I wrote recently about an all-female networking event I went to and the way women are opting out of the workplace. I mentioned in that post that there was a lone man speaking about his passions during the open-mic slot.
He was brave enough to stand up in front of about 100 women and talk about his journey in trends and new product development. This really interested me because I also worked in the trends industry for a while.
His story was that he found himself one day talking about whether ice cream should be pink or striped with focus groups and realised that all he was doing was helping to develop and sell product that would make people fatter and more unhealthy.
He resolved to spend his life on something that mattered more and now helps big brands to flourish through combining social vision with innovation. I went to speak to him because that resonated strongly with me. But the conversation we had went a little differently than I expected.
He shared how nervous he had been to stand up in front of a group made up entirely of women. He said that had never happened to him before (it's never happened to me, except in the Brownies...!). He shared that he had found it really intimidating despite his years of pitching and that he had been really surprised by his physical reaction to the situation.
So my experience is that I am pretty much always standing in front of a group made up entirely, or almost entirely of people of the opposite sex to me. That's my normal and I know how to cope with it and what they expect. It's interesting that for many men, that's just not an experience they ever have and that they find it intimidating because it takes them out of their comfort zone.
What was even more interesting was his conclusion. He said that he found the audience encouraging, supportive, interested, empathetic and that they were on his side. He says he doesn't generally feel that in the 'normal' meetings he attends.
So that got me thinking. How much better we would all perform if the audience in the room was gunning for us, wanting us to succeed rather than wanting to trip us up, bring us down, show their knowledge, keep the power, or whatever it is that happens. Don't get me wrong, women display those traits just as much as men.
Much is written about empathy and how it helps people to succeed in the workplace. The starting point should always be to put yourself in the shoes of the person in front of you and do as you would be done by. If they thrive on challenge, challenge them. If they thrive on support and encouragement, support them and encourage them. If they do well when there's a laugh and joke involved, bring some lightness and humour to the situation. As leaders, our primary role is to bring out the best in people. Profit in all senses from the ability to use that skill. Your business will thank you for it.