When I was just 25 years old, the then Chairman of Citibank in Australia organised for me to meet Wendy McCarthy, who at that time was on numerous boards including John McGrath's, McGraths Real Estate board and acted as a mentor to senior managers in many of Australia's top companies.
At the time, I was fairly confident and felt as though I had the world at my feet. I had started a business and it was going really well and had recently just moved to Sydney from Queensland. Fortunately for me, everyone I met was happy to take me under their wing and introduce me to people who were inspirational or who could help me in business.
On this particular day when I met Wendy McCarthy, I was very excited as I had just signed a big deal and my life in Sydney was action packed and full of invitations. We sat down for coffee at a Cafe in Market Street, and being young and very naive, I began to tell her how well life was going and the big successes I was having in my business. She listened, like a seasoned professional and then after about 10 minutes started to talk. She told me about herself and about how she works with people in a mentoring capacity. I was mesmerized by the way she communicated. Here I was sitting with one of Australia's most prolific and admired businesswomen, and I had been in Sydney for 2 minutes. How does this happen?
As we continued to converse, she eventually came to a summation on my personality type. I was very masculine in my approach, or so she thought. I have to say at the time, I totally disagreed. I was dressed in my finest designer outfit and was perfectly groomed - I wasn't sure how masculine that could possibly be. Besides that, men were always asking me out so I couldn't have been too masculine, surely?
I went away from that meeting seriously thinking that this woman that I admired didn't get me at all. After a few days, and a few conversations with some male mentors that I had at the time, I realised that the first thing I need to do is listen. They too thought that I was very masculine in my approach. I walked into a room with the confidence of someone double my age and I bowed down to no-one. I aggressively was proud that I could hold my own in a board room and challenge the best of them - all in a days work. There was no-one that intimidated me and I thought that to be listened to on a corporate level, I had to raise the bar and make sure that I was heard. In some ways, I burnt my bras without even realising it.
A smart woman like Wendy McCarthy could see it a mile away. She knew I was trying to be someone else.
It didn't help that not too long after I met the hugely successful Julia Ross. She was at the time, one of the most fascinating people I had ever met. Now, if Wendy McCarthy thought I was too masculine, then my gosh, what was Julia Ross? She was always dressed impeccably in the finest designer wear without a hair out of place but she could eat a man alive and beat them at any game. For years, I admired her immensely for her achievements and at times for the way she beat everyone at the post - male or female. She was in her business hey-day, fiercely competitive. Julia could have had her own television show on how she ran her business, because it would have been fascinating. She probably would have come across as a bitch, which she is not - instead of the powerful, success story she has built on the back of starting a company at 36 years old, pregnant with her first and only child.
I am not sure at what moment in life I stopped wanting to be like my role models who were very dominant and successful, but I did change and for the better. In fact, more people respected me for being feminine and more opportunities came my way. All of a sudden, I expressed that one day I wanted to have a family and do all the things that everyone else seemed to be doing like get married, have children and get a dog. I changed. I put my bra back on, lowered my stillettos, and changed my attitude and the way I approached people.
In the time that my role models were more masculine (albeit very successful), I didn't really acquire too many female friends in business. Everyone seemed to be men. My male clients related to me very well and my male friends thought I was just like them. They could talk about what a company's balance sheet looked like, how to win at any game and whether it was a knock-on or a try at the weekend Roosters match.
There are many reasons why being a woman and accepting your feminine side helps you become more successful. The first is that it allows you to be more approachable. Immediately, females liked me, when prior to that, I intimated the crap out them. That ensured that not only did I have more female clients but I also had a network of women out sprouting about how good my business is and why people should use it over competitors. This change also affected the men that were clients or in my business sphere. I didn't realise it, but some men found me intimidating too. My clients even attested to feeling this way, which is quite remarkable really. They collectively changed their approach and all of a sudden started treating me like a lady rather than a buddy. Why this was great, is that the softer side of me came out and it made men more empathetic to things I said and did. They didn't feel the need to challenge me on things that I said and likewise, I them. They had a more caring and mentoring approach to the way I did business.
I am glad for the change and I am the happiest I have ever been with the way I conduct myself in business. I too am more empathetic to others and as I see young women come through the ranks, I sometimes identify people who are a little like I use to be. Hopefully, they have wonderful people around them that share the same good spirit that Wendy McCarthy and Julia Ross did when I was young.
Mellissah Smith is a marketing expert with more than 20 years experience. Having founded and built two successful marketing companies internationally, she is well recognized as a industry thought leader and innovator. Mellissah started her career working with technology and professional services firms, primarily in marketing, public relations and investor relations, positioning a number of successful companies to list on the various Stock Exchanges around the world. She is a writer, technology developer and entrepreneur who shares her thoughts and experiences through blogs and written articles published in various media outlets. Brag sheet: #2 marketer to follow on Twitter (2003), Top 150 Marketers to Follow (2015), Top 10 innovative marketers (2014), 60K+ followers on Twitter with 97% authentic.
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