Kathleen seized the annual celebration of women in business as an opportunity to sit down with our very own co-founder, Eva Sayem to talk about her experience working in male dominant workplaces and juggling motherhood and running a business. We might be biased but we think she is incredibly inspiring!
Perth March 2019, Amidst juggling consulting work, managing Approach Services and being pregnant with her second baby, Eva is a real role-model for many other women in business. We often find ourselves saying “how does she do it?” or “If Eva can do it, we can do it!”. We are lucky to work next to such a powerhouse and learn from her directly. We hope this interview provides you with some value to think about gender equality in your workplace.
K: What is the biggest superpower every woman should embrace?
E: Women need to believe in themselves more! As a woman, you are gifted with incredible strength, resilience, intuition and a sense of community. But, if we believe that being a woman makes us any less _______ (fill in adjective of your choice: strong, worthy, smart etc.) then we inhibit our potential before anyone else had a chance to see it. Being a woman adds to the beauty of being able to tap into a supportive community and network much like any other association.
I hope that I am a role model for others
K: You mentioned you studied and worked in male dominated environments most of your career. What was your experience like?
E: Reflecting back, I was lucky my parents made sure I did not hold myself back with any social stereotypes. I was exposed to programming, physics, sports and other so-called male domains at a young age. Later I found myself pursuing careers in male-dominated environments such as IT, resources and business. I once worked in a female-dominated industry and I remember asking my manager at the interview what the ratio between men and women were. He cheekily said 50% meaning our team (him & me). He turned out being the only male in the office of 30. I faced very new challenges in this environment and I am sure he did too.
This means you will always have challenges in whatever industry you work in. I love what i do and despite being one of the only females in a male-dominated industry at a senior level, this actually makes me stand out and especially attractive to talk to for a different perspective. So instead of dwelling on being part of a minority, I’ve turned it around in my favour and I embrace it. I hope that I am a role model for others that find that gender bias should be a thing of the past.
I don’t really believe it makes a difference whether you are male or female.
K: Do you believe women in business are at an advantaged or disadvantaged in the 21st century and why?
E: This is a tricky question, as I don’t really believe it makes a difference whether you are male or female. I believe one’s mindset and ability to seize commonalities and diversities for an advantage is a much greater differentiator in the 21st century. In our EXCELerate leadership program, we raise awareness for different personality styles, work styles, cooperation and communication styles, approaches to conflict & problem solving as well as preferences in intrinsic motivation. Neither of the styles will make one person better than the other.
The advantage comes when your style or your ability to adopt a style that matches the needs and situation of the environment. For example, I might be in a situation that requires confidence and an outgoing character. I could say I am at an advantage because I am a woman and we are much better communicators (warning: stereotype!) or I could say I am at an advantage because I am an extrovert and situations like these bring out the best in me. I could also say I am at an advantage because I invested much time into being able to adapt and excel in these situations because I am introverted and know how to adapt. I hope you get my point, I believe it’s up to you to work on your advantage!
It took me a while to realise that trying to live up to unrealistic expectations is going to kill me and make me perform poorly on all levels.
K: You are currently pregnant with your second child and run Approach Services. How do you balance motherhood while running a business?
E: I was very naive with my first pregnancy and birth of my son when it comes to acknowledging the challenges of having two babies: Your actual child and your business. Social media and shiny images of mums with laptops make us believe that there is such a thing as getting rich, working from home, whilst your baby sleeps. It took me a while to realise that trying to live up to unrealistic expectations is going to kill me and make me perform poorly on all levels.
Once, I acknowledged that you can only juggle motherhood, running a business, being yourself and a loving partner with a tremendous amount of support I was lucky enough to tap into supportive communities and networks.
As an example, I found BubDesk a Perth business mum, that offers co-working in child care spaces. This connected me with professionals whilst being able to be close to my son and continuing to breastfeed. Even now the community of business mums is a valuable source of information & support: Raw & Real. Another pivot point was to outsource and employ more staff, acknowledging that one can not do all. Would I say I have now found the perfect recipe for balance? No way! But we get better each day, and when bub #2 is due I will be much better prepared and kinder to myself.
You will grow over time
K: Lastly, as a mentor what is the most powerful lesson you would share with another woman in business?
E: Don’t stop learning! Make time to learn new things. Know how you learn best. Your work, your life, your ambitions will change throughout your lifetime. If you have a strong growths mindset and are ready to give things a trial, even if that means you might not succeed, then you will be able to learn something new every day. That means you will grow over time; your horizon will expand and with it your interests and ability to uplift others. Curiosity, openness and the hunger to learn will make you a better listener, observer and ideator. These are important survival skills in an ever-changing world.
I am the Co-Founder of Approach Services. We are experts in Change Leadership. We offer EXCELerate Change Leadership Training face-to-face and online, change management and project engineering consulting, to practical, stand-alone change leadership toolkits in Perth, Australia and globally.