The email came in while I was drilling a hole in the wall of my new bathroom to hang a train rack. You know, one of those gleaming nickel hotel-style shelves that you see all over the pages of Restoration Hardware catalogs. Fabulous! It asked if I would be willing to contribute to an article in celebration of International Women’s Day; one that would inspire young women marketers how to “make it happen.” The truth is I accepted the assignment because I was keenly aware of the irony that I was reading the request on my pink cell phone while holding a Dewalt drill in my hand.
Ladies, the best advice I can give you to “make it happen” in marketing really has nothing to do with marketing at all. Rather, the advice that comes from my experience surviving and thriving in the business world amid all the media coverage around women’s rights and issues such as pay equality is simple: your gender does not matter. Yep, I said it.
I grew up ignoring gender roles; a so-called “tomboy” who played soccer, stacked wood with my dad, and beat up a couple boys in the neighborhood before I tried applying my first purple eye shadow. I learned that results came from hard work and that I needed to stand up for myself when a boy was calling me “bucky beaver” (yes, that really happened). I went fishing, played kick the can, and set up a classroom, with actual classroom assignment sheets, in my back yard for all the neighborhood kids. I traded clothes with my BFFs. My brother and I would swing as high as we could and leap off the swing at its high point to measure which of us could go farther. Sometimes I would be wearing a skirt when I did this (woops), but despite embarrassingly inappropriate attire, I often won.
My point is that my gender didn’t matter growing up. And it still doesn’t. The label “tomboy” is a farce. I have never considered that I am any different than any other co-worker, male or female. I measure myself of what I produce, create, or output compared to others and I have the expectation that others do the same. I have always tried to be the indisputable best at everything I do. As a result, I’ve never felt that I was on the receiving end of gender discrimination of any kind and I think this is because I simply haven’t left any room for it.
So here my friends are my Five Rules for Making it Happen, listed in no particular order.
- You can be anything you want to be. No, this isn’t a cheesy self-help book; it is the truth. If you want something and you put in the effort, it will happen. Want it enough to become a student in what great looks like. My husband, a successful hockey coach, always says “success leaves clues.” He’s right, set your sights, look for the behaviors and paths taken by people who have done it before you, and work your ass off to get it done. Believe it and you can be it.
- There is no substitute for hard work. Take gender/age/job level off the table. Make your success about your hard work and talent. Be undeniably the best at everything you do, personally and professionally. If you do this, you will leave a legacy behind you and your personal brand will precede you everywhere you go.
- Don’t take crap. My coworker has an expression he says to me all the time when I push back in the workplace; “You’re a hard woman,” he will quip. Of course, he’s joking and we often laugh about it, but there is a little bit of truth in every joke. It’s made me realize that I am different than some women in the workforce, but it is not that I’m hardened; it’s that I simply do not take crap. I call it like I see it. I’m polite and direct. When things don’t meet my standards, I say it. I don’t let anything fester. It’s not emotional and it has nothing to do with gender. I’ve found that being this direct can may scare some, but it is the fastest way to getting to the results that I seek and, since I’m consistent, people get used to it.
- Take your integrity seriously. While the barometer for your career success should be your work, know that the kind of people we are always factors into the mix. Be honest. Do what you say you’re going to do. Don’t get caught up in gossip and office politics. Don’t play games. Always aspire to be the person that delivers. There’s nothing wrong with being “all business” in business, but the biggest compliment that you can ever receive is “she is a really great human being.”
- Be you. Being successful in business does not require you to change to fit some standard model of successful women. If you’re getting advice that you need to cut your hair in a chin length bob and wear blue, please run away from whoever is telling you that. I’ve seen women of all personalities and personal styles find success in business. The key is having faith in yourself that you can achieve your goals and trust in yourself that you will do what it takes to get there. Remember, you are what makes you unique.
I was a “tomboy” as a child and that is still a piece of me that I embrace, but I am very much a woman too. While I ripped down walls in my bathroom, I made a kick-ass risotto that night. Though I bruised my hand banging on the glass as a fan at a hockey game Saturday night, over my shoulder while I was screaming like a rabid hyena was my favorite Louis Vuitton bag. By day, I run a company and by night, I harass my teenage son about dirty socks on his bedroom floor. And, today’s water cooler talk was about both hockey and decorating. I am quirky and unique and I’ve made it work for me. You can too. Aim high, be you and be proud.