Journey to the top: women leaders give their tips on how to break through the male-dominated workplace

career journey, woman climbing stairs

Gender inequality and women in the workplace is a hot-button topic.

Women have gained much ground in the workplace, but inequality still persists in both pay and position.

With  International Women’s Day 2019, coming up on March 8th, (this year’s theme #BalanceforBetter), we spoke to some top female business leaders and authors, who have been shortlisted in this year’s The Business Book Awards, to find out their tips on how to break through into a male dominated workplace.

Don’t be afraid to speak up

“A few years ago I realised that on countless occasions men in the boardroom were claiming my ideas as their own. Now when I hear a man claiming my idea, I loudly and firmly claim it back with a smile and a friendly joke. When you have the knowledge, trust yourself and your expertise. Speak up and you will not find it difficult to rise to the top. If you don’t do this, before you know it a man will sail to the top on a sea of your good ideas. So make sure you have your own boat ready to sail before they have the chance.”

Harriet KelsallHarriet Kelsall, author of The Creative’s Guide to Starting a Business

Harriet Kelsall is Founder and Chair of Harriet Kelsall Bespoke Jewellery. She is one of the most respected bespoke designers and business trailblazers working in the UK jewellery industry today. She was the 2016 HSBC Forward Ladies “Retail Business Woman of the year”, was Everywoman’s “Retail Woman of the Year” in 2011, one of The Institute of Directors magazine’s six “women who have most changed the business world” in 2014 and is a Freeman of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths and of the City of London.

She is the Chair of the National Association of Jewellers and a non-executive director for both the Responsible Jewellery Council and the British Hallmarking Council. She is a regular keynote speaker on ethics and CSR, advised the government on jewellery skills as part of the Creative and Cultural Skills Academy and speaks nationally and internationally about responsible business.

Beware of tormentors

“There is one easy rule for breaking the glass ceiling – reverse what you know about mentoring. Everyone says a mentor can help you crack the glass ceiling. Maybe so but keep an eye out for the opposite of a mentor. Look for a person who tries to block you, tear you down or challenge your right to be in a particular role. These people are called “tormentors”. They inevitably appear when you are doing your job extremely well. Tormentors are rightly afraid of you. Welcome that confirmation. If it comes down to a direct battle with a tormentor, remember that the workplace is competitive. Win when necessary. Visible victories against tormentors crack the glass ceilings better than anything else.”

Pippa MalmgrenPippa Malmgren co-author, with Chris Lewis, of The Leadership Lab

Dr Pippa Malmgren is a trend spotter who advises investors and governments about economic policy. She anticipated the Financial Crisis in 2007, the Chinese slowdown, Brexit, Trump and inflation returning. She has featured on the BBC, Bloomberg, The Financial Times and The Economist.

Practice ‘Strategic Laziness’

“Work hard but only on what matters. I’ve learnt to be ‘lazier’; to say no to things and to be aware that I only have a certain amount of energy to focus on things. Bill Gates once allegedly said, that the best way to get anything done was give it to a lazy person as they would work out the easiest, fastest way to do it.

Women often try to be perfect at everything. Remember, you can do anything you want but you can’t do everything. Set your goals on what matters and choose what is on your ‘to don’t’ list. As a leader you must prioritise what you work on and do less to achieve more.”

Sophie DevonshireSophie Devonshire, CEO The Caffeine Partnership, author of Superfast: Lead at Speed

Sophie Devonshire is CEO at strategic consultancy The Caffeine Partnership, advising leaders at Fortune 500 companies including Nissan, L’Oreal and Unilever. She is the author of ‘Superfast: Lead at Speed’, in which she interviews 100 of the world’s foremost business executives and entrepreneurs from companies such as Google, Farfetch and Innocent Drinks.

Follow these 7 strategies:

  • “Feel comfortable with negative feedback. With MBA students, I found that men and women started off with comparable confidence, but women’s confidence in leadership skills dropped more after following negative feedback.
  • Stay ambitious and seek further development. Failure is part of the learning process. When our mind-set focuses on growth, it is easier to recover from failure and turn bad news into opportunities.
  • Create your own opportunities for the next career step. Take ownership of your career turning frustration into positive action.
  • Advocate for yourself by showing concern for others. Behave like a woman because imitating men’s style will not work.
  • Walk the fine line between humility and visibility. Show confident humility – recognize your limitations but also celebrate your success. Stay humble but do not be shy to speak about your accomplishments.
  • Take time for yourself. Many CEOs, mostly men, are devoting more time to their hobbies and studies have shown that “serious leisure” can make you a better leader.”

margarita mayoMargarita Mayo, author of Yours Truly

Margarita Mayo (PhD.) is an award-winning researcher and Professor of Leadership at IE Business School. She is the author of Yours Truly: Staying Authentic in Leadership and Life (Bloomsbury, 2018), Finalist for The Best Business Book Awards 2019. Margarita is a speaker shortlisted for the 2017 Thinkers50 Leadership Award. She is a Fulbright Alumni of Harvard University and has been a visiting professor at some of the world´s leading business schools.

Use Social Technologies

“When it comes to harnessing the power of social technologies, as natural communicators, women are biologically wired for successful social networking.

Whether focused on internal social networks; intranets or blogs, or personal social platforms, such as LinkedIn or Twitter, there’s opportunity to build your digital footprint sharing insights, viewpoints, projects you’re working on and interesting insights you’ve uncovered, via articles, blogs, video or even live stream.

The content you share and how you interact with others, by osmosis, builds connections. Encouraging those interested in what you have to say to ‘follow you’, and importantly, get to know, like and trust you.

Not only a useful way of building connections for your personal development, social channels give voice, visibility and recognition to women who may not ordinarily get the opportunity or ‘air time’.”

Michelle CarvillMichelle Carvill, author of Get Social

Michelle Carvill is a strategic marketer, digital agency founder and three times published author in the social media space.

For over 10 years Michelle has championed social media, educating, implementing, managing, coaching and consulting literally thousands of people across a range of events and organisations, including the BBC, PWC, LinkedIn, ACC, Air Products, Norbord Europe, Tottenham Hotspur Foundation, Oxford Farming Conference, PR Week, ICAEW, CIM, IDM, to name but a few. Her insights, models, frameworks and know-how are based on years of experience, learning, testing, adapting, tuning in and understanding what really works. For more information visit

The Business Book Awards winners will be announced at an awards ceremony on 26 March in London. For more details or to book your place visit:

Upcoming Events

Job Board Banner

Related Posts