According to Rhian Morgan of ILM, a report by Grant Thornton revealed that companies perform better when they have at least one female executive on the board. This evidence is compelling and provides a bottom line rationale for addressing the prevailing gender gap in Britain’s boardroom.
While a male-dominated business environment is a large part of the issue, with existing boards typically hiring in their own image, there is a particular challenge for women to break into an environment where they are a minority. So what should women, aspiring for leadership positions, do to secure the role they want?
Penny de Valk, Managing Director of Penna Talent Practice, on progression up the career ladder for women.
Increase your visibility
Achieving visibility within an organisation is something that men often work at naturally, as a personal career progression strategy. Women in organisations, on the other hand, tend to think that in order to progress they should focus purely on becoming an expert in their field, and then their hard work will be observed, recognised and rewarded with progression and promotion. In fact, the reality is that everyone needs to actively work at making themselves and their abilities more visible –as you can’t leave being spotted for your talents to chance.
Increasing your visibility isn’t so much self-promotion or telling everyone how great you are, but positively positioning yourself as ambitious and capable. Ensure your manager knows about your leadership and progression ambitions and have a conversation with them about how they might support that.
Recent research conducted by Penna into succession planning, revealed that almost a third (31%) of senior managers were strongly biased towards internal talent for the top jobs. Only 15% strongly preferred to go external. With this in mind, increasing your visibility and demonstrating your ambition and capability will help position you as a front runner for the internal role.
Find a role model
As there are fewer women in senior roles, finding role models that showcase a leadership style that you can resonate with can be difficult. But don’t be disheartened, as its good practice to create a composite of men and women whose traits and attributes you admire and want to ‘try on’ for your personal leadership style. Think about those around you that you admire in a professional sense – friends, ex-colleagues, contacts in partnership organisations or industry bodies – and use them as role models to build your own unique brand as a leader.
To take this a step further, consider approaching one of them to act as your mentor. Not only does a mentor act as an independent counsel for your workplace challenges, they are also a sponsor for helping you explore your career options – and may even introduce you to others who can assist. Having, or being, a mentor needn’t be time-consuming and it should be seen as a flattering invitation. Some of the best business minds out there credit the support of a mentor in getting them where they are today – it’s a valuable but underutilised tool.
Build your network
It can be easy to dismiss networking as awkward, and even tacky, but networking remains as relevant today as it’s ever been and a vital part of career advancement.
Don’t think of it as a short-term transactional exercise of “if you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours,” as it can be about building a professional group around you to take with you on your career journey.
Make your circle as wide as possible, and create a network that can expose you to new companies, experiences and sectors.
Penny de Valk concludes: Remember that networking isn’t all done online as well – and making connections, face-to-face, is crucial for establishing valuable and long-term relationships. If you’re uneasy about networking in a room full of strangers, seek out the person that looks the most uncomfortable and reframe your uneasiness with helping someone else be less nervous. They’ll appreciate the gesture, of having someone to talk with and easing any awkwardness they were feeling and you’ll be networking yourself in the process!