It was at this session where I realised that I could use my skill and creative flair to become an effective leader, rather than believing that the only way to succeed in my career, was to fit-in with others around me.Now, with this understanding, I started noticing the characteristics of people and the impact their decisions would have on others. I found I had a natural talent for bringing out the best in people, particularly in those that others had written off. For many they were up against a “they aren’t like me, so they can’t be good” kind of mentality. I moved into the financial sector two years later and it was here that these skills started to develop and come to the fore. I was then promoted to join the board of the insurance business and as the only and first women, I had to figure out how I could be effective in the team. I knew I saw things differently and wanted to avoid being labelled as the emotional woman however I was prepared to use the “feelings” word about the organisation. My boss at that time, luckily for me, had a very wise wife. She told him that I was someone that would stand out in the team and as I was the only woman, I would be under additional pressure, with the eyes of the organisation bearing down. When things went well, that was fine, but who plays the perfect game every minute? Importantly, his wife also told him that if I made a mistake it was important it wasn’t over-emphasised. It was his support that put me in good stead, and this helped me achieve greater things in the long term. At times, being the only woman in a team was a lonely experience and having a personal coach helped me enormously. By using an external one, rather than an internal one, I could be completely open and know I wouldn’t have got to where I have today, without one. With that said, a personal coach is not the only solution available for helping to support and develop staff in the workplace. The key however, for inputting any development plans is first to establish what development is needed and work back from there.
Nurturing your female staffOne of the biggest barriers that continues to affect the career path of women, is a serious lack of time and investment being spent on the right kind of development. I’ve found that in choosing training and support that is appropriate for women, organisations can make a huge difference not only to the development of staff, but also in the motivation of them too. I didn’t always think this, but having worked my way up the ranks to become the CEO of Royal Sun Alliance, the experience has meant that I’ve become more and more aware of what can be achieved by developing truly female-specific training. At dream on, we’ve been working with organisations designing and delivering development programmes just for women. We’ve combined a deep understanding of self and training in “models of communications and making an impact” alongside 1:1 coaching. This combination has delivered fantastic results with women taking their place in senior leadership teams and learning to build and sustain their self-confidence. Having a support and development network is absolutely essential for all professionals looking to help grow this much needed self belief, however, that is only half the battle…
Key barriersWhile women often cite “family commitments” – e.g. maternity leave, looking after elderly relatives, as a barrier for career progression, one area which I believe is often overlooked, is the lack of self-belief in today’s career women. I include myself in this because, both for myself and for the women I coach, it is a lack of self-belief and confidence that I have found can really hold people back. In my career for example, it took me a long time to step away from my original role in finance and move to a broader one. Yet, by gaining more confidence in my professional background I have reached this goal. Coaching particularly helped me step back and appreciate what qualities I can bring to a broader business role and this was a large part of overcoming this very personal challenge. This is why I strongly urge many of the women I speak to, to seriously consider the benefits of coaching, particularly if the organisation they are working for isn’t focusing on the right training and development for them.
How can women help themselves?If there is one thing that is true in life, it is that nothing will ever come easily, so women need to be prepared to face their fears and do something totally out of their comfort zone, particularly if they are ever going to make the career moves that will help them be the best they can. This might involve taking a new role in a brand new company or by taking on a new challenge within the company they are already part of. A scary thought, but being brave and getting yourself out there is the biggest part of helping women realise their full potential. Another key piece of advice for women is to be purposeful and intentional about your career and the direction it takes. Spend time thinking and making sure that you complete any career moves, knowingly. So many of the women I coach have just “ended up” where they are “just because”. If you want to progress quickly, then you need to take the bull by the horns and take action yourself. And let’s not forget that we all need to keep learning and invest significant time on personal development. For me, a personal coach made a big difference. It was someone who kept on supporting me, they kept me on track and also helped me to face and overcome challenges as and when they came up. For others it might be a case of writing a list at the start of the year about what they want to achieve and setting goals to make sure they are realised.
Final thoughtsWith hard work, commitment and self-belief women do undoubtedly have the opportunity to achieve their career goals, however, none of this is to say that it won’t be without compromise. At every step of my career, I’ve had to fight hard to gain my seat at the table and fight to be heard too. This has often meant that colleagues have found me “un-corporate” or even “not one to fit the mould” and yet by doing it my way, in my style, I have had the confidence to achieve the things that I wanted to and all with my head held high. Concerned with issues surrounding gender diversity in business? Don’t miss the Real Business First Women programme: Drawing on years of the First Women movement and the phenomenal network of pioneering women the Awards has created, this programme features The First Women Awards and The First Women Summit – designed to educate, mentor and inspire women in all levels of business. Bridget McIntyre is founder of dream on, which helps women reach their full potential in the workplace.
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