"I’m a businesswoman not a martyr"

Female leaders are discouraging young women from entering business by focusing on the obstacles they face, says Sayeh Ghanbari, lead partner for EY UK&I business consulting.

by Orianna Rosa Royle
Last Updated: 27 Oct 2020

For business women across all sectors, these questions may sound familiar: How will you juggle children and a career? Does wearing heels make you more respected? Are you tough enough? 

When climbing the ranks, female leaders are often asked to discuss the obstacles they faced along the way. But by zeroing in on the negatives, we are doing a disservice to young business women, says Sayeh Ghanbari, lead partner for EY UK&I business consulting.

Instead, Ghanbari wants to shift the narrative around female leadership to one that celebrates the freedom it provides.


“I think we often talk about women in business as a form of martyrdom. And that's wrong.

"I don't want to say that there are no obstacles to being a woman in leadership. But why just focus on the negative? What we're doing by focusing on that martyrdom is discouraging a lot of young women from entering business.

“When I speak to our talented female up-and-coming consultants, they ask me about how they can overcome the obstacles that they expect will be ahead. When I talk to our young talented male consultants, they ask me what they need to do to prove to me that they can accelerate. 

“So at the offset, you've got two people who are expecting to progress at different speeds: women will be delighted if they can just go at normal speed, because all they want is to not be slowed down. When men move at normal speed, they do so as the minimum expectation, and they're asking for acceleration. That delta is huge. 

“There is an onus on all of us to also reflect the positives and show what being a woman in business can actually be. I don't often hear senior women talking about the rewards of being a woman in leadership both in terms of your personal developments and frankly, financially.

“The freedom that that gives you in terms of making better choices in the rest of your life, the fact that you get more flexibility about what you do and how you do it - all of those things are very rewarding.

“If you treat it always as a fight, that's exhausting.”

Image credit: via J_art Getty Images

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