Studies have shown that companies with diversity in their top teams produce improved financial results. Yet according to McKinsey, women hold less than 20% of the seats on corporate boards and executive committees in both the US and the UK and, from Forbes, only 4% of Fortune 500 company CEOs are female.
Recent news stories have also revealed that women earn 14.9% less on average than men for the same job. In a Gender Salary Survey conducted by the Chartered Management Institute, it’s suggested that a woman can earn £423,000 less than a man in her career.
So, how can we ‘sharpen our elbows’ and make it in a business world that for many still seems like an old boys’ network?
1. Be confident
An article in The Wall Street Journal asked the female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies for their tips on how to be successful in business. Angela Braly, CEO of WellPoint, said, “The most important factor in determining whether you will success isn’t your gender, it’s you.”
It’s pointless trying to change the system – the only thing we can truly change is ourselves. Be confident in yourself and speak up. Be heard. Have conviction in what you’re saying. If you truly believe in something, this should come naturally. It’s not about being a “bitch”, it’s about being confident in who you are and what you stand for.
2. Know thyself
Find out what is really important to you. What drives you? What is your purpose? This is more than just what you want to be (i.e. a job title) or what you want to achieve, it’s the ‘why’ that’s important. This is what engages the emotional part of your brain and when you use this to its full potential, it’s extremely powerful.
If you can really clearly define your purpose, it will give you a clarity and motivation to succeed in what
you want to do.
3. Do your research
Now that you “know yourself,” develop yourself. Build up your skill set in any way you can through formal training, learning, reading – anything. Developing your communication skills in particular will serve you well.
The next component of this is to know your market. Truly understand the market, the customer, the business. Delve into the details that others might neglect or miss. Seize every opportunity to contribute valuable insights.
4. Take risks
This is commonly mentioned by female leaders. Challenge yourself constantly by taking risks in the projects you take on and the roles you seek out. Doing this will generate a strong motivational force and result in valuable on-the-job learning. Hopefully, you’ll get the recognition you deserve but if not celebrate on your own.
5. Celebrate your achievements
It’s a harsh business truth but sometimes, you won’t get the thanks you deserve or the praise that you want. Internal motivation is a powerful tool and it can be truly disheartening if you aren’t being motivated externally as well. That’s why it’s important to consciously make an effort to recognise your achievements.Write down the positive things you have accomplished. Outcomes you have achieved. And enjoy them! Celebrate with friends and family. Reward yourself.
Ultimately, the business world still has a long way to go before men and women are equal. But we can make a difference in the world of work, one woman at a time. It’s not about competing with men, it’s about being the best version of ourselves.
About the author: Sue Stoneman is CEO and founding partner of learning and development agency, NKD Learning. She is a change management, employee engagement and learning and development expert. Prior to setting up NKD Learning in 2005, Stoneman spent over 20 years in a variety of PLC and private equity businesses, including British Airways, Hyundai, Barclays and Terrafirma. She has a breadth of experience as a board director, having held senior positions in Marketing and Sales, Customer Operations and HR.