Stepping up: Why we need more courageous women in the workplace

The former Chelsea FC doctor settled her constructive dismissal claim against the Premier League club for a reported £5m in June.  Carneiro joined the London club in 2009 and is the first woman to hold such a role in Premier League football. 

On the opening day of the 2015 – 2016 Premier League season Carneiro and the physiotherapist Jon Fearn were criticised by Mourinhro and dropped from first-team duties following the draw with Swansea City.

The public humiliation on the pitch when the spat between Mourinho and Carneiro took place and the resulting media scrutiny of the case are highly unusual. 

Women in male-dominated jobs do not typically usually have their workplace issues played out in front of international media and a live audience of hundreds of thousands. 

I have seen some comment that working in an environment that is so tied up with adrenaline, testosterone and, not least of all, large sums of money, means that all of those involved – women included – have to make allowances for behaviour.  There are plenty that disagree.   

Does working in a male-dominated environment demand that women have special skills, a thick-skin, possibly a very confident demeanour in order to succeed? 

Hillary Clinton, in the campaign to be the Democratic Party candidate and now America’s first female presidential nominee from a major party, has been accused of not playing the gender card to her advantage.  And her assertiveness it seems makes some voters feel uncomfortable. 

And so you have the dilemma.  Business leaders are increasingly asking women to behave in a more courageous, confident way to help them achieve promotional goals and allow them to participate in senior roles.  Jonathan Munro, the BBC’s head of newsgathering, recently claimed that women employees miss out on high-ranking jobs in the BBC because they “don’t feel confident enough.”  Yet being assertive can have its pitfalls, see above. 

Experiences in other male-dominated professions have shown that behaviour improves with the addition of women.  The Royal Navy is such an example. 

In 1993, the Women’s Royal Naval Service (known as the WRENS) was disbanded and 4535 women were integrated fully into the Royal Navy and able to serve on HM Ships at sea, at all ranks and rates.  I have had the opportunity to meet many women in the Royal Navy and work with them in training situations.  It is widely acknowledged by senior ranks of both genders that the inclusion of women on ships helps to normalise behaviour on board for the benefit of all. 

It would be a great shame if women were holding back, increasing their self-doubt and not applying for the next role or promotion as a result of news coverage of high-profile women.  The confidence or courage that business leaders desire is not a skill but a result.  I firmly believe from direct experience in this area that confidence is a tool kit of skills and self-awareness that turns thoughts into action. Improving confidence can be achieved through practice.  It’s a bit like a muscle, the more you exercise the skills and behaviours that help you become more confident, the more courageous you will be.  So don’t let news headlines put you off.  Business, governments, organisations and society in general all need more women to step-up and find the courage to participate. 

This blog piece first appeared on in June 2016