come to learn that being women doesn’t hinder us, it helps us.

“It is quite simple – people underestimate us, and when we say people, we are mainly referring to men. Do not misunderstand us, many of our biggest supporters are men. However, we still regularly come up against those who need convincing. This in turn has challenged us as businesswomen, made us strive harder and ultimately brought us success.”

Emma Banks, 44 from the UK, is director of operations at Jumeirah Restaurant Group

“The image of successful women has definitely changed from the 1980s and 1990s. Long gone are the days of power suits and shoulder pads to fit in with the boys. The look of a modern-day successful women is varied, due largely to the advancement of women in different industries, cultures and countries, all setting new standards and platforms for women to excel.

“Take Condoleezza Rice – the first female African-American US secretary of state – as well as sporting exec Karren Brady, commonly known as the ‘first lady of football’. Both of these extraordinary women are highly successful, and hold high posts in male-orientated industries.

“Michelle Mone, founder of lingerie company Ultimo, mortgaged everything she had to take a chance on her business, which is now globally successful. And someone who every woman knows, Victoria Beckham, former pop star and fashion icon, launched the Victoria Beckham brand, also globally recognisable now.

“Lastly, Amal Clooney’s success did not result from marrying one of the world’s leading bachelors – she achieved many milestones before tying the knot. As a human rights lawyer and activist, Amal depicts the achievements of the modern-day woman. In short, today’s image of a successful woman is shaped around what they have accomplished instead of how they look.

“Equally, with regards to being a female and advancing your career, my advice is to surround yourself with positive, engaged and talented people who support you. They are the people who will help you get to where you want to be. Of course, there will be ups and downs along the way, but I truly believe in recruiting people who are brighter and smarter than me. It makes being a leader and in business so much more rewarding.”

Louisa Wilkins

By Louisa Wilkins