Have we learned nothing from the guys?

Imageby Karolyn Hart

I spent the majority of my career working in largely male-dominated industries. Back in the 90’s when I started my career “girls” just weren’t interested in technology and they REALLY weren’t interested in doing technology for the financial services industry.  As a result, I was trained by guys, coached by men, and mentored by gentlemen. They really taught me “What Every Professional Women Should Know” and I am greatly appreciative.

Recently, I’ve been following a number of authors from Forbes and Inc. who are discussing women in leadership.  Interestingly, one of the authors (a man if you’re interested) declared that one of the 2013 trends is the “rise of women” and that now everyone accepts that women are just “better” Apparently, we are better at leadership, and communications, and pretty much everything else.

Really? Oh brother.

The sentiment is being echoed all over the internet. Do a google search and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Here’s the thing…have we learned nothing?  While I appreciate the fact that women are being recognized for their abilities we cannot do it at the detriment of men.  Extremes produce extremes and I would hope that we’re more enlightened than these statements.

The fact is that men and women are different.  It’s not about “better”.  We’ve spent generations fighting for women to be seen as equal, but forcing men into the “weaker sex” makes us no better than those arrogant beasts in the 1950’s that wouldn’t let married women work.  Thank you IBM for leading the way!

Now this is not going to be poltically correct, and I also realize I’m biased because I spent most of my career working with men, but if I had to choose I would work with men.  There is something to be said for being focused. In fact, research shows that only about 5% of people multi-task effectively, so it’s complete hogwash to claim that we women do this more effectively in the workplace. I also appreciate how men are direct, usually have less emotional drama, and are results oriented.  It makes the work place much easier to navigate when you don’t have to worry about “who likes who” etc. What happens without that drama? Well, it gets filled with work – and I like that. I like it alot.

Now that the research is showing the world just how great we women are, how about we not repeat the same mistake of making gender-biased assumptions? How about we realize that there is beauty in the complexity of our differences?   Imagine a world in the future where we take the lessons from the past instead of arrogantly demanding our turn at the wheel. Why not simply move forward in confidence into a future where we have learned that a person’s ability is not predetermined by their race, sex, or the religion they practice.

It’s black history month and Rev. King’s “I have a dream” speech may be resonating with me right now as a result, but there’s something to be said that our future is better united together then repeating the mistakes of the past.

At the end of the day, I may prefer to work with men if given the choice, but I also want the voice of the opposite sex at the table during those conversations because I know it will make whatever is being worked on stronger – and that was always the point. Equality brings strength so let’s be sure to not lose it in our future.

The Secret of Social Media Success

by Karolyn Hart

Once upon a time there was a world that allowed advertisers the ability to craft a message, develop a brand, deliver it in one of three mediums (radio, print, tv) and absolutely influence the consumer decision.  In fact, so simple was the world, that an agency could actually pitch an entire campaign to that brand, up front, and win their portfolio on that one pitch.  For today’s marketers that idea is laughable and history.  That world dissipated with the arrival of the internet and the world has never been the same since.

Today, to the dismay of some advertisers still living in the past, the consumer is in complete control of their brand.  The wise brand manager now understands that consumers can make or break a brand based on the virility of the message they are sending.

I’ve spent the last week reviewing various case studies on social media, reading the latest online trends, and searching for the “key” that will allow me to really hit my marketing plans out of the park this year – and I believe I’ve found the magic key.  Ready for it? It’s either very simple or complex depending on how you view it.  Here it is…

Authenticity.

That’s it.  If you take a look at the brands or things that have had the most exposure and success over the last several years the one common theme is the experience was completely authentic.  Whether it was young Justine Bieber strumming a guitar in downtown Stratford, the Harvard baseball team dancing in a van while travelling, or the entire world weighing in on Destiny’s Child performance at the Superbowl.  In each case, authenticity rules supreme.

Now, for the brands that are honest this is absolutely fantastic news.  If the product they have is superior, and they can authentically brag about what they do and how they do it – then the sky is the limit.  The challenge is for those brands who don’t know how to articulate their unique differentiator or why they really are better than competition (because we know this is the reality in business).

All marketers understand that a brand is no longer formed on the advertisers claiming something, but rather the messaging simply resonates the truth of what they are offering.

For Christmas this year my brother and his wife created their own brand of seasoning for the family and they jokingly branded it “That’s not so bad!”  As he put it, it’s not worth of being called “Helluva a good thing” but it’s useable.  Their sense of humour about the product they created actually made us want to use it.  It ends up that “That’s not so bad!” is actually pretty good and we’ve been using it on everything.

The lesson in this story is in the authenticity.  Don’t be afraid to embrace your humour, who you are, and be realistic about what you have to offer.  You may just end up with something really great for your marketing!

My Swedish Apprenticeship in Canada (CBC’s Generation Jobless)

AppleMark

by Karolyn Hart

CBC recently produced a great documentary called “Generation Jobless“. It was brought to me by a highly educated millennial in my life who has been on their own painful journey of being under-employed.  It touches on all the major workforce issues that have been on my radar for some time now.

I’ve always known that my career path was unusual.  I originally left home to attend school with the desire of becoming a missionary abroad.  I ended up with a professional career, and an eclectic skill set that has allowed me the flexibility to reinvent myself on more than one occasion – and it all started with a company’s decision to invest in me.

I’ve always known that my story was unique.  It’s hard to imagine, but there was a time in Waterloo, Ontario where the large Fortune 500 companies weren’t demanding computer science degrees in young students from their local university in order to get work in IT.  Yet, back in the 1990’s this was the case, and fortunately for me, resulted in my unexpected professional career.

I started my career stuffing envelopes in one of those large Fortune 500 companies and a series of events later I found myself taking an assessment and qualifying to work in IT – specifically tech support.  I remember the manager at the time outwardly expressing their pleasure that I had “not” taken any computer science because it won’t only mean they would have to “re-teach me everything”. The legacy systems I would be supporting required custom training and it would be easier for me to learn with no preconceived notions.

It was in every sense a win-win situation.  The company heavily invested in my training which included grueling 8-hour days in the presence of trainers, followed by heavy reading at night.  A few short months later, however, I was taking my first support calls under the watchful eye of a supervisor.  It was a win-win situation.

The investment from the company provided them with a trained employee that was able to produce for them exactly what they needed.  On my side, I was rewarded with a paying career and my student debt from religious studies was significantly reduced. (Can you say “divine intervention”?)

I always felt blessed for my journey but in Sweden my experience is the norm.  It is also why, according to the documentary produced by CBC, that their youth unemployment sits at 2.8%.  Here in Canada, it appears that today’s employers would consider the idea of investing in an employee with training and on the job experience gratuitous.

What the company understood that hired me, that today’s employers MUST understand, is the return on investment received for their initial up front investment.  At no point did that employer ever fear about not being able to have adequate resources to meet their goals.  They were in a constant state of preparedness and able to beat out competition who struggled to find the talent.

In today’s world, company’s who take on the Swedish Apprenticeship approach here in Canada will likely find themselves at the top.  While their competition has to pass up work due to a lack of workforce, they will be reaping the financial benefits of being able to grow and expand.