Women in business

Women in today’s business world still face the challenge of not being considered equal among their male peers. Although much progress has been made to close the gender gap, too many women still are passed up for promotions, work for less money and see fewer corner offices than their male counterparts.

Chris Flett tackles the challenges women face in his book, “What Men Don’t Tell Women about Business- Opening up the Heavily Guarded Alpha Male Playbook.”

Flett grew up in Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada. After quitting his job at BC Hydro, a large utility company in British Columbia, he formed Think Tank Communications Ltd. and later began a business consulting practice.

Throughout the beginning period of his coaching experience, Flett noticed the women he was mentoring more often really listened to him and actually applied his insights to their work. As a result, those women excelled in their industry, Flett said.

In 2003, Flett decided he would become the “North American Coach of Women” and began a 60-city speaking tour to promote and endorse his business coaching and training program, known as “Ghost CEO.”

After working with more than 2,500 women across the United States and Canada, Flett said he realized that in all business arenas, from small businesses and startup companies to large corporations, women faced similar challenges and asked similar questions.

Flett was the keynote speaker at the recent Pulse dinner presented by Tempo Envision at the Country Springs Hotel in Pewaukee. Prior to the event, Small Business Times reporter Alysha Schertz chatted with Flett about his book. The following are excerpts from that interview.

SBT: Briefly, can you explain what the essence of this book is about?

Flett: The intention of the book is really to level the playing field for women. For too long, women have not been paid equally, they have been bypassed for promotions, and essentially dismissed by male colleagues, and they don’t know why. In most cases, all of that happens because of something they themselves are doing. One of my most honest comments is that the glass ceiling has been put in place by men, and it has been held there by women. It has been held there by women who give up their power to men by taking things personally at work, making excuses or by making some other mistake. Everyone knows that women often times get treated poorly in business. My belief is with this book that can start to change. Men have held the secrets for too long. They expect women to be equal but then don’t tell them how to do so.”

SBT: What was your motivation to divulge men’s secrets? Why do it?

Flett: “I think with information comes power. A lot of men have read this book for two reasons. Number one, to see if I was honest, and number two, to see if all the alpha males in business are like them. I have had notable alpha males comment and tell me it was a very interesting book. Most people either love the book or hate it. Most women who love it view it as the first honest disclosure by a man about business. Most women that hate it, haven’t read it, and view it as a typical alpha male trying to tell them they need to be more man-like to succeed, which isn’t the case at all.”

SBT: What about your alpha male colleagues? How do they feel about the book? Did they find it accurate?

Flett: “I think there are really two canvases. One group of alphas, probably around 40 percent, tells me you are the bravest man in the world for writing that stuff. Most of them praise the book and tell me that they too want a level playing field, but just don’t want the repercussions of being honest like this. There has never been that cross-gender discussion. It’s calming for a lot of men because it has never been talked about in front of women. The other 60 percent of the men, and I was surprised by this as well, say that they feel better knowing about, and understanding, that the insecurity the alpha male feels isn’t just them. I don’t think women understand that that big CEO has a lot of insecurities. That’s why they often get aggressive, to kind of push people away. Even beta males will call, saying I understand my male boss much better now. That wasn’t the audience I was trying to reach by any means, but I’m glad it is useful for them as well.”

SBT: What about your alpha female colleagues?

Flett: “The alpha females all love it because they want to be able to compete on an even playing field. Beta females often times see this as another book that has men telling women what to do, and I have to say to them, ‘Consider the intention.’ The intention is to level the playing field, to help you realize when you are giving your power up and to stop that. Women have never been in the boardroom with just men. I have. I know the conversations they are never privy to. There has never been an honest account like this until now. I think you can love it or hate but you can’t argue the truth.”

SBT: In the book, you give somewhat of a lengthy description of the business hierarchy. How about describing the individuals in a couple of sentences?

Flett: “Sure, the alpha male is the great white hunter in business. He loves cash and loves conflict. He will jostle and debate just for the fun of it. The alpha female is driven in business. She is a woman who takes control and responsibility for the outcome. The beta male is a more passive man. He doesn’t like conflict and wants everything to go along smoothly. Often when a woman is having an issue with a man in the workplace, it’s a beta “walking in daddy’s shoes” or a beta male pretending he’s an alpha as long as there are no other alphas around. The beta female plays the support role. Women who are betas are a lot of times the ones that get abused in business. Men consider them pile-ons. Men will assume all women are betas until a woman proves otherwise.” 

SBT: In your opinion, what is one of the biggest mistakes women make that results in them giving up their power?

Flett: “Making excuses. Alpha males don’t like to look at failure ever. It’s as repulsive as cancer. To men, what women are tying to do is just try to explain their failure. Instead, they need to just talk about what’s going to happen to make it right again. My best example is when we had this lady come over from the U.K., she was like a minute late in the board room, and she walks in and says, ‘Sorry I was late.’ That’s where she should have left it, but she added, ‘I’m sorry I was late. I had a childcare issue.’ Now why did she have to put that stereotype out in the open, that women with children can’t be trusted with business? She spent all of that time building her reputation and status and then minimized it with that excuse. That’s an example where everyone loses a lot of respect for you. That’s just how men think.”

SBT: In the book, you say that today’s business model is more female leadership-friendly than male. Can you elaborate on that?

Flett: “Back in the ‘80s it was all about attack mode. Alpha males had a really bad model of a kind of ‘rape and pillage, take what we like.’ We never really learned how to build relationships. The global market today requires that. What men are doing now is looking to women, and asking, how do you build relationships? How do you obtain a sort of intimacy with clients? How do you demonstrate loyalty? Today’s model is really all about collaboration. It’s a square peg into a square hole. And it’s the perfect time for women to lead, but only if they stop giving up their power to men. This is where the paradigm is shifting. Women also have to stop openly attacking each other and stop destroying women who get into power. They have to eliminate the self-defeating prophecy that says that if you stand out and be exceptional, other females will seek to take you down.”

SBT: Most women think that men are afraid of women succeeding in the workplace. Is that true?

Flett: “It’s not true. Beta males are afraid of women succeeding because they don’t know how to succeed themselves. As for the alpha males, we want women to succeed, but we also want to see them as equal. Therefore, they need to act like equals and pull their own weight. There needs to be a certain element of private face and public face. Anything goes as long as other colleagues don’t see it. Don’t come to work talking about how difficult your life is. Women will say that to colleagues, assuming the boss won’t hear about it, but there are no secrets in business. Women say (they) should be able to act any way that they want to, and they can, as long as it’s with the understanding there are consequences to not understanding how men view things.”

SBT: You describe yourself as a reformed alpha male. What do you mean by that?

Flett: “I used to be the bad alpha male. Now as a reformed, I understand how much men don’t know about how to do business and how much women can bring to the table. I understand that I’m good at what they are bad at and they are good at what I’m horrible at. 

I’m speaking to groups all over the world just trying to get the message out that women need to own the power and don’t give it away. The old alpha men don’t want to hear this, because it takes away the advantage, but the reformed alpha’s are like, ‘Yes, please get business on a level playing field, because women bring a lot more to the table then they ever took away, and there is enough business opportunity out there for all of us.'”

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