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Women like us

I have been working since I was 15 and washed hair in a local salon to earn pocket money.  More than 30 years later and many roles in between I find myself working closely with senior executives in a variety of organisations and sectors as well as having many different roles to many different people.

As women we are not one big homogenous group. We are diverse and unique, whether it's:

  • our education
  • our families
  • our cultures
  • our faiths
  • our relationships
  • our communities. 

Women represent more than 50% of the population and yet our representation in the economy is not as it should be. There are some huge business issues that we should all be concerned about including the gender gap in pay which is currently around 18% more for men than women. Why? Are we 18% less effective than equivalent men? 18% less intelligent? I don’t think so. Many issues that have an impact on the wider economy are seen as women's issues. For example recent reports compare childcare costs to another mortgage. Why was this reported as a concern for women? Surely it's a concern for all? 

Becoming leaders 

As an HR director in a range of organisations I have been concerned about lack of progression in the workplace.  There are many things we, as women, can do something about:

  • The first challenge is getting women to decide to be leaders. They often look up in organisations and see leaders who do not reflect them.
  • They see a lifestyle that they do not want, a long hour’s culture which does not accommodate caring requirements for children and elders.
  • They make a choice not to put themselves forward, as the prize of senior leadership does not seem to be attractive to them.
  • When they do decide to enter the competition they wait till they can do every single thing on a person specification and still doubt themselves.
  • Men tend to apply for a post when they can do about a third of the things on the list. 

Like many women I made an early mistake by assuming that if I worked hard and did what the organisation wanted me to do and did it well that the day would come when the senior leadership would come to me and say: “Well done Angela. We have watched how hard you have worked and we want to talk to you about promotion”. How wrong I was and how wrong we are to sit there waiting to be appreciated. Let me tell you men are not sitting there waiting to be recognised, they demand pay rises, promotion and recognition and why shouldn’t they if they believe they are worth it?

10 things every woman needs to know about leadership

1. Don’t apologise for being yourself  Don’t feel you need to act like a man, dress like a man or think like a man to be successful. Be yourself authentically every day. Don’t try and live up to someone else’s impossible image of leadership.

2. Do not try and be superwoman It is possible to have it all, but you need to delegate, have lots of help, outsource the stuff you really don’t want or need to do domestically. Who needs to do the cleaning, decorating or ironing?  You can’t be everywhere at once so get people to do the things you can’t and be prepared to invest in yourself.  Freeing up time is a worthwhile investment.

3. Stop striving for perfection  In the messy business word perfection is a myth.  Follow the rule of 80/20 when its 80% good enough get on with it, make the decision, submit the paper. Stop worrying and take the action! Do something every day that gets you nearer to your goal. Be ruthless with your diary and delete activities that don’t assist you. Stop thinking that you don’t have enough time, we all have 24 hours in a day.  It’s the choices you make that determine how useful those hours are.

4. If you think you deserve a promotion or a raise or an opportunity ask for it Firstly a “No” is not the worst thing that can happen to you in any day. Secondly if you don’t value yourself and your contribution how can you expect anyone else to?

5. Know that what people see is what they believe You may be shaking inside but if the outside looks calm and confident then that’s what they believe.

6. Keep the emotional side of business in check At the two extremes are the hard hitting macho approach and at the other the mother nurturing approach. Without lots of role models we do have to make it up as we go along. When you feel upset or angry take a walk, breathe deeply, lower your voice an octave and I say to myself  “What would Bette Davis do now?"

7. Understand the power game and politics at work  Find out where the power sits, who gets things done, who has the Chair’s ear. It’s not always a hierarchical issue. Don’t think that you can ignore this aspect at work. 

8. Be true to yourself  Live by your values and prioritise what matters most to you. For me that meant not missing seeing my children in their school plays. The choice between another board meeting and my kid dressed as a sheep?  Easy peasy!

9. Leadership is fundamentally about people Remember you are only as good as the people you lead so make sure that you pay time and attention to getting and keeping a great team. Your focus as a leader is shifting from you to the performance of your people. That is what you will be judged on. If they win so do you all. If they fail it’s on your shoulders.  Make their success your goal.

10. Develop yourself   Get a mentor, a sponsor or a coach who understands what you are trying to achieve and gives you honest feedback. You may change your mentor as your career develops. Read lots, watch Ted talks, network and take responsibility for your own development. Use your journey to work as your personal development hour.

Believe in yourself

Leadership always take vision, courage and determination. It means being resilient, it means doing the right thing and being brave and it sometimes means walking away. You need to know when to fight and when to concede.

You need the ability to take others with you, to paint a better future, to create a sense of common purpose. But more than this it takes an unshakeable belief in yourself. If you only do one thing, sack that little voice in your ear that tells you to doubt yourself.

Start today to believe that you have exactly what it takes to succeed and don’t let anyone tell you any different. 


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