'Company practices need to be more inclusive. Sexual harassment needs to be stamped out. Slow progress on career progression for women must be addressed. And the gender pay gap needs to be closed by moving to a world where there are just jobs – not men’s jobs and women’s jobs,' said Carolyn Fairbairn, director general of the CBI, last month.
Women make up such a tiny portion of chief executives at top firms that they are even outnumbered by men called 'Dave'. Here's how more women can reach the top:
‘If you don’t ask…’ We all know how the adage goes, and it’s spot on. Question what is holding you back. It is within human nature to help others. I have found that when you ask for guidance, mentorship, or feedback – and you are considered, respectful and specific in the ask – you will consistently be surprised! Men are more likely to apply for jobs knowing they have 70% or less of the requirements. Women often won’t apply unless they can satisfy 100%. Don’t let perfectionism or the ‘Imposter Syndrome’ take hold. Your skills, experience and drive make you uniquely valuable.
Seek and share feedback
Athletes see feedback as the ‘oxygen of champions’. It enables us to be better tomorrow than we are today. Imagine the feedback you receive is a gift. You may not always want it – but like all gifts, feedback is usually given with good intent. Absorb it, reflect on it, and consider what you can learn. When you're sharing feedback, be clear, specific and kind. Even having a feedback conversation with a senior leader (sharing what you value in them, and conversely what you might be experiencing as a challenge) will increase your value to them.
Create meaningful connections (not necessarily stacks of business cards!)
Networking is about creating meaningful conversations and connections. Not about racking up Linkedin connections over canapés. It is about building professional friendships - openly sharing stories, learning from every new person you meet, and connecting on a personal level in an increasingly digitised and remote social world. Go into networking situations with a curious mind. Moving Ahead diversity ambassador and Head of Creative Capability at Google Kirk Vallis talks about "raging curiosity" – I love this. Get curious. This breaks down barriers, builds inclusion, connection and learning.
We all have biases and tendencies to socialise and connect more with people just like us. In doing this we are missing out on so much – fresh perspectives, ideas, challenge and creativity. David Rock, the neuroscientist says that 'if you aren’t actively including, you are most probably excluding'. How well are you building conversations with colleagues that are different to you? Get to know your colleagues and networks beyond the task, the job title and exterior.
So many amazing women that I meet and work with opt out of public speaking opportunities. While this might not be within our comfort zone – it is critical to develop your voice, say 'yes', embrace it and the journey of continual development. Volunteer for public speaking events, appear on panels, host debates. Public speaking is the number one fear for many people in the UK and it was certainly mine for a long time but, with the help of a great mentor, and plenty of practice, I can honestly say that I enjoy embracing the challenge!
Become a mentor, and a mentee!
My mentors have ranged from executive coach Kate Tojeiro to Sarah Winckless, former Olympic rower and neuroscientist. They've made me the leader I am. A mentor helps you approach a problem from a different angle. They will listen and help you reach your own answers. A mentor offers you time to think, a profound growth in confidence and the courage to be your best. When you can, volunteer to mentor others.
Come to our Inspiring Women in Business conference. Edinburgh. 15th May: Get tips and advice from Britain's most powerful businesswomen. Hear from Skyscanner, Clydesdale Bank, CBI Scotland, Atkins and more. Guest speaker: Dame Cilla Snowball.
Come to our Young Women in Business conference. London. 27th June: Super-charge your career with practical masterclasses on everything from presentation skills to tackling budgets. Guest speaker: Dame Helena Morrissey.
Adopt a growth mindset
A growth mindset is the belief that with hard work and focused attention we can develop new skills. Our talents are not fixed. It means you don’t fear failure or setbacks; instead you embrace it as part of your learning. And it means you are inspired by other people’s successes, not intimidated by them. Check out this TED Talk from Carol Dweck. There's great power in believing you can improve.
Take time out doing things you love
Scheduling even a small amount of time out into your day is key not just for great decision-making and creativity – but also for your own balance. People often have their best, most creative and lucrative ideas when they are physically doing something other than sitting at their desks. I set up Women Ahead and Moving Ahead after cycling the entire route of the Tour de France, riding 3,479kms in 21 days...
Set audacious goals
In the words of the inimitable Dame Helena Morrissey, 'Think big, start small, but start now'. Break your big vision down to your next action, your next mini-goal – and adapt along the way.
We can so often be impatient for that next role, or transition. We have long careers ahead of us. Don’t see your path as linear – you might have times where you are in sprint career mode, family mode, skills acquisition mode. These are all positive paths amidst the wonderful labyrinth.
Liz Dimmock is CEO founder of Women Ahead and Moving Ahead – diversity and development organisation that helps people in business and sport to learn and grow as leaders, using mentoring, masterclasses, research and inspirational speakers.