Ten Top Tips for Businesswomen

How women can ensure they are competing on a level playing field

  1. Seek out the right mentors – Many businesses have formal mentoring programmes in place but it can often be hard to create the right chemistry between a mentor and a mentee. Actively seeking out mentors with whom you “click” can be more beneficial. Mentors do not necessarily need to work with you – those from outside your workplace can sometimes offer a more balanced view.
  2. Get a sponsor – Sponsorship is arguably more important than mentorship as it can have a direct impact on promotion and career development. Sponsors are generally people who work within your team or organisation.
  3. Continually look to upgrade your skill-set – For example, digital literacy is one area that is becoming increasingly relevant and important in the workplace.
  4. Do an MBA/EMBA/SEP – Further study can be a great way to boost your networks and career prospects EMBAs (Executive MBAs) and SEPs (Senior Executive Programmes) are becoming increasingly popular as they offer flexible study options and are less time-intensive than an MBA/ making them easier to fit around family and career commitments. The 30% Club offers scholarships for EMBA programmes at Henley, Oxford SAID and London Business Schools.
  5. Build great networks – Do this both internally and externally because strong relationships are key to success in business
  6. Be proactive about voicing your achievements – Women are often less vocal than men and less keen to blow their own trumpet”.
  7. Ask for feedback – Consistent and open feedback brings clarity and direction.
  8. Listen to but do not dwell on criticism – Women can often overly focus on negative comments. Instead, use them as areas for improvement.
  9. Be open about balancing personal and professional commitments – Everybody, male and female, is trying to balance commitments. Being open can prevent misunderstandings.
  10. Do not be afraid to ask – Whether it’s for pay rises or promotion, if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

Would you like to gain an extra hour every day to help you to work ‘smarter’?

The end of British Summer Time means a well-deserved lie-in on Sunday morning for many people. For me, it will be an opportunity to get up at Saturday’s time to enjoy something I love – walking in the beautiful Surrey Hills. How will you choose to make the most of your extra hour?

Do you have enough hours in your working day?

A frequent refrain from some of the senior managers I coach is “If only there were enough hours in the day….!” In order to survive in this increasingly competitive market, the management spotlight is focussed firmly on efficiencies: working ‘smarter’, doing more with less, using a ‘lean’ approach. Listening to clients under pressure to achieve stretch targets, working ‘smarter’ translates into trying to cram even more into their already busy day. When a client told me: “I am too exhausted to speak to the kids when I get home from work!” it was time for them to take a different approach to working ‘smarter’.

Understanding how our brains work is the really ‘smart’ way to work

Do you spend the first hour of your day trawling through all your e-mails, regardless of importance or urgency? I certainly used to before reading David Rock’s excellent book Your Brain at Work – Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter all Day Long. Once I understood that this habit drains the batteries in our pre-frontal cortex, the powerhouse of our brains, I adopted a new approach and now save my energy in the morning for the most important work.

In his book, David Rock clearly explains the neuroscience and shows how it affects the way in which our brains works at home, in the workplace and in social interactions.

Each chapter is in short, easily-digestible chunks. It introduces the topic by showing the main characters, Emily and Paul, in different situations (getting lost on the way to lunch with a client, meeting colleagues in a new job, shouting at the kids, getting distracted) which inevitably goes badly. Then he introduces the brain systems involved in that interaction, explains how they work and helps us to understand that those parts of the brain were only doing what they are supposed to do. So it wasn’t surprising Emily and Paul got flustered, lost, exasperated, etc. Once we understand this, he suggests some very small changes Emily and Paul could make and re-runs the scenario – which inevitably turns out much better. Each chapter ends with a summary and four or five suggestions we can try out ourselves in similar situations.

The neuroscience explanations are straightforward and simple – you don’t need a science degree to understand them. We find out about dopamine, the amygdala, the limbic system, the frontal lobes, alpha and gamma waves, mirror neurons, and more, and how they influence our behaviour. To back it up there are approximately 20 pages of literature references and notes at the end. If you read the book I would be interested to know what difference it makes to your working day and what you are doing with the extra hour.

Recommended reads for women and men in leadership

Here are two more recommended reads from my research into Women in Leadership that touch on two emerging themes:

1. Asking for what you want or need

The difficulty some women experience asking for what they want or need at work whether it be additional resources, salary increase, professional development. Somehow our male colleagues seem to be more skilled and confident in this area.

2. Authentic leadership

The pressure felt by some leaders to change their natural leadership style in order to fit in with the prevailing culture of the organisation or Senior Leadership Team.

Why Women Don’t Ask: The High Cost of Avoiding Negotiation and Positive Strategies for Change by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever

Combining fascinating research with revealing commentary from hundreds of women, this ground breaking book explores the personal and societal reasons women seldom ask for what they need, want, and deserve at home and at work and shows how they can develop this crucial skill.

