Interview | Own your space in the workplace

A few weeks ago, I was feeling stuck in a rut in my business. While I was doing great work and getting amazing feedback from clients, I was crippled by low self esteem. This undercurrent feeling has been present for most of my career and has sometimes led me to undersell myself or make the wrong decisions. I'd had enough and started reading Lori Milner and Nadia Bilchik's book Own Your Space. I'm a tough nut to crack, especially when I am deep in my insecure mind, but something about the book got through. Own Your Space tackles covers real issues in the workplace, addressing these challenges with practical strategies and providing hope through the stories of real women. I met with one of the authors, Lori Milner and the interview is below. If you need some motivation, grab a cup of coffee and give it a read! 

Tell us the story of how you and Nadia decided to write Own Your Space? 

You know what the spark was? A family friend of my husband's happened to know Nadia and mentioned that I did women's programmes and training. So she gave him her DVD to pass onto me. That's how we met. We'd collaborated over training and events over the years that followed. We had just finished a workshop for high-potential women, and we asked them what was the one thing they felt they needed in the workplace to succeed. Across the board, the answer was confidence and self-belief. We started thinking about what we could do to address this. And that's what started the book - the same lack of confidence that is common to a group of grads, high potential women and management levels across a company. There are too many books saying that this is what you should do, and not enough telling you how. We wanted to be the toolkit and this tells you how. 

I was definitely looking for something that day when I picked up your book and I found it. I think it's because it went into detail...

That's why we included insights from the training room, and brought in people that were not only successful publicly, but successful in their industries. Some of the people you may not have heard of, but she is completely respected in her industry in how she inspires other people. 

Women feed off those stories, anyone does. 

People feed off storytelling. That's how you get a message across because immediately you become relatable. 

I think you're also able to enter the self-improvement space without putting yourself on a pedestal or saying you have all the answers, but just facilitating real conversation. 

I think you are always a mentor, and you're always a mentee. At any stage you are in your career, there is always someone looking up to you because you have done what they haven't yet. I'm always going to talks and read fanatically, anywhere where I can learn from someone who has achieved something else. You can never get to a point where you know it all. 

What work do you think to be done in nurturing and building women in the workplace? 

Firstly, there are certain skills required like headspace. Whether it comes from past conditioning or whether you should or shouldn't deserve something, a lot needs to be done to get hold of that negative talk and say it's OK to want something, it's OK to be successful, it's OK to get it. Tools like learning that it's OK to say no, and protecting your boundaries so you don't keep being that yes person and overload yourself. Also, people skills are huge. As women we have a naturally more inclusive and nurturing approach. I think we need to nurture that and not try be men. You don't need to be aggressive to be a leader and get ahead. 

Get over your fear. If there's someone you want to talk to, or something you want to do, it might feel painful, because pain is felt in the same part of the brain as rejection. You may want to have coffee with someone, or ask them for advice or a job, but then we don't. It's about overcoming that. The worst case is that someone will say 'not now,' but at least you asked and now you're on their radar. 

There are certain industries, for example advertising, where women belittled and unheard. Do you feel that's the case and what should women do to arm themselves against that? 

I don't it's about us versus them. I think men are very much part of the working world and can be our greatest mentors and our biggest sponsors. I think in certain industries, culture can play a role in that women need to fight harder to make themselves heard. I also think business is changing. There is great encouragement worldwide to push women into high positions and decision-making roles. There are some phenomenal CEOs and men who only want women because of the attitudes we bring with us. 

I did a talk to a group of women business owners the other day. One of the women, a doctor who now runs her own medical practice, spoke of the shift from working with patients to now being in this business environment where there were a number of men. She spent a few weeks feeling like a victim, saying to herself "This is not fair, nobody is listening to me and this is just not OK." Then she realised it wasn't them, it was her perception of them. 

Don't fall into the victim mentality. What can be challenging is that you need to assert yourself. If you sit in a boardroom situation and you don't participate, you will become a no-name brand. There are all sorts of reasons why we don't put our hand up, but it all starts with that participation. Have an opinion and express yourself. People will listen to you and take you seriously. Get into the habit of acknowledging and sharing things you've done. It's visibility. Use every presentation and meeting as an opportunity to illustrate what you know. 

That being said, there will be some individuals that will always be difficult, that will test you because you're a woman. In those cases, you just need to be strong against them. Don't let yourself be the victim. If someone is bullying you, call them on it. Pull them aside, ask for a meeting and have a discussion. You'll probably catch them off-guard. 

Distinguish between whether it's a case of you not making yourself heard, or if you're making yourself heard and still being shot down. We always use the phrase: stop, challenge, and choose. So press the mental pause button, and stop, challenge the situation, and ask yourself if you are interpreting it correctly. Finally, choose the most appropriate way you want to respond. 

What is your advice to young women just entering the workplace?  

- People do business with people – aim to establish relationships first. Ask yourself where you can provide value before you ask for something. Be a ‘go giver’, not a ‘go getter. I live by the saying ‘network most when you need it least’.

- Have integrity in everything you do – your reputation is all you have at the end of the day. As Napoleon Hill says ‘Always do more than you are being paid for’ 

 - There is no substitute for preparation. This includes meetings, interviews and public speaking. Preparation provides you with the confidence that you can add value to those around you. With confidence, you can achieve anything.

 - Participate – have the courage to share your opinions and ideas. No one will know your true value unless you put your hand up.

 - Challenge yourself – if something scares you, then you know you are on the right track.

- Let purpose be the driving force on how you spend your time – ask yourself what will excite you and make sure you bring your unique skills to everything you do

Tell us about your book club? 

I've partnered with Veuve Clicquot and we've reinvented the book club. It's held on the last Friday of every month and each event on is based on a chapter of the book. We limit it to 12 ladies to maintain its intimacy. It's always in a beautiful venue and the objective is about creating a platform for genuine networking and real conversations. It's just amazing to experience the energy in the room and how real connections are formed within a short space of time. 

I'd highly recommend the Own Your Space toolkit for any woman in the workplace. Buy one for yourself or the woman in your life at one of these stores. Lori's book club is also a hot ticket within Joburg business circles. Get yours here