While women often feel the pressure of being ‘the only female in the room,’ a conversation with Sydney-based Georgette Nicholas reminded me that we may also face the self-imposed pressure of comparing ourselves when there is another woman nearby.
Georgette knows what it’s like to face extra scrutiny from a room full of men, ready to criticize your every comment. Fortunately, early in her 30-plus year career, she learned how to add value. And today, as CEO of one of Australia’s leading providers of lenders mortgage insurance (LMI), she has the perspective to manage both the peer and self-pressures a woman may feel at the top tiers of the financial sector.
Having started her career in public accounting – and being sent to audit diverse industries – Georgette told me that she was often the only woman on a factory floor. She recalled how people treated her differently and scrutinized her every move: “I had to find my voice to be heard, especially the way I asked questions. And this taught me the value of listening, to understand what people were looking for.”
When she realized that the men talked about unfamiliar issues, and she wasn’t invited into the conversation, she designed her response: “I could have just complained, ‘That’s not fair,’ but instead I taught myself what they were talking about. If they’re going to play golf and talk about stuff, I’m going to learn golf and study ISO 9000. I had an underlying curiosity to grow myself and understand their industries.”
Georgette noted that it wasn’t easy in the beginning: “Sometimes I had to fight my way into meetings, but I realized I had to prove my value by really engaging with people and asking them questions to find what mattered. I used my curiosity to show clients that I could hear their issues and have an impact on their business. And later, people started to search for me and asked me to participate because of my abilities.”