Margaret Thatcher’s Reign: Eulogy or Roast?

Margaret Thatcher: A Role Model by Default? Dos and Don’ts as a Woman with Power

When a powerful woman dies, her status as a woman is still the big issue.

Of course having a female Prime Minister in Britain was, symbolically, a huge step for women. Yet making her an insta-role model skips the most important idea behind that symbol: that women are worthy of success, not because they’re women or in spite of it, but for the value of the work they do. While her tenure as Britain’s PM is considered an important step for women, it’s also being criticised – and rightly so – for her anti-feminist sentiments and harsh social policies. Thatcher called the very movement that made women voting and holding office possible “poison” and opposed social programs. That women who value the idea of women in power (a.k.a. feminists) are willing to criticise someone who succeeded isn’t just sour grapes; it’s a sign that women can and should be evaluated for their individual strengths and weaknesses, rather than the stereotypes they are expected to fulfill. This, if nothing else, Thatcher could probably agree with.

Here are some tips on how to get ahead as a woman and stay there on your own merit:

1. Do support other women. Don’t support poor decisions. Siding with someone based purely on their sex is both unprofessional and unhelpful in equalising the work world. If a woman is making bad business decisions, supporting that woman’s mistakes only weakens the argument that women are “just as good as men.” Favouring women because men favour men is reactionary, not proactive. While being supportive in a largely male-dominant work world is important, so is maintaining the integrity of your support. If you want to show support for those who have made mistakes (all of us), help them rectify the situation. If you support other women who make decisions as well as you do, you make stronger business connections and improve the chances of women being taken seriously.

2. You’ve heard this a million times, and that’s because it works. Do make strong connections, and lots of them. Learn and remember people’s names. Make a point of keeping track of who has what useful skills, and who might need yours. Don’t limit yourself to the people at the top of your industry. You never know what new, promising talent you could make use of or what new, exciting things they might be in on, and if you remember who helped you out and gave you your chance at success, chances are they will too. Do expand your connections beyond your immediate industry – you never know who you might need or who might need you. Maybe there’s some cross-sector partnership you could miss out on if you only talk to those directly in your field. Don’t, however, get so caught up in pleasing people that you never make the tough decisions. Not everyone will agree with your work ethics or your social stance as a businessperson, but hopefully the ones you want to do business with will.

3. Do be confident about your skills. It’s hard at weak moments to think your skills are worth the money, the promotion, the recognition. Women seem to struggle with this more than men, perhaps because the list of areas in which we are encouraged to succeed doesn’t start with “career.” However, the likelihood is that you know how to do something that could be very valuable to others, but if others can’t see it, it might as well not exist. If you’re not sure what sets you apart, sit down and think about it. Look at your resume and remind yourself of all the things you have accomplished. Instead of taking criticism as a sign of personal failure, evaluate it for helpful growth points and act on them; discard the rest. Don’t be intimidated by other people’s success—learn from it, be inspired by it. Don’t settle for something below your education and skill set just because you think it’s all you can get. Do be proactive about maintaining and updating skills. Pick up a book on the subject, check out continuing education (though don’t get so focussed on the need for more knowledge that you stop focussing on your end goal), or even try a quick Google search to see if the gaps in your knowledge are as big as you thought. Everyone can use a little inspiration sometimes, and learning something new might give you some even if you’re doing fine with the skills you have. The Cliffnotes version: know your skills, know their value, and act on your knowledge. Go big or stay home.

4. Do know and value your market. Don’t forget that you are serving real people with real concerns. There’s a community of people in your town, city, country – out there in the world – who could benefit from whatever you’re working on. Believing you can make a difference in others’ lives also helps with #5 on our list.

5. Do remember why you’re doing what you’re doing. In the midst of deadlines and bills it can be easy to forget why you started out on the career path you’ve chosen, but remembering what interested you in the first place will help you to commit to your work. Another benefit is that when your customers/client base see how much you value their needs, they’ll value you more in return. If things are starting to feel stale work-wise, see if there’s something you can do to rejuvenate your enthusiasm. If you are resenting work because it’s taking up your family, social, or personal time, try to see if you can balance things out. Leaving work on the dot at the end of your Tuesday or Friday and taking the time to relax will make you feel less harried and improve your productivity.

Sometimes thinking about your status as a woman is important. Equally important is remembering that you should feel valuable because you’ve earned the right to feel that way. The whole point of the women’s movement has been to try to give women the opportunity to be valued for themselves rather than the sum of their physical parts. So value yourself and your work because you and it are useful. Really believe in the movement’s message. Then go out and do something with that belief!


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Sarah Varnam

Sarah Varnam is an up and coming writer, editor, photographer, painter and “internet addict” and can be reached at http://ca.linkedin.com/pub/sarah-varnam/68/769/5aa. Her love is writing about “the evolution of gender as a social construct”.