Women in leadership positions have been a hot topic on the global news circuit. In the US, tongues are wagging about whether Hillary still plans to become one of the most powerful people in the world , while in the UK, the government target of 25% female representation on boards by 2015 will likely be smashed since it’s shot up to 20% for the first time ever.
Yet despite the positive changes, a recent report released on Catalyst.org says that female representation on boards in North America has stagnated in the past few years. While women represented 47.3% of the 2011 workforce in Canada, they only made up 22.9% of senior management position s by 2012.
All the data suggests that the playing field is not even quite yet. So how have the women at the top of the global HR and business community climbed the career ladder to the top rung, and how can you do the same? Changeboard turned to seven senior business and HR professionals to get their advice on the problems they’ve faced, and how they’ve overcome them.
Carolyn McCall, CEO of easyjet, on balancing work and home life:
“You can’t be managing director or CEO of a company and not stay completely involved in the business, but it’s about finding a way of making it work. An important ingredient for me was having the right balance between my personal life and career.
It’s now time for women to keep their head above the parapet. Write a letter to your line manager or HR outlining the flexibility you require and present your business case. You may be surprised to find that you’re pushing at an open door.”
Kate Chapman, group HR director, PageGroup, on developing your own leadership style:
“I’m the same person I was when I started work, and have stayed true to my core values. I’ve got many great experiences to draw on and plenty of people I can reach out to.”
Leigh Lafever-Ayer, HR director of Enterprise Rent-a-Car, on the importance of mentoring:
“Look for mentors in and out of your organization. They can help you develop your skills and knowledge. Studies show that, despite having proven their talent, lots of women lack confidence in their abilities. A mentor can boost your confidence and could encourage you to go for jobs that you would otherwise pass over. Networking is equally as important. Introducing yourself to a wider community can lead you to untapped opportunities.
In my position, one of the areas of special focus is helping women to grasp the opportunity that is there. Many women readily admit that they are more cautious about putting themselves forward for a role than men. Even when their balanced scorecard is demonstrating ability, they may hesitate and wonder if they really are ready. Our mentoring, networking and development programmes are designed to help women overcome these hurdles.”
Fareda Abdullah, VP, human capital and corporate communications, Majid Al Futtaim Ventures, on what it takes to grow in business:
“I do not accept the common misconception that women have no career ambitions. It’s important to be focused and not give up. You must adapt according to your circumstances.”
Jane Bilcock, executive VP & chief HR officer, Pinstripe & Ochre House, on the key to success:
Do something you feel passionate about. Life’s too short to do something that doesn’t excite you.
Ceri-Anne Connelly, HR director, group functions, Aviva, on the value of hard work:
“Roll up your sleeves and get ‘into the work.’ I wouldn’t ask my team to do anything that I wouldn’t do myself. Sitting with employees on the front line is the best possible way of understanding the need for change and defining the most successful people strategy.”
Jeannie Edwards, director of HR, Europe Africa, MWH Global, on being authentic in business for success:
“Don’t try to be anything other than yourself and don’t take yourself too seriously. Don’t try to fit into a mould. The most successful women I know are comfortable with themselves. The most frustrated are role playing. A very senior woman once told me that I would never be taken seriously if I wore pink. I wear pink a lot, and it doesn’t seem to have done me too much damage.”
About the Author: Katie Richard is the online content editor for Changeboard.com, a global HR careers and content site based in the UK. A Canadian living in London, she’s interested in raising the profile of women in business.