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What got you here won’t get you to where you want to go - what can women do to further their career?

15th September 2016 | Jo Larbie

What got you here won’t get you to where you want to go - what can women do to further their career?

Speaking to an audience of accountants and lawyers, recently, a question was posed to the panel of speakers. The question was:

“What can women do to further their career?”

All four panel members said that there was one key lesson, which really stood out for them. This lesson wasn’t about hitting your financial targets or having a cast-iron business plan.

The key lesson and the most important for any aspiring partner, is to pursue challenging experiences and accept high visibility opportunities. If you want to progress within your firm, you need to understand the factors that help or get in the way of your career.

Thinking about where you are going

It’s surprising how many people have not stopped to consider what’s important to them and where they are headed. Just surviving is not a career management strategy. It’s important to take the time to stop and really consider what is to you, how hard you are willing to work, and how work fits in with the rest of your life.

Unless you understand and create a realistic vision of where you are headed, whether that’s partner or otherwise, you will be poorly prepared for the future. Talk to as many people as possible about their roles, find out what they have had to do to get to their position, and find people who can help you to identify the experiences that you will need to gain to be more experienced, better prepared and realistic about your future prospects.

Find advocates and mentors

It’s not enough to just do a good job, you need to make sure people know that you are. Women often ignore this because they believe that self-promotion is inappropriate. Some believe self-promotion will make them look arrogant; and some assume that other people should talk about their achievements, rather than themselves. This is where advocates can be important – anyone, your manager, a mentor, a sponsor, a colleague. Someone who is willing to speak about your accomplishments in your absence, to speak about the contribution and value that you bring to the firm in front of influential people, and look out for you when there are interesting assignments and promotions being discussed.

This doesn’t absolve you from taking responsibility for your own career. You need to be clear about what you want, understand your strengths, know what excites you about your work and be prepared to take action. These are the qualities that your advocates, mentors and sponsors look for because when they speak up for someone they are taking a risk. Knowing that the person they are championing is proactive, focused, motivated and ambitious provides assurance that their credibility and reputation will not be compromised when they stick their neck out for you.

Take on challenging assignments and grow

Don’t repeat the same year of experience over and over again. Experience comes in many forms. Consider some not-so-typical avenues that you can pursue. Accept assignments and responsibilities that are hard and out of your comfort zone. It’s especially important to do this early in your career to make sure that you are not overlooked later on. Staying with what you know and are good at is all very well but think about you career goals and where you want to go. You may not want to become a partner however focusing on one area too early may limit your long-term career options. The professional services world is rapidly changing and expanding your skill set makes sense.

Keep following interesting work and challenging opportunities.

Build confidence

Another reason to take on challenging experiences is that they build confidence. Think about a time when you were given an assignment that you didn’t think you could handle and then managed to do it. There are three types of career confidence:
• technical
• political, and
• social.
Women are great in meeting their job requirements and are quietly certain of their academic and technical skills. However, they often struggle with political and social confidence. Political confidence is about navigating the firm, how to use your power and influence. Social confidence involves managing up, gaining access to stakeholders, building trust, and feeling like you belong there. Take care not to over-rely on your technical competence and confidence. The higher you go, the less technically competent you need to be. Now, it’s your leadership skills that matter – when to bring people in; how to bring things together, managing costs and time.

From experience, I know that confidence is one of the gaps that exist between female and male professionals. Even when the skills and capabilities are the same, women tend to underestimate themselves and men tend to overestimate themselves. Furthermore, women tend to credit their success to external factors and circumstances while men attribute their success to their abilities.

• Start believing that you are capable of much more than you give yourself credit for
• Find a way to have confidence to talk beyond your competence. Work on your ability to command authority when you are out of your comfort zone. Act like you know what you are talking about even when you are going on your gut instinct.
• Learn that everyone fakes it at some point. Instil in others the confidence that you know what you are talking about.
• Many women suffer from what’s known as the “imposter syndrome” – the fear that they don’t know what they are doing and that one day they are going to be found out. Remember, everyone feels this way at some point.
• Build a supportive network, recognise and accept that it’s normal to have doubts when you try something new.
• Men tend to be more comfortable going into new roles that they are not qualified for than women, who are less willing to pursue a position when they don’t meet 100 percent of the qualifications. Prematurely opting out is an exercise in self-limitation. Often it’s because there is a mystique about what is required to be successful in a role. But, once they are in the role and the mystery has been unveiled, women often discover that there is not magic in succeeding.

Give up perfectionism

Women set incredibly high standards for themselves – they feel anything less than 100 percent is unacceptable. I have learned that “Good enough is better than perfect.” Ask yourself what’s good enough? What should I focus on getting done rather than doing it precisely? Perfection gets in the way of women taking on the challenging assignments and building the experiences they need to advance their careers. Perfection, also, keeps women in their comfort zone. It reduces the range of assignments women look for, limits career growth and slows women’s career progression. Give up perfection.

Stop assuming that good work will get you noticed - Advocate for yourself

Just doing and delivering good work will not get you promoted. You need to speak up and find out what are your career prospects with your firm. Build the right skill set, understand what is required to advance your career, project confidence and demonstrate that you have what it takes to be successful.


• Become comfortable speaking up for yourself. Ask for what you need.
• Delegate work and assignments to your team.
• Women often underestimate their contribution and feel they need to always “do more, be more” to demonstrate their value. You can avoid this trap by setting boundaries that allow you to do what works for you and your values.
• Become comfortable with power. If you are uncomfortable with the word power, then call it influence. It’s important to learn recognise and use the influence that comes with career progression.
• Take credit. It’s important to give credit to your team but this a nurturing behaviour that can result in people not recognising your achievements. Don’t leave people in positions of authority wondering or unclear about your role in the success of the team.

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