We interview Alexandra Kutilin, a full-time MBA student at Simon Fraser University’s Beedie School of Business, about being a strong woman and speaking up for what you want and need. This week’s episode is for all the strong women out there, who struggle with balancing their tactical professional self and caring compassionate self. I know this is an internal conflict that I deal with regularly as an entrepreneur in a care-giving and creative sector. How can I highlight my expertise, intelligence, and strength without losing the softer side of myself? This struggle is particularly evident in negotiations, where we are required to bargain for something we want, such as a better grade, performance from a group mate, raise from our boss, or new opportunity. Women are typically socialized to step back, give in, and avoid conflict. So, how do you harness your inner shark without losing yourself?
Alex is passionate about career mentorship, professional development, and entrepreneurship for women, topics that she regularly explores on her blog. As an ambitious young career woman, she is also very active on campus. She is currently the President of the Graduate Women’s Council, a Student Ambassador, and a Mentors in Business participant, and has been a competitor in the 2019 BC MBA Games and 2020 National MBA Games.
Negotiation, or more specifically, conflict is an area that women stereotypically have been socialized to avoid. What strategies do you have for individuals who find negotiations challenging because of a fear of conflict or disapproval?
For this question, three things come to mind. First, recognizing that I have my own thoughts and perspectives, which I can get into in a little bit. Second, being prepared by going into a negotiation having done the research. Third, knowing that you can just chill out and keep your cool in a situation that can get very tense. Building these skills and confidence takes time and practice, and I think are something everyone should invest in.
We are in negotiations all the time, and some of them are comfortable, some of them are not. However, if you prepare yourself for different situations, you can get more comfortable by actually being in them as yourself. This means that you are not overly concerned with sounding silly, which oftentimes is the internal voice that discourages us. I feel like this is a huge barrier for women in particular as we are socialized from a young age to be people pleasers. I think that, as I move on in my career, I am starting to get used to that, and I do not experience it as much as I did when I was younger.
Business is typically viewed as a male pursuit. Where do you think that comes from and what can we do to encourage more young women to consider business?
I think it’s a combination of the sentiment is something “men have always done”, traditional gender roles, and the way that history has portrayed those roles. Even though the Western workplaces slowly started to welcome women into their ranks into the early to mid 20th century, this assumption persists.
Things are slowly changing as we see more female CEOs and business leaders. I also see more young women in my MBA classes. I think it is important to have strong female role models for young women, so that they can see that it’s possible to be a businesswoman.
For undergraduate students out there who are considering an MBA in the future, do you have any advice for them?
Definitely. Looking back now and reflecting on my experience, the things that I know now were not obvious at first. My goal was to figure out what I wanted to do, and I did that by taking initiative, pushing my comfort zone, and trusting myself.
First, take initiative with the goal of learning, instead of the goal of getting something out of the experience, like a job or a raise.
Second, take chances and push your comfort zone. I don’t just mean blindly say: “okay I’m going to take this chance and step off the cliff”. For me, it is about taking chances when the stakes are a little beyond your healthy comfort zone. For me, that was losing a year’s income to enroll in an MBA program.
Finally, trust yourself and your ability to achieve a challenging goal. You have already accomplished the big goals that you set for yourself in the past, so what makes you think that you cannot do that again in your future?
Recommended Books and Resources
Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez
As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto by Joan Reardon
Thank you, Alex, for sharing the excellent advice with us and our readers!
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