In part 2 of Prof. Viviane de Beaufort‘s feature article on women and their road to professional fulfilment: A focus on career obstacles facing women and how to surmount them.
Women: Career obstacles and how to overcome them by Tom Gamble from an interview with Prof. Viviane de Beaufort. Read Part 1.
3 obstacles to reaching professional fulfilment
While today’s context appears more or less favourable for women to achieve professional and personal fulfilment, Viviane de Beaufort identifies three factors that remain challenges to be overcome. The first for women is lack of self-confidence or the so-called imposter complex, linked not to the fact of their gender but that they still represent the minority in areas of power – including leadership, entrepreneurship, the tech world, finance and politics. It is the same complex that bears down on other minority groups through their origins or social background and that leads to behaviours such as demanding less, expecting others to recognise them on merit, and not asking for more.
A second factor is what de Beaufort calls the complex of the ‘nice little girl’ that is created by girl/boy education. There are greater demands on a girl to the extent that she ends up integrating limiting behaviours. For example, that she should be good and well-behaved, not raise her voice, not make waves. This type of education naturally reduces the chances of a woman to be able to affirm herself in a competitive world for both fear of upsetting others and fear of being liked and appreciated.
And finally, the third complex is that of the ‘good pupil’ that weighs upon women and still leads to those having reached top positions – administrators, directors or emeritus professors – doubting their skills and always searching for what they lack or what they haven’t done well enough, rather than focusing on everything they have achieved and do remarkably. ‘In some ways,’ states de Beaufort, ‘we are our worst enemies.’
And life’s specific challenges for women too
It can be argued that women face additional challenges to cater with that have either been ingrained through historical-cultural factors or simply those attributed to physical fact of gender. ‘The enduring difficulty is the objective to structure a so-called family responsibility and career ambition,’ says Viviane de Beaufort. ‘The parental model of sharing tasks is evolving and notably with Millennials, but there’s still a long way to go. In France,’ she continues, ‘we have the real chance to be able to demand to try both. In other countries, including those not so far, such as Germany, the culture slows this down by even creating a feeling of guilt among mothers and they therefore make a choice – and the macro consequences in terms of an ageing population are obvious in addition to, and on top of, personal frustration.’
The fact that biologically women aren’t the same – ‘luckily’ adds de Beaufort – also has an impact. The existing model for working life and achievement is very much built to a masculine tune, with maternity, age or the menopause being considered as hindrances or even weaknesses, both by men, the system and women alike. Viviane de Beaufort also adds a newer phenomenon and one that looks very likely to grow in developed countries: looking after our old folk and ascendants. It is proven that apart from looking after their children, 90% of women assume the care of elderly parents who live increasingly longer.
Women and success
When asked to provide her own story to the top, Viviane de Beaufort tends to think that she’s not a good example. ‘My commitment above the norm carries me and pushes me to lead a lot of actions and initiatives for the “cause”. But I don’t consider that I’m “successful” in the business sense. For example, I’ve never known how to negotiate a pay package: that bothers me in as much as I carry out more than a third of my activities totally free of charge, only rarely raise the question, and have difficulties replying if it’s asked me. It’s a very particular posture which I don’t recommend,’ she continues, viewing it as an extreme that necessarily leads to working on projects for others, as well as cultivating a workaholic approach and giving returns that are much less in value than the effort it demands. ‘That may suit some people,’ adds de Beaufort, ‘but it’s atypical. However, my clear-headedness enables me to talk about and help others to avoid repeating this picture. You’ve got to be aware of your value and in a world hallmarked by the logic of the market. Knowing your right price is a real problem for women and even young women – hence the necessity to train them. It’s what we now do at ESSEC.’
For Viviane de Beaufort, there are three key pieces of advice for women seeking fulfilment: listening to your inner voice, your inner music, whatever those around you or ‘those in the know’ say is the first of those. Secondly, never compare yourself and believe in your unique added value – and therefore acquire self-assurance. And lastly, cultivate your differences as an asset rather than conforming to system which in any case is imploding – in the future, only a person’s unique characteristics will count. And those who are able to vaunt their individuality will call the tune.
A key message is that the default stereotypes that women have for long been saddled with in their relationship to power – risk avoidance, too great a sensitivity and empathy for others, etc. – will be heavily impacted by the context of the modern workplace. An environment in which agility, teamwork, inventiveness, and trust in others will make all the difference. And factors that will trigger the driving force for action and acceleration to create models that are less vertical and more resilient, more agile and sustainable, and founded on humankind and humanity. ‘Let your boys express their sensitivity rather than telling them “you must be strong and not cry!”’ states Viviane de Beaufort. ‘It’s time to end these categorizations at the youngest age with toys and clothes – at home, at school, and in the media.’
Go back to Part 1 of Viviane’s article Women: On the road for professional fulfilment
- Read a related article: How managers can create an environment for women to thrive
Link up with Prof. Viviane de Beaufort via LinkedIn
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The Council on Business & Society (The CoBS), visionary in its conception and purpose, was created in 2011, and is dedicated to promoting responsible leadership and tackling issues at the crossroads of business and society including sustainability, diversity, ethical leadership and the place responsible business has to play in contributing to the common good.
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