Who are your role models at work?


What advice would you give to people struggling to survive in high-stress, high pressure corporate environments? It’s a question I asked in the survey I ran earlier this autumn to find out the experiences of women and men who work daily in these kinds of organisations. In my previous blog, I shared some of the tough personal stories of those who participated in the survey and concluded that the corporate world still has some way to go before its cultures and unwritten rules can truly be described as equal.

So what should you do if you find yourself struggling to survive this kind of working environment? Those people who responded to my survey had some great advice to share – much of it around investing in understanding yourself and your personal drivers. Here are just some of the tips they had: 

Have the confidence and integrity to know yourself and hold your own. But also seek mentors to advise, and peers to share with.  

Work out if it fits who you genuinely are. If not, move on.  

Get to know yourself so that you can find the right technique to ‘survive’ in such a culture. Successful, big companies tend to be male oriented, and if you wish to work there you need to learn how to deal with the things that don’t come easy.  

Recognize the importance of networking and make sure you’re seen at company events. If the boss has time to be there, you have time to be there.  

Promote your work and your services. Find sponsors. Share your point of view. Speak up. Represent yourself and your team. Don’t be afraid to call-out bullshit. No-one else will do it for you. 

Invest in yourself by finding positive and inspiring leaders and mentors who you aspire to be like and keep that image of your role model in the forefront of your mind when the going gets especially tough.

 This last point was a theme picked up later on in my survey. I asked what would really make a difference for those struggling in high stress, high pressure environments – what could companies offer that would help them feel more at ease?

I offered several possible answers. The most popular wasn’t diversity networks or being encouraged to take on new projects or to put thoughts across at meetings. It also wasn’t – and this did surprise me – more proactive support from my line manager in overcoming obstacles. The answer given by an overwhelming majority of survey respondents was: positive role models that I can relate to.

Participants in the survey underlined that’s not something that’s recognized by many large organizations today; instead of investing large amounts of money in courses and networks, what would really help people (and women, in particular) is seeing people like them – and people who continue to stay authentic – in more senior positions.

What makes a great role model? It’s a question I’ve been discussing with colleagues and friends over the past few weeks. The best description I can come up with based on their input is someone who operates authentically, has empathy and builds success in a positive way.

So who are these people? Having coffee with a friend who has worked in many corporate organizations, we struggled to name female role models that we could both agree on. Many of the women on the boards of large organizations today, particularly in the Netherlands, appear to be using their male energy much more to fit in and be successful, downplaying the female energy they can bring. The people we were able to name have carved their own way outside of the traditional corporate environments and built up businesses that are successful in their own right.

I’d love you to prove me wrong and describe those people in high stress, high pressure environments who are inspirational to you. Please leave a comment sharing your definition of a positive role model worth watching and let me know what do they do that makes them so inspiring.

If they’re a role model to you, they may also inspire others. And, as one of the respondents to my survey says when asked for advice to others, You are not the only one on a troubled path. Share things. We are stronger together.

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