‘Believing someone else is going to take care of you is really risky. As a woman I recommend that you should always be able to take care of yourself. If you are a mother, make sure that you can take care of your kids because, in the end, you can count on no one else but yourself.’.
This is a quotation of one of our interviewees for Your Loss: How to Win Back your Female Talent, Emily Walker is a highly successful corporate executive turned entrepreneur. She rose to the top of the corporate ranks and is now a running her own international consultancy.
I am drawn by the power of this quote. It instantly negates the traditional, stereotyped image that we have as a girls growing up who will “find their prince charming who will look after them”. Today’s reality is very different. Women have to break down barriers in all walks of life, and in every level. Boys don’t go through the same challenges. They are encouraged from day 1 to “fight it out” and “win”, to “compete”, to become “leaders”. Women, on the other hand have been reinforced subservient roles and it falls squarely up to them to break those mindsets and, at the same time, to take control of their career.
To be smart in how to play the game of business. Here are some of the key tenets I always recommend:
Women tend to focus on being excellent at what they do and feel a sense of duty to deliver and offer support to all around. They tend to work away unnoticed, driving themselves into the ground and, of course, are disappointed when they cannot fulfill everyone’s, and most importantly, their own very high, expectations. Women need to be proactive about their career. Be intelligent – what will you need to do to get to where you want faster, smarter and with less effort?
Have courage: Speak out!
Women are great workers. They are the silent holders of the fort. While men are keen networkers, women believe ‘my work will speak for itself’. We have news for you: it very seldom does. You must reject what you learned at school or at home that ‘girls should not brag or speak out’. If you don’t talk about your successes, who will? If you do not voice your discontent, how will your manager or organisation know the challenges you are facing?
I sincerely applaud the women who start women’s networks and other such affinity groups in corporations because, at the very least, they have brought to the discussion the culture in which women find themselves and the challenges they face in business.
Have the courage to ask for what you are worth, ‘I contribute X,Y and Z to the business. I would expect A in return.’ If your line manager or sponsor will not listen, move on. Enlightened organisations will react and will support you. If they don’t, they simply do not deserve you. You can then move on, with no love lost. If we do not raise our voices or vote with our well-heeled shoes, corporations will not wake up to the stifling cultures that are prevailing in their businesses.
Network outside of your organisation too
Women tend to be focused on their own working environment and are excellent internal networkers. The common held assumption (and I held it too during both of my redundancies!) is that your employers will look after you. However in turbulent times, or when redundancy occurs, the absence of a good external network is keenly felt – by you and only you.
To mitigate that, you must build external networks to ease your transition to pastures new. My experience? A former boss became a client and I was able to contribute to his business as a free-lance consultant following my second redundancy in 2002. On the back of this experience, I have helped hundreds of women to be strategic in building networks, within and outside their organisations. You need to build that network and promote your own, strong personal brand around your area of expertise.
As the quote above suggests, if you want recognition, flexibility and to ‘feel’ engaged with your work but also able to fulfil your family obligations, you and only you can do this. You need to change your own mindset before you can take over your own careers. When you do, you won’t look back. Emily Walker certainly didn’t.