Why we need to start talking about women’s success

Cara O'Leary

Cara O’Leary is a global account director at LinkedIn. Having previously built a successful career in recruitment, holding numerous senior positions and even setting up her own boutique agency, Cara is passionate about promoting women in leadership. We asked her about her career journey and why she thinks women should feel confident to shine a spotlight on their success.

How did you get where you are today, and who helped you along the way?

My parents brought me up to believe in myself, be bold in my ambitions and to choose a job I love and I think this was really a great foundation on which to build a career. Similarly, my husband and sons are incredibly supportive of my career and a continual source of inspiration. In our household, it’s both a normal and positive thing for mum to be working or travelling. It’s really empowering to be open about my ambition and to be an example to my sons.

I’d also say that working for fantastic companies with many supportive and inspiring people, both men and women, has also played a key role in helping me to grow and develop a career that I’m passionate about.  

What advice do you wish you’d been given earlier in your career?

I actually had an eye-opening experience in the very early stages of my career that had a profound effect on how I view and talk about my career and achievements.

After attending a lunch seminar about women in leadership, my director shared some insights about the key differences between men and women’s leadership styles. One example was that men typically feel comfortable talking about their careers and success, whereas women feel embarrassed to.

Within an hour of this conversation, this difference was demonstrated to me when I overhead a male colleague discussing his recent project that had been a great success. The confidence he had really resonated with me and made me realise that if I don’t talk about my success, who will?

What challenges have you faced in your career and how have you overcome them?

Taking maternity leave was something that I was quite concerned about. I was worried about my career stalling and that my absence would have a negative impact on both the business and my ambition. However, I was lucky to have a number of friends and colleagues that I could confide in and ask for advice. Hearing their experiences was a huge help, but the best piece of advice came from my VP of sales. A working parent of three, she told me to focus on what really matters and that everything would still be there when I returned. She was right! After 14 months of leave with my youngest son, I returned to the business and it was like I’d never left. I received fantastic support from my leadership team and have continued to progress in my career. 

Returning to work after having children really highlighted the importance of working for a company that suits me on both a professional and personal level. I’ve been fortunate to work for great companies that have been open in acknowledging the priorities staff have outside of the office and have been proactive in helping staff to effectively balance their personal and work lives. For me, this means I have the flexibility to work from home without fear this will jeopardise my career opportunities. My family will always be my top priority, but a supportive employer that enables me to achieve a good work-life balance means there’s no need to compromise on my career.  

What have you learned about entrepreneurship?

Setting up my own recruitment agency in Dublin was a fantastic experience. I really loved working for my own company, but I realised that entrepreneurialism can mean different things to different people. For me, working in a team is what drives my creative energy, and is what ultimately led me back to working for an organisation rather than continuing to work for myself.

What can senior women and men do to help women move up the corporate ladder?

Ultimately, we need to see more women entering the recruitment funnel for senior positions. I think senior members of staff can play a huge role as influencers and role models, encouraging women to talk about their success and giving them the confidence to apply for senior positions. At LinkedIn, we have a number of women in senior leadership positions. I think this is really fantastic for women in our business, particularly those in the early stages of their career as it provides examples to be led and inspired by. To put it simply, if you can see it, you can be it!

In addition to prompting more women to apply for senior positions, leaders must also ensure that their interview panel reflects their diverse candidate pool. None of us can escape our unconscious biases so having people there to challenge our perceptions and to encourage us to think differently about people with experiences different to our own ensures we widen the scope of suitable candidates.

What is your business doing to achieve gender parity in the workplace?

At LinkedIn, gender parity is everyone’s issue rather than specifically a women’s issue. We have an employee resource group (ERG) for staff members called Women @ LinkedIn. This is a global program aimed at connecting female staff members with opportunities for personal and professional growth through learning, networking and mentoring. The ERG has a number of ‘male allies’ throughout the organisation who are proactive in advancing the cause of gender parity with male colleagues. I think that this focus on diversity, inclusion and belonging has been very effective in raising awareness of unconscious bias and encouraging people to consider perspectives outside their own.

What are your three top tips for women wanting to succeed in their career?

  1. Be selective about who you want to work for. Ensuring your values are aligned with the values of the company you work for is fundamental to both success and job satisfaction, so I’d strongly recommend that you do your research before deciding to join a company.
  2. Look for inspiration in the people around you. Having role models that inspire you and encourage you to think about different working practices and leadership styles will help you develop your own approach to achieving success.
  3. Finally, own your success - no one should feel embarrassed by their achievements. Be proud to be your own brand ambassador.

Read our career secrets from inspiring women for five ways to progress in your career.