Women working on it: behind closed doors
Behind closed doors is an Australian professional network, focused on peer to peer mentoring and development of women in business. Biz Better Together spoke with their Marketing & Events Manager, Penny Reidy, about women working in support of each other to make the most of their combined knowledge and skills.
We’ve been in Adelaide for nine years now, and have groups running in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth as well. Our largest membership base is concentrated in Adelaide, but we are gaining momentum nationally and internationally having launched in the US last year, with a Facilitator based in Tampa, Florida.
Strangely enough, there’s nothing quite like behind closed doors in the US. They do a lot of research over there around why women are needed on boards and in executive roles. But behind closed doors takes that next step, it’s going from knowing we need women in senior roles, and then asking how do we give women the confidence and tools to get out there and go after these roles.
Women put so much pressure on themselves. There is research that shows a man who feels he meets around 50% of the criteria for a role will go for it, whereas women are reluctant to apply unless they feel they are 100% qualified. Yet anyone who’s done any recruitment knows that when someone writes a job description, it’s essentially a wish-list; you’re hoping you’ll get maybe 70% of those attributes in your candidate. And sometimes when you meet prospective employees, a lot comes down to personality and team or cultural fit anyway and not how you stack up on paper, so women who don’t tick all the boxes need encouragement to throw their hat in the ring.
Women are very tentative unless they do tick all those boxes. I think it has a lot to do with confidence. Women are highly focused on tasks and they feel they need to have proven themselves before they apply; I am not sure what the psychology of this is, just that this is the pattern we see.
We published a post to our blog, ‘The Waiting Room – Why Do Women Wait?’ about how women wait; they wait for a promotion, they wait for a pay rise, they wait to be offered a position on the board. Men are much more active in pursuit of all these things. For instance, women wait until a position becomes vacant before they think about applying; at behind closed doors we encourage women to think about planting the seed, or making others aware that they are a suitable, qualified candidate and they are interested in that role, and would like to be considered should it become available. It’s just a difference in how men and women do things. Part of what we do at behind closed doors is make women aware of this difference and teach them about other strategies and options that are available.
Behind closed doors is about giving women the tools to have the confidence to put themselves out there. It’s important to figure out how to brand yourself, and it’s important to have a network and sponsors. Many women don’t like to network, but it’s amazing what can come from those opportunities.
Donny Walford, our Founder and Managing Director, tells this fantastic story about her appointment to the board of the ABC, and that it came about in part thanks to contacts that she had fostered over many years of networking. She says that results may not come instantly from networking, but it’s worth putting in the time and effort because the results, in time, can be amazing.
We put women in a group mentoring situation and it’s about building their confidence and tools within the group. We help them work through the process of applying for a promotion, or a pay-rise, or a board position. It’s helping them to work through the process of how they would go about doing that.
We want to build a safe and nurturing environment and we protect that. We need to make sure the mix of women in each peer to peer mentoring group is right, and that’s a really important process we go through. We make sure we have a mix of industries, because people get siloed, they might be in health care or government and they’ve been there for 10 or 20 years so they don’t think outside the box of their industry anymore.
We want the group sessions to be made up of complementary individuals where there are no conflicts. If we don’t have a group available for someone where they can add value and also draw value from participating, then we hold off putting them into a group until a suitable one is available. We want to foster diversity within the organisation with all the benefits that brings.
Women can sometimes be amazed when they hear that someone in a completely different industry is facing the same challenges as they are. When you are on the inside of something it can be hard to imagine what it’s like somewhere else. Curating the mix in each group allows women to learn from each other, be exposed to new ideas, and to push their boundaries.
There are things that are foundational and that we all can benefit from. One is to stop listening to self-doubts. Another is to embrace getting out of your comfort zone. We talk a lot about the Imposter Syndrome and how that’s a common challenge for women in business.
Networking is critical. Finding people who can mentor you, to help guide you, or who can advocate and put you forward when opportunities arise, these relationships come from getting out and meeting other people. They come from networking.
There are plenty of women out there who are capable of going into executive and board roles, they just need the confidence to put their hands up. And at behind closed doors, we are all about giving women the tools to build, maintain and grow that confidence both professionally and personally.