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Updated 30 Sep 2020

How to own your femininity in the corporate world of business

It’s not about competing with our male counterparts but instead, owning our femininity in the room.

Petra Laranjo , 22 August 2015  Share  0 comments  Print

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Femininity – the art of being a woman. I’ve worked with thousands of business people in uplifting their external image to create a credible personal brand and I’m still surprised at the many skewed opinions of what femininity ‘looks’ like in the workplace. You may think that it’s the men who are misinterpreting these views but it is not. The dictionary definition describes femininity as merely a set of traits, behaviours and roles related to women and bares no mention of anything pretty, pink or floral.

That’s not to say that the aforementioned doesn’t suggest the illusion of femininity, what I’m suggesting is that ‘femininity’ is a lifestyle and way of being instead of purely a way of dressing.  

To substantiate this, I would like to share two (abridged) stories from my book ‘Living On Purpose. The Key to Change Your Life and Impact Others.’ These are just two of the exceptional and influential business leaders who I interviewed about their perspective and journey to a place of significance and impact. 

Allow me to introduce Koo Govender, the first female CEO of the VWV Group — the global brand experience agency that was behind the 2010 FIFA World Cup opening and closing ceremonies.

Related: Koo Govender: Bringing brands together

“One of the traits that I so admire about Koo is her ability to retain her femininity and still be able to make a statement in the boardroom. Koo doesn’t place limitations on herself.

“I’d like to pass on to other women that it is possible to be a wife, a mother and career woman. It’s about your priorities. When I’m at work, I focus on work and when I’m home, I’m present there. For me, being present and prepared is what allows me to own my space and be powerful.”’

I’ve come across women who err on the side of downplaying their roles as a wife and mother lest they be seen as less capable than their male counterparts but Koo is unapologetic about her position as both.  Koo is just one of the many visionaries who prove that you can have impact without sacrificing your holistic identity as a woman. 

Another story of extraordinary woman who is the CEO of a sector of one of South Africa’s largest JSE listed companies. I’m unable to share her name but I can say this - she’s a petite but quietly powerful woman who is revered in an industry where, traditionally, men have always held the reigns of leadership.

She is the epitome of femininity and is always impeccably dressed and put together. I’ve worked with her teams on to ‘Dress for Impact in the Business World’ as she views appearance as massively important and wants to empower her organisations people through it.

In the book she shares: “In my role as a woman in business, I’ve always being surrounded by men — but I don’t think about the fact that I’m a woman. If it’s an issue to you — that you’re the only woman in the room — then it’s going to be an issue to them. I just am who I am." 

In summary, it’s not about competing with our male counterparts but instead, owning our femininity in the room. Why would I want to adopt traits which don’t come naturally to me as a woman? Why would I put myself at a disadvantage by challenging men on their skill sets and natural bent? Don’t ever confuse being feminine with not being taken seriously in business - there is room for both.  

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About the author

Petra Laranjo

Petra Laranjo is a leading speaker and consultant in the personal branding, employee engagement and client relation management arenas. She has just completed her first book titled, ‘Living On Purpose: The Key to Change Your Life and Impact Others.’ Fourteen years of experience across corporate and entertainment industries have offered her a unique perspective in coaching the thousands of individuals in over 60 companies over the years. She has received various nominations including the FNB/ROCCI Business Woman of the Year.

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