If you want to make the right moves at work this year, you’ve got to take control of your own fate, says high-flying businesswoman and Financial Times columnist Mrs Moneypenny.
Ten secrets to success every woman should know:
1. Get some qualifications
We can all point to successful women who have no more than a secretarial qualification – and sometimes not even that – but I promise you they are the exception. If you want a successful career, you need some appropriate qualifications. They will give you confidence, act as a testimony to your capability and provide you with important links to others. Experience is very important, too. Apply to a part of a company that no one would think of working in. Getting in the door is the biggest challenge – if you are any good, you will be able to move around. For instance, I counsel people wanting to get into investment banking to apply to internal audit or finance.
2. Build a network
You need to be both good at what you do and good at building relationships with people who matter. When candidates are being considered for a role, personal recommendation goes a long way. But because so many people are connected through the internet it is difficult to distinguish between them, which makes face-to-face interaction even more important. So get out and meet people. Join a trade association or professional body, join a private members’ club and attend their events, or find a charity to support. Even better, organise a proprietary event: I hold a breakfast once a month at a private club for six to eight interesting people and have developed a women’s clay-pigeon shooting day each spring to introduce women to the sport (and each other).
3. Never think that it’s too late
It is never ‘too late’ for anything – to go into politics, to write a novel, to tweet or to learn to swim. Just look at Susan Boyle. Who would have thought that an unknown 47-year-old amateur singer could have achieved such success? I’m a great believer in personal goals. My challenge for 2012 is to set out on the road to obtaining a CIMA qualification. Is 50 too old to become a qualified management accountant? I don’t think so. And remember, careers can be started from scratch even when you are drawing your pension. Recently, I came across three women in their 60s starting new careers – one was a trainee lawyer, one a priest and the other was in property management. If you are thinking about doing something else, start by writing lists of careers you would like to think about, then find someone who works in that area – and ask people to suggest ideas to you.
4. Learn to say no
Saying no is a life skill that is very important; to master if you want to be successful. Women have difficulty saying no as we are less concerned with our own needs and more concerned about the welfare of others, but being able to say no effectively will help you up the career ladder. Yes, I felt uncomfortable saying no to attending my son’s parents’ day because I had to attend a crucial meeting (Mr M went instead), but I have learnt it’s a case of short-term pain for long-term gain.
It is well documented that there is a gender gap in pay. I think it’s simply because women don’t ask to be paid more. But if you operate in a man’s world, you should ask for a man’s pay. If they offer you something else, just say no. You don’t have to shout or cry. Practise what you want to say beforehand on friends or your partner.
Saying no to sex with anyone at work is a good career move, but this does not mean you should hide your assets. Being a woman can be a great advantage. Harmless flirting may well help you achieve what you are trying to get done at work.
5. You can’t have it all
I believe that women should be encouraged to be ambitious from an early age. But to grow up thinking that it is perfectly possible to be the CEO of a large public company/brilliant brain surgeon/concert violinist and achieve this while securing a gorgeous husband, having an amazing sex life, raising perfectly balanced children, keeping up your league hockey at the weekends, plus still having time to see your girlfriends and parents, get to the hairdresser and go to pilates, is to be severely deluded.OK, this is the deal. Your time is a scarce resource. How you allocate it is central to how successful your career will be. Stop thinking of trying to achieve ‘work-life’ balance. Work is part of most people’s lives. I prefer people to think about ‘life balance’. I believe that if women know what their priorities are, and spend their time in line with those priorities, they will achieve their goals much more easily. It is about compromise. The sooner you work out what your priorities are, the easier it will be to make a plan. Know what you want, and why, and then make your choices accordingly.
6. Be prepared to do more than a man
As a woman, you will certainly have to cram more into your day, week, life than a man. Women are still the primary carers when it comes to looking after children, and they make up 90 per cent of all lone parents. They also bear the burden of responsibility for the lion’s share of domestic chores even when both parents are working or they have a stay-at-home partner. The solution? You must learn to outsource. As Baroness Virginia Bottomley, currently chair of board practice at a headhunting firm, said: ‘If you want a high-flying job, you’ve got to get some high-flying help. Some people may hate the thought of outsourcing their children – be it to a nanny, day-care centre, preschool or after-school care – but I believe it is much better for children than having stressed parents. A really effective nanny helped me to be very effective myself. So prioritise according to what’s important to you, then outsource, be organised, speak up for what you need, conserve your energy, and be tolerant and patient when things are not done as well as you would have done them yourself.
