10 tips for women aiming for the top of business

If you're an ambitious female businesswoman look no further.

by Rachel Savage
Last Updated: 24 Sep 2015

1. Believe in yourself

Nikki King was the world’s first female managing director of a truck manufacturer when she took over at Isuzu UK, so sure knows her stuff. ‘Have confidence in your abilities,’ was her advice to delegates at Inspiring Women Birmingham on Thursday. ‘The male world doesn’t like modesty – it sees it as a sign of weakness.’ A practical way to make that happen? ‘If you have a bright idea follow it up with a confirmation email so everyone knows it was yours.’

2. Say no

Dragon’s Den’s Sarah Willingham said women tend to take on too much. ‘No is a very underused word and is an extremely powerful word,’ the serial entrepreneur said.

3. Be aware of your own assumptions

‘When I walked out of my job, I thought I’d never be able to afford another baby,’ Jericho Chambers partner and MT contributing editor Christine Armstrong said - now she’s had a third. ‘That was a barrier I’d created’.

4. Embrace your minority status

‘Ladies we are different because we are the minority in business,’ Forensic Pathways founder and CEO Deobrah Leary told the conference. ‘People remember us.’ Being a woman was ‘the biggest strength I had when I started the company,’ she said.

5. Don’t be afraid to fail

The fear of failure is a typically British trait – especially among women. But getting over it isn’t easy, even for uber-successful entrepreneurs. ‘The most challenging thing for me has been managing what goes on in my own head,’ said Zaggora and Bijoux Place founder Dessi Bell.

6. Network

Be selective. Think about why you’re doing it. Make sure you build your internal network. But most importantly don’t do it ‘gratuitously’ – ‘think about what you can offer,’ advised KPMG vice chairman and 30% Club founding member Melanie Richards.

7. Love what you do

‘It’s determination and loving what you do that are the most important things,’ said textiles entrepreneur Jan Constantine. ‘It’s literally about find exciting things that engage me,’ BBC Childrens’ director Alice Hill said (definitely not jealous). And that means you do your best work. ‘If you strive for excellence people notice it,’ said Richards.

8. Tell everyone what you want

But people also need to know if you want more. ‘Think about whether people are clear you are ambitious,’ Richards advised aspiring businesswomen. ‘People make a lot of assumptions, particularly about women.’

9. Look after yourself

There are five pillars in a ‘thriving’ life, according to Gallup consultant Karina Govindji: purpose at work, meaningful time with family and friends, financial stability, physical wellbeing and giving back to the community. That’s not necessarily easy for everyone to achieve - but it’s not a bad set of goals.

10. And don’t be Regina George

You may have made it to the top, but there could be other women who deserve that tap on the shoulder but keep getting passed over. So, as FDS chief executive Jo Haigh said, ‘Don’t forget to send the elevator back down.’ And for those who don’t want to be a Mean Girl, take heed of King’s wise words: ‘Don’t let the Queen Bee syndrome get you.’

All photos: Julian Dodd.

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