Women in business
International Women’s Day, a chance to pause and reflect on just what it means to be a woman in business today. And to celebrate the huge contribution made by women in the workplace at all levels and in all industries.
I started out in my career some 30 years ago when women were a rarity at the boardroom table and were routinely paid less than male counterparts. Starting out in magazine publishing, I worked my way through a slow and often painful progression of marketing roles at Haymarket, The Times Supplements and IPC (now TI Media) before moving on to the heady heights middle-management in the heavily male-dominated world of newspapers and the Daily Telegraph and the Wall Street Journal.
After a five-year freelance stint, I found my new workplace home at The Association of Corporate Treasurers and have been their Director of Marketing and Communications since July last year. The ACT is fortunate to have a strong female leader in Chief Executive, Caroline Stockmann, and this future-facing organisation has a strategic focus on the diversity and inclusion agenda for the treasury community.
It’s encouraging to see how far we’ve come in achieving parity for women in the workplace, but important to recognise that there’s still a long way to go and we can’t stop until the same opportunities are afforded to all.
So, what are the lessons from my own career journey so far? Here are my top 7:
Escape the box
We love to put people into nice, easily manageable boxes – it makes working life so much easier! Fortunately, people aren’t box-shaped, and frequently have much more to offer than we may think. If you find yourself being boxed-in, particularly early on in your career, speak up and demonstrate the contribution that you can make to your work and your team. Volunteer for new projects, sign up for new training, speak up at team meetings and demonstrate your capabilities. Gender-shaped boxes aren’t as common as they once were, but they’re still out there – so be vigilant!
Choose your role models
This is trickier than it first appears, and will most likely change as you progress through different roles and stages in your career. For me, it was helpful to choose people whose standards I aspired to, whether they be men or women. I was fortunate to have Rick Zednik as my boss when I worked at the Wall Street Journal and as Rick has gone on to be Managing Director at Women Political Leaders, leading some great work on gender equality, I’m pleased that he was, and remains, one of my role models. (Top advice from Rick: ‘Pick your battles Anne, you don’t have to take on everything!’)
The business world can be a tough place, and especially for women who may be juggling family or caring responsibilities as well, so resilience is an essential skill. And like any skill, it needs to be practised regularly. Work pressure and the sheer volume of tasks can be overwhelming, so making time to prioritise is crucial. Make sure that you’re communicating too, and let your boss or colleagues know what help you need if you’re struggling to meet a deadline or complete a project. Quick fixes like taking a short walk or talking to a colleague can help restore perspective. In the longer term make sure you don’t just pay lip-service to a work/life
Celebrate the highs
I’ve always found it difficult to accept praise, and frequently brushed over my own achievements – moving quickly on to the next challenge – and I know I’m not alone. Whilst we may feel uncomfortable singing our own praises, marking our own successes is a positive thing. Take a moment to reflect on how it makes you feel and store that up – it can help with resilience to remember how good success feels, and realise that it’s achievable in the future.
Learn from the lows
Of course for every success, we most likely have a few more times when things didn’t go quite according to plan. Reflecting on what went wrong and why can be uncomfortable because it brings up a host of negative emotions, but it’s important to make ourselves do it so that we can note the learning points and move on. If we don’t acknowledge how we’ve failed, then how can we hope to do better next time?
Live your values
If we truly believe that diversity in the working environment is a healthy and positive force, then we need to act in ways that enable it. Support your colleagues, all of them, when they need it and you’ll find that by behaving in a positive way those around you will reflect that positivity. We can’t be perfect, but we can be aware of issues like unconscious bias, mental health and the need for collegiate support. Simply by being aware, we open ourselves up to new possibilities.
On International Women’s Day, let’s take a moment to recognise the contribution that women have made to our own professional lives. I’ve been fortunate to have some amazing and inspirational female colleagues. And let’s not forget the men who support gender balance. Diversity, of course, is a much broader topic and we can all work harder to ensure that we embrace diversity of ethnicity, age, religion, background, experience and all the aspects of people that differentiate and unite us. We are stronger together.