I remember as a child wondering if I would make it to the millennium, after all, being 40 is positively ancient! So pinch me I am still alive, I am still working in the same industry I stumbled into as a 23-year old (nobody, but nobody plans for a dynamic career in market research!), and I can honestly say that I am as excited about the future now as I was back then. Now I understand the ‘game’ and have a greater control of its outcome.
Back then I had everything to learn, and if I was to revisit myself to deliver a heads up to the future, this is what I would tell me:
- observe, listen and learn. Business is full to the brim with learning opportunities, even in small companies.
- There are good and bad decision makers, good and bad managers, understand this. If you work for a bad manager (may not command respect from colleagues or team) let the quality of your work speak for you rather than undermine his/her authority.
- Find out about the latest developments in your industry, stay abreast of competitors, be informed.
- Don’t be afraid to speak out. I used to be very self-conscious in meetings, feeling my views would be ridiculed or ignored, I think everyone feels that when starting out. Then my boss insisted that we should each make at least one salient point at every meeting. What a difference! Sometimes people agreed, sometimes they argued the point but I was never ridiculed. My opinion was validated.
- Second guess the objections to your proposals. Coming up with an excellent plan is not smooth sailing, nor is fighting for a departmental budget. Keep your arguments watertight by knowing who the nay-sayers are and the reasons behind their objections.
- Know what you are good at and improve areas that need improvement. Don’t wait until annual review time to suggest your training requirements if you feel you would benefit sooner than later.
- Keep a cool head. Not all decisions will work in your favour and not everyone will make your job easy. You may feel isolated at times or obstructed in your career path. If your line manager is unsympathetic then the best way to deal with these situations is to learn from the experience and move on.
- Do not make enemies of your colleagues; competition is healthy, a warring department isn’t. Besides, you never know when you may need their support in the future.
All these points of advice are valid to both sexes, but as a woman in business I have to admit that some of them were easier to realise than others. I did keep a cool head when I felt I was being sexually discriminated against in a male-dominated industry and handed in my notice a few months later. The next company, in a less male-centred industry, was really no better, which merely reflected how women in business were treated at that time.
Dame Zaha Hadid, award winning architect and Veuve Clicquot’s Businesswoman of the Year 2014, interviewed by the Telegraph said that it is hard to believe that it is still difficult for women to break the business barrier. In her industry it had been a long struggle to get to where she is now. What Dame Zaha, and other extraordinary women such as Kathryn Parsons, 30-year old entrepreneur and founder of Decoded and Julie Kenny who set up electronics security company Pyronix, both of whom have been recognised for their achievements as businesswomen, extort is the resolve to work hard and achieve their goals. All of them champion the right of women to have equal status in their industry and each one is inspirational. Aside from Kathryn, these women spent many years overcoming obstacles to achieve what they have today. I wonder what advice they would dispense to younger selves?
I agree that in many industries the career path for women is littered with many obstacles which is unacceptable in 2014. I hope that by the end of this year there will be a significant increase in women in senior management roles and greater gender equality all round.
I am not holding my breath.
Margot Grantham is a regular contributor to the3rdimagazine.