Mar 7th, 2019
“There are 7 days in a week and ‘someday’ isn’t one of them”!
Balance for Better is the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day on 8th March. IMF President Christine Lagarde has stated that, by achieving gender balance, countries could boost their economies by as much as 35%. McKinsey has calculated that if women participated globally in the economy identically to men, it would add 26% to the annual global GDP by 2025.
These are powerful statistics, yet progress continues to encourage and frustrate. In the UK, FTSE100 companies are on track to reach their target of 33% of women on boards by 2020, and 76 of these now have three or more women on their boards (Hampton Alexander Review 2018). Yet 78% of executive appointments in the UK go to men, and the number of female CEOs has barely moved (McKinsey Women in the Workplace report 2018).
Many of the women I coach are successful in business, leading organisations, responsible for multi million pound contracts and managing large teams. I have seen a significant increase in the number of female executive clients who are the main household earner. They are the living proof, as stated in McKinsey’s research, that women are ‘asking for promotions and negotiating salaries at the same rates as men’ and ‘staying in the workforce at the same rate of men’ – rather than believing they need to adjust ambitions to focus on families.
In addition to global, national and organisational policies, what, therefore, can women on the ground do to promote their own advancement? One element that my clients share is they take bold action.
Working over the past 18 months with a managing director, I have observed her grow into the MD role and drive her business forward, thanks to a clear vision and bold decisions. I remember when she was offered the promotion and, despite her doubts, said yes anyway. She now fully inhabits the role, enjoys it, knows the difference she is making and is proud of her work. Balance, she says, has been essential to this success – ensuring time for family and fitness not only vital for wellbeing but gives fresh perspective for solving business challenges.
We are all human, and there are times when even the smartest and most successful women can become temporarily ‘constricted’. A client I have known for several years was recently ready to come back to the workplace after taking a significant break. Previously she had held big roles in multinational organisations and I know her as a very bold, dynamic and energetic person. When she came to see me to for a Vision Day to gain clarity for getting back into the workplace, I was struck by how a series of knockbacks had quietened her voice. This included a ‘fear’ of trying to get back into work in her 50s that was overriding her ability to see the significant skills, qualities and experience she could bring.
After reframing how she viewed her ‘time away from the workplace’, she realised that despite the fear, she had to take action. When we did our progress review two months after the Vision Day, I was delighted that she had, in just eight weeks, secured a role in an international organisation and had reclaimed her impact.
Action, however imperfect will take you forward. To pursue bold action, here are some ideas which work for my clients:
- Take a bold first step
If you have an opportunity for growth, be courageous and take it without the need to be perfect. When faced with a tough decision or challenge, a good first step is to talk to someone who could potentially assist. Talking to family or colleagues may help in the short-term but often you need someone outside the situation with whom you can air your vulnerability and aspirations. Have the courage to make that contact – with a person who has been in a similar situation to yourself, for example, or a coach or mentor who can offer you a fresh perspective.
- Own and value your experience
Every step you have taken in your career has taken your forward, even if at the time it was not the best experience. The client I referred to had retrained for a new profession but decided after two years that she had, in her words, ‘made a mistake’. At first she wanted to leave it off her CV. But after discussing it from a new perspective, she realised the value it had given her. In a short space of time, she shifted her mindset from: ‘Who’s going to employ me in my 50s?’ to ‘I have considerable global experience and insight to bring to a company and they will be lucky to have me!’ Review everything you’ve done, rewrite who you are, weave the story you can now believe and verbalise it. Say it and practise it out loud.
- Stretch yourself and persevere
Take action, keep taking action and you will start to attract what you seek. Those small steps of progress will enable your confidence to flow and you will find your bigger voice. Know that you may not immediately get the response you were hoping for. But when you take action, you move forwards and your innate strengths will come flooding back. A client who recently initiated an important conversation with her boss was at first dispirited by his unenthusiastic response. Yet rather than retreat, she persevered and identified who else she needed to influence in order to give her proposal traction.
- Take personal responsibility
What are you willing to tolerate? For whatever you tolerate persists. If an unacceptable situation arises, nip it in the bud. Who hasn’t found someone taking credit for your initiative? Avoid a kneejerk reaction but do not let it go. A client in this situation recently strategised to redress the credit directly with her CEO in a gracious way. Another recent example is a client whose male colleague inadvertently undermined her in front of a junior on her team. She went to see him calmly, used the language: ‘Could I give you some feedback?’ and following that asked: ‘can I make a request?’ He had been unaware of the impact of his words, welcomed her feedback and the situation was quickly resolved.
- Create “Me” Time
At a panel event this week to celebrate International Women’s Day, a key theme was the importance of “me” time, and time with your family. The women I spoke to agreed this enabled them to flourish. A female CEO confirmed how critical it was for her to have good structures at home including excellent child care. She also mentioned how compartmentalising worked for her – when at work, she gave her full time and attention to work; and likewise when at home.
- When it isn’t working, give yourself a break
When your course of action is not working, stop fuelling the failure and give yourself a break. My clients agree that it is far better to walk away for a day or a few days, take the pressure off, regroup and come back with a new bold step.
Feminist icon Gloria Steinem said: “Being brave is not being unafraid but feeling the fear and doing it anyway. When you feel fear, try using it as a signal that something really important is about to happen”. What bold action can you take today to be your best self?