Women in Management

by Rita Bailey

Middle manager - groundwork

Referring frequently to your plan and armed with the knowledge gained from your self audit, you now need to put in the groundwork required if you are to take that next step up. This is the time to fill in the gaps – in your current skills and experience, in your growing network and in your knowledge of the exact requirements of the next job in your sights.

Building connections

Creating good strong working relationships within your organisation and industry was important in helping you to get your current job. Now you are seeking to move on, this existing network will again be valuable, providing crucial information and connecting you with new people who can specifically help you with your research.

Do you know who the key stakeholders in your organisation and industry are? These are the key people or even groups that influence opinion. Building relationships with these people means you will get to broaden your thinking and ideas, and not just focus on your own area of work.

Find opportunities to engage with these people. Offer value to them, so they will seek you out for advice and ask for your expert viewpoint. Such people can become formal and informal mentors and sponsors. They are also role models and you can ask them how they got where they are now.

Explore the opportunity of connecting with several of these key people, one or more of whom may become a sponsor, helping you to move to the next level. Sponsors like people they can put their name to – people who look as though they are on the verge of success or are already successful. A sponsor acts as an advocate for you and supports you as you make the leap. They will be someone who understands the politics of the organisation and who can give you the inside story that is not to be found in the job or person specification. Connect by

  • Offering to give presentations to these groups on key information regarding challenges or critical areas in the business
  • Joining ready-made forums and working groups within your organisation

    Remember, you will be seeking to do things differently to secure your next top job.

    Secondments and work shadowing opportunities
  • Contacting professional institutes, finding out if they are a member
  • Attending seminars or conferences they speak to; either share a platform with them or at least ensure you introduce yourself to them and ask useful questions about their work as well as seek their advice.

Additional education and studying

Life-long learning, both on and off the job, is the current trend. So if there are leadership and management development programmes freely available to you, then the advice is to jump on, as it means you will be targeted for great things in the organisation, and overall you will be broadening your knowledge, skills and experience (see Leadership). Sometimes, particular knowledge or qualifications are required for certain jobs, so make sure you are aware of what these are.

Some organisations sponsor their managers to do postgraduate courses and further degrees or specialist qualifications. As well as expecting a return on their investment in form of the individual eventually taking on additional roles or project work, those in within the organisation who have sponsored you are very likely to anticipate that the qualification will also lead to promotion.

Going for a promotion

Being unsuccessful in your application for the next level isn’t such a bad thing. It could still raise your profile for the next leadership role. What’s more, you will learn what helps and hinders (always ask for feedback), now you are on the radars of decision–makers or even head hunters. So don’t hesitate to apply for that role if your skills are a good match.

Raising your profile

Waiting to be noticed by decision-makers won’t happen unless you get yourself on their radar.

A key way to raise your profile is through meetings. We all have mixed feelings about the effectiveness of meetings. Most of us have attended meetings that have wasted time because they were not well run. However, meetings are an opportunity to express your ideas and opinions, and to build support for those ideas from your immediate peers, boss and staff.

Take the opportunity, where possible, to chair meetings and develop relationships with teams you do not directly work with. If an interesting project arises, offer to contribute your expertise.

Meetings are also an opportunity to present your own papers to senior management, provide updates on projects you lead and, ultimately, build your own credibility. Collaborating with other departments and getting your team to produce results can lead to higher recognition of your team and advertise how you draw them together to achieve results. You and your team will get the opportunity to shine, as other parts of the organisation will be keen for exchanges to take place, with you.

Offer to speak at team events, awards, conferences and sales meetings, and facilitate workshops. Writing articles or letters for the company newsletter on key issues and celebrating achievements will support your profile-building activities. The key thing is just to start; even if your article is only for the company newsletter, it still forms a part of your PR plan.

Mentoring/role models

If your organisation is not sufficiently forward thinking to offer you a mentor, then you need to be proactive and either find one inside the organisation or external to it (in the latter case, you may need to network to find a mentor who will be a valuable resource to you). A mentor can form part of the support system that will help you identify what’s required at the next level. This goes beyond job descriptions: with good mentoring support, you will work out who are the key players, the nature and details of the organisational politics involved in the post and how best to manage the new working relationships. It’s this sort of information and advice that makes mentoring an invaluable tool.

You are not limited to one mentor. Indeed, you may find it useful to seek out mentors, informal or formal, with whom you can raise questions and from whom you can seek advice on an on-going basis.

Mentors move on and get promoted too, so a mentor who can share their strategies and lessons with you about the road they travelled will help you progress quickly. At the least, they will help you minimise the mistakes that come from taking new risks.

Mentoring can help you to:

  • Build excellent working relationships
  • Influence upwards, working at the next level
  • Broaden your thinking and act more strategically
  • Engage with senior people successfully.

Inspiration can come from anywhere, so don’t limit yourself.

It’s up to you whether you choose male or female mentors. Depending on your own needs, either can give you great insight and guidance.

Find a mentor you admire, respect and trust. If your organisation or industry lacks senior women to mentor, look for role models who inspire you.

Boosting your confidence

If you seriously want to boost your confidence and keep moving forward, a coach can play a vital and different role to that of your mentors, so you can actually have both (see Coaching and Coaching Yourself). Mentoring time is a gift, whereas your time with your coach offers the chance focus on several specific areas that you may decide to explore. Coaching can support your plan to raise your profile and assist you overcome any thinking or behaviour that stops you from following through. If personal issues are impeding you from getting to next level, coaching can act as a confidential sounding board to enable you to develop the level of clarity you will need to secure what you want. Coaching is frequently used develop and sustain confidence (see Confidence) when people step up into new senior roles.

Understanding politics

There are plenty of resources dedicated to understanding politics (see Political Intelligence). If you want to get ahead, politics cannot be avoided. Support with getting to grips with politics at the next level will be essential. Mentors can help you to decipher unwritten rules, behaviour and relationships.

Consider what you did to understand the culture and dynamics of power and influence at your current level. If you can’t get to grips with politics, this will make it challenging to operate and work successfully, no matter at what level you are in the organisation.

Essential skills

As you begin to network and build relationships with mentors, you will start to get a good idea of the skills that people are utilising in your next role. This will be important as you start to prepare and ensure you are a right match.

Make a list of key skills being used in the role you are after. Consider contacting people who are already in the role and asking for their advice. Keep in mind key skills that you will found useful, such as

  • Public speaking and presenting
  • Understand profit-and-loss accounts
  • Managing change
  • Leading teams
  • Influencing upwards, across and externally.

For more information on presenting, managing change, leading teams and influencing, see Want to know more.

Additional tips

If you doubt your abilities at any step, challenge these doubts, working with a trusted partner:

  • Be resilient.

Setbacks can happen as you move forward, so learn to bounce back, tapping into your support systems:

  • Learn from others.

No women is an island, so breaking through the glass ceiling is about taking up senior executive or board positions to which women like you have already shown a talent to contribute. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. Use these tips to secure that top senior job you have worked for.