For any ambitious woman with an eye on leadership, or even those already on the managerial ladder, the headlines of late have been less than cheering.
The odds are still stacked against women being successful in the workplace it seems, with April seeing the news that the gender pay gap in the UK had barely changed, and had actually increased in some companies, with eight out of 10 companies in Britain still paying men more than women.
Then last month came the news that employers are still failing to improve boardroom gender diversity, with the likes of Ocado, Lloyd’s and Metro Bank blasted for having less than 25 per cent of women on their boards. Domino’s Pizza and others got red warnings for having all-male boards or just one solitary female.
But while the fight for gender equality in the workplace continues, there’s a weapon that us women can employ to help in our own personal battles – and it’s ‘owning’ our careers.
According to a recent Saïd Business School study of female CEOs, the critical success factor for women who want to reach the top is to pursue ‘active ownership of her leadership career’.
‘Owning’ your career means not waiting to be asked, or relying on anyone else. Instead, you create a career plan where you’ll develop a rounded and distinctive blend of skills. If that sounds daunting, don’t panic. Here are four practical tactics to help you ‘own’ your career:
Think long term
Back in 2012, Anne-Marie Slaughter, a former foreign policy adviser to Hillary Clinton, published an article in The Atlantic about ‘why women still can’t have it all’. She opened the floodgates to the conversations we’re all now having about how women’s careers are not generally linear. For too long we’ve tended to regard successful professionals as people who can climb the ladder the furthest, fastest.
It’s a model that was well-suited to men in the 20th Century. You’d start work in your twenties, reach your career peak in your mid forties and saunter along to retirement at 65. However, that straightforward trajectory frequently doesn’t work for women. And why should we waste our time and energy trying to make ourselves fit an outdated model?
You might, for example, build your credentials and establish your career in your twenties and thirties. Then take a step back to focus on family and then re-immerse yourself back into your career sometime in your fifties. Or, you might take a very different approach.
Whatever path you choose, the career climb is rarely a straight upward slope. There are irregular steps and sideways moves, plateaus and maybe even dips. You might have perfectly good reasons for turning down a promotion or stepping off the conventional career path for a while.
Most people will now change jobs ten to 15 times during their career. Factor in freelancing, entrepreneurship, and a working life of 50 years or more, and you have a lot of career manoeuvring to plan for.
Effective career planning will help you understand your goals and what factors contribute to your physical, emotional and financial wellbeing. It will help you step back and evaluate everything you like and dislike about your current and previous roles. What ignites your curiosity and what frustrates you?
A skills audit is also a worthwhile exercise. Start by listing all your achievements – professional and personal. Think about every role you’ve had. What skills did you develop and what benefits did you bring to your employer? Be specific; did you boost sales, transform a team or deliver successful projects?
Your career might be a game of two halves. Or it might a series of strategic chess moves. What matters is that you don’t just leave it all to chance.
Develop your personal brand
Look at job ads for roles that interest you. Compare the requirements with your skills audit. Spot any gaps? Start researching how to fill them with further training, self-study or online courses and webinars.
Be absolutely clear on the skills, experiences and benefits you bring. Could you sum up your USP in two or three powerful and concise sentences?
Run your own marketing campaign
You have to be your own cheerleader. Your CV must be compelling, achievement focussed and targeted to each individual role to beat both the Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) and the competition. And, you can’t afford to ignore LinkedIn. It’s used by over 90 per cent of recruiters and with over 610 million users worldwide, it’s the leading professional networking and personal branding platform.
You also need to be visible in your chosen field. Face-to-face networking is still hugely important for connecting with like-minded professionals and discovering potential job vacancies. That said, there are now great opportunities to network through social media.
Plan for career breaks or setbacks
When you map out action steps and leverage your strengths, you take charge of your career. That means, if you want to take a career break or just take your foot off the pedal for a time, you’ll have a plan in place. With improved self-knowledge you can identify skills gaps or areas for personal development, such as interview techniques or presentation skills.
If you do take a career break, try to keep a foot in the door. Keep up with developments in your field and maintain your professional network. That way, you’ll have the tools to navigate the challenge of returning to work or re-igniting your glittering career in the future.
A robust career plan gives you the confidence to think big, take brave decisions and calculated risks. We’re talking about putting together a roadmap of guiding principles and priorities, rather than a rigid timetable. That way, you can evaluate the costs and benefits of various options and remain open to unexpected opportunities or life events.
About the author
Victoria established City CV in 2009, following a successful blue-chip career that included steering recruitment at Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch at the most senior level of hire. As a former Recruitment Head, she identified a gap in the market for high quality CV writing, career development and interview skills training for professionals. Since then, City CV has flourished, employing experts across an array of industry sectors, and expanded to provide corporate career, marketing and outplacement consultancy services, and career training to MBAs and post graduates at top international business schools. Her clients are based in the UK and overseas, including in the US, Asia, Australasia, Europe and the Middle East.
An active member of Career Directors International, Victoria holds the post of ‘International Expert’ and ‘Banking and Finance Expert’. She has two decades of experience across the corporate consulting, CV, interview, career coaching and recruitment fields, including creating and directing corporate career development and outplacement programmes.
Victoria understands the nuances of the executive recruitment market across multiple sectors, including the financial services. A passionate advocate for women smashing through the glass ceiling, she speaks at conferences and events focused on improving career advancement.
Working with corporate partners, Victoria runs workshops and webinars worldwide for small or large audiences, including with blue chips, public sector organisations and in the higher education space. Victoria regularly wins major international industry awards and is frequently featured as a careers expert in leading media.