Lisa Mandell argues that women need to use some classic business strategies on themselves if they are going to realise their career ambitions.
It’s the classic cobbler’s children dilemma. We spend so much effort promoting whichever business we are currently working for that it’s sometimes easy to allow our own career to trickle along by itself.
There are still only six female CEOs leading the companies that comprise the FTSE100, a pitiful figure. We need to help drive equality of opportunity. But women can also force change by becoming much better at promoting ourselves and in making clear the positive impact we can have on a business.
I have been working with and advising fast-growth businesses for over a decade. I believe that many of the growth strategies that I have helped clients adopt over the years apply equally to women seeking to reach their true potential in the workplace. Let’s look at five of those strategies and how they can be re-purposed to get you that plum role you deserve.
Conduct a SWOT analysis on yourself. This is a great place to start because it underpins all the other strategies. Businesses conduct a SWOT analysis to discover their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in the context of their business sector, the competition and developing trends. You can do exactly the same to work out how you are positioned in the market. You might have a strength that is distinctive enough to promote. Maybe this is about a particular characteristic of yours, or some really useful and unique experiences you have had. Think also about how you can provide some ‘proof points’ of these strengths, how you have tangibly impacted a business you have worked at.
At the same time, we should also consider our ‘weaknesses’. You might realise that your public speaking skills could benefit from some improvement, for example, or perhaps you need some more in-depth knowledge of a sector you are keen on working within. Once you have this knowledge you are in a better position to work out your opportunities – roles where your particular strengths could be well-used, and which your weaknesses wouldn’t undermine. Threats might come from those weaknesses, or from market changes that you must adapt to.
Clarify your purpose and values – The business world talks a lot about purpose and so should you. What do you feel passionately about? What are the principles and values you stand for personally? Knowing this will help you to understand what you need from a company to grow and improve, and to harness your skills, experience, time and energy. Employers are impressed by candidates who can demonstrate how well their values match with a business – it gives them confidence that you will be a positive force in the organisation.
Businesses spend a lot of time nowadays becoming clear about what they stand for because they know that this is an effective way of earning consumer trust. The same goes for the relationship with an employee. Businesses will have more trust in a member of staff who can confidently spell out what motivates her – it helps them get to know you.
Develop an elevator pitch. Don’t be so focused on your long-term career goals that you miss the opportunities that leap up on you in the moment. If you bump into Arianna Huffington in a hotel lobby, you need something prepared to say if you’re going to walk away with her direct line and a promise to read your email. Prepare an elevator pitch now – this is a concise but appealing summary of what you offer, focused heavily on your personal USP and its proof points. Keep it snappy but informative – for example “I’m an award-winning marketer who launched a product that increased my company’s profit. I’m looking for my next success story.”
Invest in your growth. Now is the time to invest in some training to address those areas of relative weakness identified in your SWOT analysis. This doesn’t have to break the bank – online courses can be very cost-effective, or it might be as simple as buying a book. There are also organisations that have been specifically set up to offer free training and mentoring to women – for example, Code First: Girls, The Women’s Organisation or Forward Ladies. Either way, do what successful businesses do – actively tackle what might be holding you back from growth.
Seek out testimonials. No corporate website is complete without some third parties advocating for a brand, and neither is your LinkedIn profile. Employers recruit people that they feel personally comfortable with and a lot of that is about hearing recommendations from others. That’s why we all need to have a few people who can be our go-to if we need someone to validate the great work we’ve done. It could just be someone who’s willing to have a call with another person about your work and character – even better if that person is open to giving you a written testimonial. The “Ask for a recommendation” tool on LinkedIn makes this a lot easier to request now.
The great thing about this approach to career building is that you are already likely to be familiar with at least some of these strategies. Now take yourself as seriously as the businesses you have been promoting. You can bet many of your male colleagues already do.