By neglecting to negotiate her starting salary for her first job, a woman may sacrifice over £300,000 in earnings by the end of her career. Yet, as research reveals, men are four times more likely to ask for higher pay than are women with the same qualifications. From career promotions to help with child care, studies show time and again that women don’t ask and frequently don’t even realize that they can. Why Women Don’t Ask offers real-life examples of the differences between the negotiating habits of men and women, and guides women in retooling their attitudes and approaches. The reader will discover how to:

•Take the first step – choosing to negotiate
•Develop a comfortable, effective negotiation style
•Overcome fear, personal entitlement issues, and gender stereotypes

Why Should Anyone Be Led by You? What It Takes To Be An Authentic Leader by Robert Goffee and Gareth Jones

The authors argue that inspirational leaders share four shared (unexpected) qualities:

1. Leaders show and reveal their weaknesses;

2. Rely heavily on intuition and associated timing;

3. Manage with tough empathy (passionately and realistically); and

4. Reveal (and capitalize on) their differences.

Goffee and Jones discuss each of these qualities in detail, explaining why these qualities are so important and how leaders show them. There is a short history of leadership and a discussion of some popular myths about leadership: ‘Everyone can be a leader’, ‘leaders deliver business results’, ‘people who get to the top are leaders’, and ‘leaders are great coaches’.

In addition, there is a short discussion on female leadership, whereby the authors’ advise female leaders to stay true to themselves. The final conclusion is that the four discussed qualities cannot be used mechanically. Their advice to executives is: “Be yourselves – more – with skill.”

Women in Leadership News – “The Boys’ Club”

I listened with great interest to the news of the historic vote by the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews to accept women members for the first time in its 260-year history. It reminded me of a visit to my brother’s golf club in the 1980s. I was bemused when my boyfriend was invited to play snooker with the other men in our party and it was suggested the “girls” had a chat in the lounge bar.

I loved snooker and wanted to play; Paul didn’t have any interest in the game and preferred to have a drink in the bar with the others. My brother rather sheepishly explained that, although women were “allowed” in the club house, the snooker room was strictly men only and he could lose his membership if I attempted to cross the threshold. I thought he was joking….!

Have attitudes changed?

The Chief Executive of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club remarked: “Before Thursday’s vote, women could play on the course… but they were not allowed in the clubhouse and had no significant part in the sport’s rulemaking arm, the R&A.”

I saw a parallel with conversations I have had during my Women in Leadership research about some of the “Boys’ Clubs” operating at work. Golf days and tickets for important rugby and football matches are popular ‘team building’ events for senior leaders. As a higher proportion of men participate in these sports their female colleagues feel excluded from important networking and relationship building opportunities especially when alternative, more inclusive, activities are rejected.

At senior leadership team meetings following these types of men-only events, the women I interviewed discovered that important business decisions had been made on the golf course without their input and they were presented with a ‘fait accompli’.

Why is networking so important to career progression?

As an interviewee remarked yesterday: “People progress in their careers by being very good at what they do and by building relationships and alliances with key stakeholders inside and outside the organisation.” If networking activities are focussed on the interests or abilities of certain members of a team, they will automatically exclude the rest of the group and limit their opportunities to build these key alliances.

What can organisations do to create more inclusive networks?

Think creatively about the types of networking events that will appeal to a broader range of leaders. Ask all members of the leadership team to put forward suggestions for alternative activities. Throw out the rule book for the ‘Boys’ Club’ and who knows what new talents will flourish?

Recommended reading for Women in Leadership

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg

I’m carrying out some fascinating research into Women in Leadership to find out changes to challenges, attitudes and opportunities they have experienced over the last few years. During conversations with senior female leaders I asked if there were any books on women in leadership they had found particularly inspirational. Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead is the most highly recommended so far.

Sandberg is the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook and is ranked on Fortune’s list of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Business and as one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People in the World. In 2010, she gave an electrifying TEDTalk in which she described how women unintentionally hold themselves back in their careers. Her talk, which became a phenomenon and has been viewed more than two million times, encouraged women to “sit at the table,” seek challenges, take risks, and pursue their goals with gusto.

In Lean In, Sandberg digs deeper into these issues, combining personal anecdotes, hard data, and compelling research to cut through the layers of ambiguity and bias surrounding the lives and choices of working women. She recounts her own decisions, mistakes, and daily struggles to make the right choices for herself, her career, and her family. She provides practical advice on negotiation techniques, mentorship, and building a satisfying career, urging women to set boundaries and to abandon the myth of “having it all.” She describes specific steps women can take to combine professional achievement with personal fulfilment and demonstrates how men can benefit by supporting women in the workplace and at home.

Written with both humour and wisdom, Sandberg’s book is an inspiring call to action and a blueprint for individual growth. Lean In is destined to change the conversation from what women can’t do to what they can.