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Fake it 'til you make it - The Imposter Syndrome

Naomi Simson, Founder of RedBalloon on what young women in business really need to know

by Guest on February 5, 2013

Is there really a glass ceiling or do women sometimes need to get out of their own way – or perhaps a bit of both?

In the early days, women had to be dramatic to be noticed and taken seriously- infact as women forged careers in the later part of the last century, they would often use their masculine traits – i.e. to play men at their own game. Whether they were comfortable with doing this who knows… but what businesses really need are the feminine strengths and skills; particularly listening, nurturing and creativity.I am proud to bring my female traits to my role as an entrepreneur.

I am proud to bring my female traits to my role as entrepreneur

Yet regularly, I’m asked to comment on what are seen as ‘issues’ facing women in business. I know that personally I am focused on results as well as being empathetic and generous. As I have aged, I also think I have become more self-assured and assertive. As a young woman in business, I wish someone had taken me aside and shared the following:

1. Speak out
Now, this could be a simple nature vs nurture, but how many preconceived notions exist because we stereotype boys as boisterous and girls as quiet. (I remember one of my son’s teachers admitting – we control boys, we teach girls). I was once called to my daughter’s school in her junior year and asked to ‘explain’ why she had an outspoken nature. Given what her mother does for a living I was hardly surprised – but of more concern was the fact that the female teacher said “You travel a lot for work, she needs you around more”. I pointed out that my daughter had her dad with her at home every night of the week…. I questioned what the school was teaching their students if it was not to follow their dreams and speak up for themselves.

It is not ‘pushing’ to speak up for yourself

2. Don’t use 20 words when 10 will do
Women tend to use more words than men, which can dilute a message. Again, I believe this is a fundamental gender difference. I’m sure our foremothers shared stories and communed whilst gathering berries, whilst ‘shooting the breeze’ between our forefathers’ hunting packs was frowned upon in case it alerted the prey. In the case of business, try using 25% fewer words in conversations and e-mails than you normally would, and see what happens.
Take your time when you respond to a question and structure your argument. Pause and say “The three points I wish to cover are…” and stick to three points. Being succinct is key to being heard.

3.Money is not a dirty word
Women will negotiate for less money when offered the same position as a man for fear of coming off as greedy, according to research by Lisa Barron of the University of California, Irvine. In general, the study shows that women are less comfortable equating a dollar amount with their self-worth. Also, because they see themselves in relationship to others, they feel less comfortable promoting their self-interests when it may be detrimental to others. Again, I wonder if the latter is a generational barrier that will dissolve over time as more women improve their negotiation skills.

The statistics are staggering: Women leave somewhere around $500,000 on the table by the time they’re 60 if they don’t negotiate an equitable first salary, according to a study by Carnegie Mellon University Professor of Economics, Linda Babcock and writer Sara Laschever.

For my part, whether you are male or female, everything is possible and achievable if you understand WHY you are pursuing it and you have PASSION for achieving it.

One of the biggest challenges for a start-up business is differentiation. It is very hard to be a remarkable ‘purple cow’ as Seth Godin implored – when everyone is claiming to be a ‘purple cow.’ The sheer volume of messages that we are bombarded with each day is overwhelming.

Real cut through comes from the authentic experience someone has of a brand. At RedBalloon we just figure that rather than making ‘promises’ and ‘ trying to sell’ stuff – we will just let people know what we stand for. Marketing has come a long way from the 1950’s – but the premise is the same – “I want to know that I am dealing with someone real – and what you stand for.”

Naomi Simson is the Founder of online gift retailer RedBalloon which was chosen as the 2011 national winner of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award – Industry Category. She blogs at

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