The B2B world is often dominated by men, but women are starting to excel in this arena and take the reins at high-level positions. Still, there is much work to be done.
In a Google Talks presentation last year, Susan Packard took the stage to tell us about how women can become major players in business. Packard is the cofounder of HGTV, and has worked in top-tier positions in several major media companies such as HBO and CNBC. Last year she released a book titled “New Rules of the Game” which looks at how women can excel in business and compete against the men who, until now, have always been at the top.
At the start of her talk she relates to the audience how she had a strong competitive nature as a kid, but wasn’t very athletic, so she directed that drive towards playing instead. In school, however, girls are socially conditioned to suppress their competitive urges while boys are encouraged to do so; the two genders end up with different views on competing and winning. Packard goes on to explain that in her book she wants to bridge that gap and show women what they can do to be competitive as well.
“I’m not suggesting that women act like men at work. That would be really counterproductive. What I am suggesting is that you think like, and act like, an athlete would,” says Packard. “By that I mean composed, confident, having mental fortitude; thinking like and acting like a winner.”
Packard discusses the double standards that women face in the workplace, and admits that she too fell victim to them. Once, shortly after founding HGTV, she was having dinner with a friend. That friend told her that she was very ambitious, and Packard actually felt that it was rude to be called that even though ambition is a positive force.
Women, she says, are far more scrutinized in their ability to be leaders than men are, and this is the challenge they face.
Packard briefly goes over the 10 strategies of gamesmanship that she writes about in her book: conditioning, composure, playing offence, brinksmanship strategies, fan clubs, practise, suit up, good sportsmanship, grit, and team play.
Each one of these aspects has multiple points to consider, and Packard puts a high emphasis on composure because this is another area where women tend to be scrutinized more than men. Composure has to do with how you carry yourself and communicate. She says, “I had to learn how to be crystal clear, and very less is more. Brevity is more.”
Negotiation skills are another hot topic with Packard, because men and women have different approaches here as well. While men have a win-lose no-hard-feelings approach, women look for a win-win scenario, but there are still losses sometimes. Retaining the ability to walk away from the bargaining table is essential, because if you aren’t willing to do that you forfeit much of your power in the negotiation, Packard notes.
The culture at work is changing though, and she has seen it taking place in her career. The gender ratio is starting to balance out in the boardroom, although there still aren’t a lot of executives of colour. It’s up to the next generation to keep the cultural shift in motion.
“Once you get a seat at the table, you can change the culture,” says Packard. “But you have to get a seat at the table. So that’s what the book’s all about.”
For recent coverage of women in B2B, read our report on the best geographies for female entrepreneurs.