A Personal Touch

Making It Work

If you have a largely female staff, the most important things are consistently stressing an open-door policy, encouraging employees to be direct, and openly discussing competition. Zimmerman's philosophy is to get it out, discuss it, fix it and move on-a process she calls "fair fighting." She spends 20 minutes every week in one-on-one discussion with each employee. "They each get my undivided attention," she says. And she has seen female employees struggle with hitting problems head-on. "I had one woman quit and tell me that she didn't like directly addressing problems. I asked her, 'Well, how do you get anything done?'" she says.

Maximizing the potential of your female staff comes down to recognizing the unique dynamic of a female environment. "For female working relationships to thrive, we need to respect some distance [with each other]," Duff says. As a female business owner, you don't need to change your style to fit an all-female environment, and you don't need to bury any instincts. In other words, don't stop being yourself. But you do need to make sure that your staff consistently understands your approach to work, your boundaries on interaction and your reasons behind them. "The female CEO needs to acknowledge her style and tell employees what works for her," Duff says. The common thread that binds your staff should be a shared, mutual commitment to their projects. If you can achieve that, you might find women's work has never been easier.

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Chris Penttila is a Washington, DC-based freelance journalist who covers workplace issues on her blog, Workplacediva.blogspot.com.

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This article was originally published in the November 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: A Personal Touch.

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