First-Class Coach

My boss has suggested I try for promotion to a senior job that's going here.

by Miranda Kennett
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

I'm not sure I'm ready for it, especially as I would be the first woman in the company at that level.

A: 'Ready'. It's an interesting concept. Most often, it's a perception rather than a statement of competence. Do you think if you were a man you would be having these doubts? Regrettably, recent research backs up my personal experience that male and female candidates being considered for the same senior role with identical skills and capabilities, and aware that there is a gap between their existing accomplishments and the requirements of the new job, tend to behave quite differently. Men present themselves confidently, assuming they will be able to bridge the gap; women, if they put themselves forward at all, tend to point out their shortcomings to their interviewers.

There is also the question of who needs to feel you are ready. Your boss clearly feels you are ripe for promotion, and he knows you and the group of senior colleagues and the job you would be joining. To identify where your concern lies, I suggest you work out what aspect of the role leaves you feeling under-prepared. Is it the role, the responsibilities or the prospect of joining an all-male peer group that is making you nervous?

If it is the job, calmly review what aspects are not simply extensions of what you do now. Then consider what skills and knowledge you can bring to bear on these new tasks or responsibilities. If there are genuine gaps, work out how you could fill them. Is there some training you could do?

Could a colleague with specialist knowledge help you for the first few months? Would your current boss be prepared to act as a mentor?

If you are more concerned about being the first woman at that level, try considering what advantages you bring to the party as a woman. For a start, you will add useful diversity. After all, it is increasingly unlikely that all your organisation's customers are men. Just by virtue of being a woman, and regardless of your professional skills, you will have a different perspective and experience that could prove invaluable.

Depending on your marketplace, your experience as a consumer could be vital. There are well-documented accounts of all-male management teams failing to capture market share for their products and services because they were neither users nor purchasers of the goods they were trying to sell. My friend Annabel Freeman, now a journalist but previously in PR, tells the tale of her client who launched breast pads in a trial pack of three and failed to understand the general mirth this engendered. Even if your firm is not in a particularly female-oriented sector, a different viewpoint will undoubtedly be useful.

You may also have a personality that would be an asset to this male group.

For example, some women are skilled in helping others reach consensus, which could be invaluable if decisions are marred by testosterone-fuelled rivalry.

However, your sense of unreadiness may stem from the common misapprehension that those who are older and more experienced invariably know what they are doing. This is not always the case. Just consider our parents, whose authority we accepted unquestioningly as young children, but whose judgments and opinions we increasingly query as we grow older.

Don't be overawed by being the first to breach this men-only preserve.

True, in some organisations there are no women in senior roles because the internal culture prevents it. But quite often this absence is more accidental, arising because an appropriate female candidate was not available at the right time. Change is all around us; for example, you have only to look at an area such as sports journalism, where a growing number of female reporters are working in what was previously a bastion of masculinity, to see how things have shifted.

If you go for the job, you can, of course, expect to have to earn your stripes, like any new appointee. Before starting, note down what it is reasonable for you to achieve within a given time. That way, you can keep an eye on progress and you'll be less likely to feel vulnerable to criticism.

And make sure you look the part: different, more formal clothing will help signify that you have shifted; speaking clearly and looking people in the eye will bear witness to the new equality you are achieving.

If you don't go for this job, I suspect you'll regret it later. Regret is not a very useful emotion.

Miranda Kennett is an independent coach. If you have an issue you'd like her to cover, e-mail:

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