Globally women are on the move; we’re seeing more women entering leadership roles in business, pursuing STEM subjects and serving in Congress, but there’s still work to be done to achieve gender parity in the workplace.
With this in mind, we asked eight business women to share what we can do as leaders, managers and individuals to help redress the balance. They explained that we all have a role to play…
Four things women can do to push their careers forward
While businesses have a responsibility to build cultures that enable everyone the opportunity to thrive, our leaders also had some top tips for women aspiring to move forward in their careers:
1. Be clear about your career goals
“I’ve always been very direct. I know what I want from my career and I make sure my managers are aware that I’m still here, I still want opportunities,” says Özlem Simsek, managing director of Robert Walters and Walters People Belgium, who believes women shouldn’t be afraid to vocalise their career aspirations.
Tiffany Wong, director at Robert Walters Hong Kong, agrees and recommends that women work with their managers to plan a roadmap to success. She shares, “When I returned to work following my maternity leave, I asked my manager about my career path in the company. This discussion enabled me to set clear goals to work towards in order to achieve my ambition, and I have since received two promotions.”
2. Put your hand up
Similarly, all the leaders we interviewed advocated accepting new challenges and pushing beyond your comfort zone. “There are no limits to what you can do if you’re prepared to keep taking on challenges and learning new things,” encourages Debra Ward, managing director at Camm & Hooper.
However, as Dr Abosede "GB" Ajayi, co-founder of A2Z Elite Health & Performance, acknowledges, “The fear of failure can be crippling,”. Nonetheless, for GB and many of the leaders we spoke to, “fear isn’t a good enough reason to hold back,” and women must be prepared to take risks.
3. Set your own success strategy
Whether you’re starting a new business venture or stepping into your first management role, our interviewees were unanimous that there’s more than one way to achieve success and women shouldn’t be afraid to pave a new path to success.
“The traditional view is that your career should follow just one career path, but, if you’ve got the passion and the motivation, there’s no reason why you can’t pursue a variety of experiences,” says GB.
Özlem adds, “If you want something to succeed, you really need to believe in it, so choose your strategy and stick with it. The course might not always run smoothly, but keep focussed and persevere.”
4. Believe in your ability to achieve
For all our leaders, having confidence in your abilities is the cornerstone of a successful career. However, each of them recognised self-doubt as one of the biggest challenges to women progressing to senior positions.
“Everyone suffers from imposter syndrome at some point. You’re not always going to feel comfortable, but it’s important to remember that doesn’t mean you’re unprepared or under-equipped,” advises GB.
Özlem supports GB’s view, highlighting that it’s critical that women are prepared to learn from both their successes and mistakes: “Great leadership comes from trusting that your intuition and experience can help guide you, and learning from the times when you do go off course.”
While Sindy Ward, associate director at Robert Walters New Zealand summarises, “Ultimately, you’re in control of your own destiny and the onus is on you to put yourself forward for opportunities. It’s not always easy, but if you believe in yourself, it makes it a lot easier for others to believe in you too.”
Four ways managers can help women progress
1. Ask questions, avoid assumptions
For many of the women we interviewed, unconscious bias remains one of the biggest barriers to women’s career progression. In particular, assumptions that a new parent would want to step back or opt out of career progression opportunities was highlighted as a challenge that many women face.
All the parents we interviewed felt that taking a career break enabled them to review their careers with a fresh perspective and focus. “Taking a career break gave me clarity on exactly what I wanted to achieve in my career,” says Tiffany.
For Kritee Gower, account director for Resource Solutions, it’s important that managers encourage women to discuss their career aspirations: “Sometimes, simply asking the question, ‘What do you want to achieve?’ is all that’s needed to gain a clear view of not just what someone wants in their career, but what support they need to achieve that goal.”
2. Lead by example
While setting goals is one thing, feeling able to achieve them is another. All the leaders we spoke to felt that role models and advocates were important for providing examples and encouragement to women aspiring to progress in their careers.
Entrepreneurs Debra and GB advocate for leaders to be proactive in sponsoring women’s success and providing opportunities to share their expertise. “When you’ve made it to the top, you’ve got a responsibility to turn around and help the next person up,” says Debra.
GB adds, “I think it’s important that we provide opportunities to give people at the earlier stages of their career a taste of what leadership is like. For example, offer someone the opportunity to take ownership of a particular project. It’s difficult to aspire to something if you’re not sure what it really involves.”
3. Provide support
Continuing this theme, several of the women we interviewed promoted formal and informal mentoring, particularly when it comes to building confidence and helping women to take a more objective view of their careers.
“While training can equip women with the skills and tools they need to move into management, encouragement from a mentor can also be hugely powerful in helping someone to make that leap,” says Rachna Ratra, director at Robert Walters Japan.
Özlem, agrees and encourages leaders to adopt a ‘mentor mindset’: “For me mentoring is not something that only exists in a formal structure; it’s about always being there to cheer your people on, coach them and provide guidance when they have difficulties. The most important thing is to listen and make time for people.”
4. Offer flexibility
A number of our interviewees also shared the view that flexibility is essential to helping parents move into senior positions.
Sindy explains, “The reality is that it’s impossible to achieve the perfect balance all the time - children grow up and your family expands, and with that comes new challenges. As parents, we need to learn to be ok with that, and as managers, we need to provide the flexibility required by parents to balance work commitments with family life.”
Lucy Bisset, director for Robert Walters UK, supports this view: “When you have to make the nursery pick-up at a certain time, you quickly learn to focus your energy on tasks that deliver value. However, sometimes things happen beyond your control and businesses have to recognise that performance over presence is a far more accurate scale for measuring value.”
Read more from our #BalanceForBetter series:
Navigating parental leave - five ways to get it right
Success strategies from inspiring female leaders
Seven lessons for aspiring women entrepreneurs
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