While I am glad the issue of women in business is finally attracting attention, I’m not a fan of quotas: business appointments should be made on merit, rather than a box ticking exercise to secure a rather artificial diversity.
Quotas aside, what are my top tips for enabling women to get ahead in business?
1. Learn from the best
Who do you most admire professionally within your organisation/sector? Ask if they are prepared to be your mentor – most people will be flattered to be asked. If you don’t already work with them try and find a way to observe them in action, by being seconded to their team/identifying a project to work with them on. Note what they do well and aim to do it better.
2. Network like mad
With the rise of social media, networking has never been easier. Research the networking groups on LinkedIn/business websites/national newspapers that are aligned to your area of business: join and participate in those where people are adding real value. I am big believer in face-to-face networking: go to conferences, training sessions, fundraisers, industry drinks and take your business card. Socialising outside of work is a great way to network. Find out where the “in” places that people in your sector go to after work.
3. Be passionate about what you do
We spend a lot of our lives at work so it’s important to love what you do. Passionate professionals radiate a positivity and energy that is infectious and which gets them noticed and talked about. This is essential if you are running your own business – if you aren’t enthusiastic about it no-one else will be. I am a passionate advocate of my company and also of the charity the Matt Hampson Foundation, and I will seize every opportunity to talk to people I bump into about one of both!
4. Cultivate an inclusive management style
One of the real strengths of women in business is that we tend to favour an inclusive, consultative approach to leading teams. In my experience, hierarchical companies create divisions and prevent the free flow of information and experience through a company.
5. Stay true to your values
In business as in other areas of life you will come across people with a wide range of different agendas. Right from the start of your career it’s really important to be define your values and to stand by them through thick and thin. The same is true when you’re starting a business. People and businesses which stay true to their values build impeccable reputations, and reputation is a key building block on your path to success.
6. Make sure your achievements are recognised
One area of business where women could arguably learn from men is appreciating our worth. Generally speaking, men tend to be less reticent than women when asking for pay rises and promotions. It’s not good enough to expect that you will get noticed just by doing a good job. Make sure your boss (and even their boss) knows about your successes by copying them in on grateful emails from clients. Make sure you document how your performance is helping to reach/exceed targets, save money, streamline processes, then bring it up at your appraisal and make your case for a promotion or payrise.
Keep your CV updated and make sure it showcases your achievements. If you feel undervalued where you are, don’t be afraid to move to a company that can appreciate your strengths.
Alternatively, if you’ve got a great business idea and some money behind you, consider going it alone. The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) for example has just revealed that female entrepreneurs are leading high street growth with 49.5 per cent of small firms established in the past two years in retail, or hotels, catering and leisure owned primarily by women – a higher proportion than at any other time. There’s never been a better time for women in business to succeed – we can’t necessarily rely on others to make it happen.
Frances Dickens, chief executive and co-founder of Astus Group.
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