Let’s say you’ve done the big corporate thing (or you’re doing it right now) and you’ve decided that you want something else.
Something different. For many of us – me included – that ‘something different’ is a freelance career. One that fits around other aspects of our lives and gives us freedom from having to fit a bell curve when it comes to bonuses and performance measurement. With women representing 1 in 3 entrepreneurs in the UK there’s most certainly an appetite among women to make money on our own terms.
But then what? Removed from corporate life where networking is the norm and entire programmes are dedicated to career progression and shaping the next generation of senior executives, you can find yourself squirrelled away in your own world where the talent that you have to offer – and that many organisations need – may not be spotted.
And that in turn exacerbates the problem of women becoming less visible as they get older. And if younger women can’t see us, they can’t see the opportunities that exist – leading to disengagement and increasing the problems associated with lack of female representation.
Getting serious about your second act
Something I only considered very recently is the multitude of other opportunities that are available to women who, like me, have decades of industry experience that others will value and can learn from. It’s in my nature to be light but a conversation with a former colleague who spoke about my ‘authority’ on the topic of women in tech made me check myself. So how can we take ourselves a little more seriously without being too po-faced?
Don’t diminish your achievements or experience
We spend so much time focusing on the new or the next that it’s easy to forget the value of experience (and yet we all know that you never let the trainee do your episiotomy stitches….). Write down:
- Specialisations that you have – got 20 years in corporate compliance? 15 years in running sales teams? Even if you hated every minute of it that experience is incredibly valuable.
- Significant changes that you have witnessed during your career – from global movements right down to organisational advances and technological disasters – it all counts.
- Projects that you have delivered and the kinds of skills that these required. This includes diplomacy, biting your tongue and navigating terrible sales cultures during the 80s and 90s.
This helps you to free your mindset up a little from operational thought processes or ‘places that I worked’ and into a more strategic place where you can objectively view your skills and your potential to contribute to the thinking of others.
Think beyond your original career trajectory
In tech, 50% of young women who enter the industry leave by the age of 35. Some never return, some set up their own boutique firms and others go in for contract work. Whatever your choice, you’ll eventually hit the “so now what?” question. I don’t know about you, but the thought of doing the same thing at the same level until I retire is not exactly appealing. If you feel the same way then start to think early about taking on some seriously juicy stuff like Non-Exec Director (NED) positions. Don’t think NED is for you? Think again – there are still too few women in leadership positions and this lack of representation negatively impacts the wider female talent pipeline. A quick search for ‘women on boards’ will show you that not only does the opportunity exist, but that there are dedicated organisations designed to help you make the leap (and make some money, and make a difference).
Show others the way
The scale of the impact of the lack of female leadership is striking – in STEM the percentage of female employees remains stubbornly hard to shift – it’s been teetering around the 22-25% mark for years. One way to help encourage women into careers that are viewed as male-dominated is to talk about what you’ve learned and show them what’s possible. It’s easy to be passive on social media platforms so how about instead challenging yourself to create your own content designed to encourage and inspire others? Here’s a few ideas that could get you started off:
- Three things I learned from my role as….
- Top five things about a career in…..
- The advice I’d give to my younger self
And if you don’t fancy writing then why not put yourself forward to speak at a local careers event? Or record some short videos with top tips for people considering a career in your sector. Right now, I’m taking inspiration from women who are sharing their advice on how to manage menopause and career – it’s going to happen to me soon enough and I want to be prepared.
Get yourself seen
If there’s one thing I’d like to encourage women who have entered, or are about to enter, their ‘second act’ it’s to not go quietly. Keep yourself visible, tell others what’s possible because, seriously, you need to be seen.
About the author
Toni Kent is an experienced writer and performer who is trusted by large corporate IT organisations to represent their business leaders and brands through a mixture of ghost writing, coaching and motivational speaking.
With twenty years of experience in technology and as an advocate for women supporting women, Toni is frequently booked by Women in Business networks and organisations that want to promote gender parity. With lived experience of how work transforms the life prospects of women from disadvantaged backgrounds, she is proud to be the official event compere for Smart Works Reading – an organisation that helps women return to the workplace via free interview coaching and work-appropriate clothing.
Toni is also a columnist for Berkshire Life and has written three books of humorous reflections on what it means to be a woman: Reasons to be Cheerful Parts One and Two and I Need a Wife. Her books are all available via Amazon.
You can follow Toni on Twitter and LinkedIn at @tonijkent
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