3 Women Discuss Their Careers in Business for International Women's Day
This year, for International Women's Day we are celebrating our female authors and showcasing their industry knowledge.
We asked three of our Skills, Careers and Employability authors about their experiences as a woman in business, including what prevailing stereotypes need to be broken, and what advice can be shared with young women entering the world of work.
Pat Wellington - Management Consultant - Helping clients achieve their objectives
Author of Effective People Management
Marianne Cantwell - Founder, Free Range Humans
Author of Be A Free Range Human
Jay Surti - Keynote Speaker and Consultant
Q: What does International Women's Day mean to you?
One simple word - independence
An opportunity to support and celebrate the women around us. When I look at where I am in my work and life, none of it would be the case without strong relationships with women around me, and this is a reminder to acknowledge that.
I believe it’s a great way to celebrate achievements and for all of us to be inspired by them – we encourage each other.
Q: What have your experiences been as a woman in business?
With regard to career progression, I have not found being a woman in business detrimental. However, in most business sectors I have worked in it has been noticeable that senior management/the top team are predominantly male. There are only small cracks in that glass ceiling!
One of the things I’ve noticed throughout my career is that women are not as proactive as men in letting managers know what they can do. I want that to change and so have worked with many women to help them improve their confidence in speaking up and developing their personal brand.
Q: What's the biggest risk you've taken in your career?
Standing in front of a group for the first time and making a presentation…! I can remember it well, even though it was over 20 years ago. I got up in front of a small group of no more than 20 people and just froze… my mouth went dry. I had no visual aids, just a few prompt cards, and my carefully-prepared presentation escaped me. The trainer who was running the session gently prompted me and finally I got going. I am sure no one was convinced by my words of wisdom.
This was the biggest wakeup call for me and made me determined to become a good presenter and beat the fear factor. At the time I was working in a sales and marketing consultancy and got myself enrolled in their presentation skills programme, learnt training methods and techniques, and went on to learn about training the trainer. From that simple beginning, I now work as a management consultant and have made every form of presentation and delivered training programmes/management workshops throughout the UK and Europe, the US, the Gulf and South East Asia. And I enjoy getting up in front of a group listening to the thoughts of those attending the session, bouncing around ideas, challenging if need be. Above all else getting those attending to think laterally, come to their own conclusions on a topic, share their own experiences in the market place with others attending the programme. If you had told me 20 years ago that was how my career was going to develop I would never have believed you!
I've taken a few unusual 'turns' that might be seen as risks - both involved stepping away from what were very male-dominated paths to chart my own course (one involved quitting my job, and one involved changing up how I ran my business). But I don't think we should automatically view 'unusual decisions' as risky.
These days one of the biggest risks we can take is to stay stagnant doing something that we know our heart is no longer in. So often we do that in the name of safety but the reality is that others who have more passion and drive for that very thing will be coming around the corner soon... sometimes the risk isn't in changing, it's in what will happen over time if we stay still. (That's a particularly big one for women when you've done so much to 'make it' in a traditional field, but it's worth keeping in mind).
Giving up a job I loved with a fantastic team that was secure and well-paid to start from scratch and become self-employed as a presentation coach.
Q: What stereotypes/assumptions of women in business would you like to see broken?
That to be successful you have to hide the fact you are a woman! Of course, that attitude is rarely stated these days - but it's still an unconscious belief in a lot of environments.
People who thrive at the very top of their game tend to embrace rather than hide who they are - and a part of that, yes, is your gender and everything that goes with it. The energy it takes to push down the parts of yourself that you think don't really 'fit' is energy you could be using so much more effectively elsewhere.
There is often an assumption that women don’t have the drive and commitment to devote to the demands of a senior position or be a success in business, and that’s not true. Women are incredibly resourceful and flexible.
Q: Which women inspire you?
Currently, it is one woman - Michelle Obama. She is taking the opportunity of her profile after her husband left office to travel with the ‘Let Girls Learn’ initiative highlighting the fact that 62 million girls around the world are not in school and this needs to change. She also had the bottle to go on Carpool Karaoke hosted by James Corden and sing a duet with Missy Elliot as the guest rapper to get across her message to a younger audience who would not normally be aware of this fact and the need for things to change.
Women like Elizabeth Gilbert who consistently chart their own course (eg: not always choosing to take the 'obvious' next step in their career, but instead checking in to what is important to them and starting from that), and who raise others up with them on the way
The incredible author and activist Helen Keller for being an amazing example of overcoming obstacles, achieving great things and helping improve lives.
Q: What advice would you give to women entering the world of business today?
Many of us (including me back in the day!) don’t know what sort of career we want to have when we are young. So, in this instance, when you first go into the marketplace you need to get to understand how business works. What skills and competencies do you have or need to develop in order to get into a starter role in an industry sector that interests you? Do your best to get into a company in that sector in a junior role so that you can then suss out firstly of course that you believe a particular role will suit you and you will enjoy the work and also that there will be career progression opportunities for you to develop. Don’t get stuck in some dead-end job that you hate.
Once you have established your credentials and you have created a track record of career development, then move on if necessary to a new company to a more senior role (companies love poaching talent from their competitors). This is then one of the times when a career break, for example, to have a family can work for you. You have a credible track record that acts as a contingency plan should circumstances change in your life and you need to work again.
Get observant about your patterns: where are you happiest, where are you at your best, what are your biggest strengths? The world is changing so fast that those who blindly follow other people's paths are going to get left behind, so stay curious to find our everything about yourself... and above all remember there is not one route to 'success' or 'happiness' that is right for everyone, you get to define what (and where) is right for you.
Invest in yourself and develop your personal brand – acknowledge your strengths, build a strong network as your environment has an impact on your success, and make sure you do what you can to raise your profile.
Click here to see more articles and videos from our leading female authors.