An entrepreneurial approach to women’s careers

I was invited early October to speak about how to unlock women’s careers at a round table debate at the Elle Active Forum. I shared this discussion with Sylvie Brunet (Kedge Business School), Yves Chachuat (HRD Carrefour Market) and Diane Deperrois (MD AXA France SE). We had interesting discussions and debates and here were my key points:

Take an entrepreneurial approach to your career

I have met many women in my training, coaching and consulting sessions, who were waiting for a promotion. And here I do not use the word “waiting” lightly, as indeed, they were expecting to be recognised, hoping or thinking that a good to great performance was enough to move up the ladder. Researches have clearly shown that only 10% of career success is attributed to performance, the rest being personal brand (30%) and visibility (60%) in networks. This might appear to be unfair, but it is the reality.

Stop waiting like a good girl for your manager’s permission to succeed!

So the first step to unlock a career, is to take an entrepreneurial approach: a successful entrepreneur does not sit in his garage with his great invention, he goes out and talks about it to make it visible to its potential market.

Use personal branding tools

Many of the marketing tools used with entrepreneurs are adaptable for personal brands, and at least you can use the same questioning and reasoning to build your personal brand. What is your added value for the firm? Who  is your market? Meaning: who in the company benefits from your work? And what value do you create for them? NOT what deliverables are you providing, but how do you contribute to making this internal customer’s life less stressful,  job’s more efficient and goals easier to reach?

It is rare for people to ask themselves these questions, as we are pushed to think mainly in terms of objectives to reach and not often in terms of value created for the team, the internal customer, the company as a whole, its customers and society.

Your value is only truly seen in the light of your company’s strategy.

Understanding your personal added-value will allow you more flexibility on how you envision your career, and also will show that you can think more strategically about your job. This is why it is important to understand the bigger picture and get information about the company’s current strategy, issues and risks. Putting your value creation in that context will give you a better argumentation to ask for that next job.

Increase your visibility

And my last point to unlock your career development is to make your performance, your value and your potential known and visible. To do that, well you have to invest some time to network. Participate, contribute and have a voice whether in your internal networks, within and outside your Business Unit, within professional circles in your company, outside of your company and in social networks. Choose the networks carefully as not to dilute your precious time in useless activities and be active.

Networking doesn’t need to be this opportunistic, fake smiled, self-centred activity. To get the most out of a network you need to be an open-minded helpful contributor, so do not hesitate to share your knowledge, help out others and introduce people into your own network. And most of all be yourself, be authentic.

So if you follow advice n°2 about understanding your value, it will be easier, more genuine and more efficient when you talk about yourself, what you do and what you can bring to the network or the company. Being present in a network, and being active  will increase your visibility and will increase the chance of people remembering you when an opportunity comes along.

And to boost your career even further, go look for a mentor and build relationships with top management (they feel lonely at the top).

There is no key to no secret club, a network is what you create by paying forward.

To end this article I wanted to share some feedback I received from one of my former training participant:

I wanted to say that I applied all your advice to evolve professionally and it worked! I contacted one person whom I knew very little, but with whom I had a few exchanges, in the finance department, to know if there were jobs available and to know the activity better. She passed on my CV and after some negotiations, here I am in my new job, as I had wished! So you only need to dare! Thanks again

This testimony shows that when activating a network, even the seemingly weaker ties, can be very efficient.

Author: Stéphanie

Stéphanie has developed an extensive practice of executive coaching in London for more than 10 years. She now coaches CEOs and top executives to help them with team creation and development as well as business agility. She is one the few European expert both implementing and doing research on mentoring programmes.