It’s 2020. In September 1995, the UN’s Beijing Declaration was announced – aiming to remove the systematic barriers that hold women back from equal participation in all areas of life, whether in public or in private. Almost 25 years later, we still haven’t achieved that.
That’s why International Women’s Day, and celebrations like it, are so important. Since the first gathering in 1911, this global day has celebrated the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality.
This years theme is #EachforEqual – drawn from the notion of ‘Collective Individualism’. One of IWD 2020’s key messages is that equality is not a women’s issue – it’s a business issue.
“The race is on for the gender-equal boardroom.”
Fiona Hathorn, a Non-Executive Director at Spktral, is one of the many wonderful people working to address gender equality within business. In 2012, Fiona co-founded Women on Boards (WOB) to promote and support a diverse range of individuals into leadership and board roles. A recent report found that women held a third of board roles at FTSE 100 companies. Progress, but we need MORE diversity in leadership roles.
Based on her experience building a successful career in asset management, Fiona has shared the following advice for career success:
Make a career plan, but don’t just follow it blindly.
Managing our own careers is fundamental to success, whatever success means to each of us. It’s critical to stop and think from time to time about where we are headed; what information, people, learning, tools and other resources we might need to get there; and what our timeframes are.
Career management is a lifelong thing – it is not ‘once and done’. You need to regularly take stock, revise or refresh plans. You will also need to manage through unexpected events, because they will occur.
And make sure your boss, sponsor or other influential people in your organisation know what your aspirations are – and if they change. They can easily make the wrong assumptions if you don’t tell them.
Make your achievements known
Why? Because it can overcome biases. If you are seen to be leaving the office at 5pm, there might be an assumption that you are doing less work. By not attending work networking and social events, you can be less visible. To overcome this you need to ensure your boss and other influential people are kept abreast of your achievements.
Understanding influence is two-fold: partly it is about understanding how decisions are really made in your organisation, in and out of meetings. For example, how does your boss choose which member of the team will lead on a high profile project? Or who will deliver a key presentation?
Understanding influence is also knowing how to be influential. There are many ways to influence people but, however you become influential, it gives you the power to manage difficult situations and people – and ultimately your career.
My top tips for influence
Based on research, combined with my first-hand understanding from my successful career in asset management, I would advise any ambitious professional to consider the following to achieve their career potential:
- Learn and watch other influencers: they are NOT always in the most powerful positions
- Know what currencies are valued in organisations. Is it creative ideas, sales, cost savings, team management, error minimization….or what?
- Make influential presentations: seek the opportunities and make them count
- Know how you are seen and how you need to be seen within your organisation or team to progress: work to minimise the difference
- Understand the power of meetings: make authoritative statements in meetings and don’t apologise for your opinion
- Join a community board to help differentiate yourself.
Join a board
On my final point, joining a small, community board represents an opportunity to truly enhance your leadership and strategic skills. It can also emphasise the expertise you already have, and deepen it by applying it within a different context. You are never too young to join a board – assuming you are committed and know your duties, responsibilities and liabilities. Having a board role on your CV is a key differentiator when applying for promotions. If you are not making formal promotion applications, make sure your boss knows about your NED role and the issues you are managing. Women on Boards UK can help you realise your board potential, if you are considering this career strategy.
Fiona is an experienced NED, the CEO of Women on Boards (UK) and an equities investment specialist. Fiona established Women on Boards (UK) in 2012 to support minorities applying for board roles. Over the last 8 years she has helped over 1800 individuals secure board positions and advertised nearly 20,000 board positions.