7. Control your own finances
There are three reasons why I encourage women to become as good with numbers as they can. First, being totally on top of your own personal finances frees you up to focus on your career. Second, so you can understand the language of the most senior people in business. And finally, because most women at the top have been in charge of corporate money at some point.Ambitious women need to be on top of their finances. I think Lady Gaga realises that now. She went bankrupt after the first extension of her Monster Ball Tour – but had no idea she was $3 million in debt. Mastering your own finances will set you free. Being on top of your domestic finances is a very good start. On your way to achieving your goals, you may need to take a career break, or retrain, or obtain experience of a particular industry to add to your CV. Some or all of this may require you to earn less money – and sometimes you may have to work for no money at all. People with low financial literacy are more likely to be in debt, and are less likely to participate in the stock market, accumulate and manage wealth effectively and plan for retirement. Finally, the certain route to the top is by acquiring a formal finance qualification. This won’t be for everyone – but, for those of us able to obtain one, it is probably the quickest way to career success.
8. Do something outside work and your family
It is not enough to be good at your job and run your home life well. To be truly successful, you need a third dimension. It will make you more attractive as an employee – and, as you advance to more senior levels, can help you gain management and board experience. Plus it can help you build your network.
It is unlikely that you will be successful unless you get involved with something outside the home. It can be charitable, the arts or sport; something that you are interested in as well as being good for your career. When you are seated next to someone influential at dinner, or interviewed for a job, it will be your third dimension that will help you stand out. I volunteered for an organisation called Tomorrow’s People who work with the long-term unemployed as I feel passionately about social exclusion. I worked my way up to the board of trustees, which in turn led me to meet many of the corporate funders and thus enabled me to build my profile. Joining the board of a not-for-profit organisation will give you the skills required for the boardroom. Another useful thing you can do is volunteer as a governor of a school – it will serve as valuable training for later on.
9. Promote yourself
Every woman should spend at least five per cent of her time doing her own PR. It is not enough to be good at your job – you need to make sure people know who you are. Women often ignore this as they believe self-promotion is inappropriate. But a woman who communicates in a competent but warm manner quells doubts about her ability and likableness, and this can increase her influence. Make sure the internet works for you: check your profiles are up to date and representative of the qualities you would like to portray to potential employers. And use the internet to stay in touch with people. How you look, speak and engage with others are critical to helping you get ahead. So dress appropriately and consider your wardrobe an important investment in your career. And get the right haircut – hair matters. Take control of your own PR. This doesn’t mean ccing your boss on all your emails to show how hard you are working. But I would encourage people at the earlier stages of their career to ask for formal monthly meetings with the people they report to. Don’t position it as a ‘showing off’ opportunity – instead, position it as mentoring, or regular reviews. This will allow you to run over the things you have achieved in the past four weeks. We are all busy people and, if you are not careful, your boss may not see all of your achievements. If this sounds a bit pushy, just watch what men do!
10. You can’t do it alone
Successful women recognise that they need legions of team members on their side to succeed. So you need to employ the right people – the ones I have working with me are the cornerstone of the business I run. The key to managing a team is to acknowledge the contribution of others. Be approachable and encouraging, and accept you can’t be good at everything. Hire someone who is good where you are weak; delegate tasks you don’t enjoy. Contract out the chores that you are not great at doing. Acknowledging your weaknesses and dealing decisively with them will put you ahead of men. At home, be prepared to accept that ‘less than perfect’ is good enough. And build a back-up network – other parents, family members, a concierge, a plumber you can trust with a key. If you are ambitious, you will be able to achieve just as much as any man – but, just like a man, you will have to make sacrifices and compromises. Knowing what they are, and why you are making them, is half the battle. The rest is just execution – which, for women, is much easier than you think.