Heidi Winney Heidi provides career and executive coaching for managers and professionals of varied backgrounds and industry sectors, including members of the Australian Institute of Management and the Macquarie Graduate School of Management's Alumni. Following senior corporate Human Resources roles, she established 'Strategic Career Development' in 1995 focusing on her real interests and passion - assisting individuals to create strategies to achieve their goals. To find out more view Heidi's full bio or email Heidi at winday@bigpond.net.au

Career Management issues for Female Executives

Written by Heidi Winney, Strategic Career Development

When coaching a female executive recently, the issue of “who do I need to be in order to succeed to a more senior role in the corporate environment…” played a prominent role in Jenny’s (not her real name) coaching assignment.

This brought to mind the book by Lois P Frankel “Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office” and I decided to share some knowledge with those whose issues may be similar.

How do you survive and more importantly thrive in those corporate environments where there is a strong male presence at the senior executive levels? (I’m generalising here in that there are definitely some corporates where this does not apply.) How do you break into these ranks?

Some mistakes women make

  • Working too hard (Mistake 3 in Frankel’s book). I’ve often heard women (and some men) say that they work harder than anyone else but are still missing out on promotions. Why? Perhaps they’ve not built the relationships that are so necessary for decision makers to know the character of the person and thereby feel confident not only about their ability to do the job but also their ability to fit into the team!

How might you change that? Lois Frankel reminds us that on Monday mornings during football season, the first half hour of the day might be spent rehashing Sunday’s games with the boss! (I certainly
have come across this many times when working in the corporate environment, and have usually switched off!) And what about Friday afternoon drinks – where the talk usually gets around to
football! Ask yourself, what does this do? It builds relationships! How might you or have you gone about building these all important relationships?

  • Do you give away your ideas (Mistake 52)? If only I had a dollar for every time I hear my female executive coachees say that they submitted an idea to their boss that resulted in his promotion or at least public acknowledgment without him ever revealing his source - YOU!

What might you do when this happens?

In meetings, you need to learn to speak up confidently and maybe say something like “it sounds like you’ve adopted my original idea and I really support that…”! But what if you’ve been asked to
write or comment on a proposal and it goes out under your manager’s signature without acknowledging the source – as so often happens? What if it’s accepted by the CEO and no-one knows that it was
YOU who suggested it? You will need to find an opportunity to let the CEO know – perhaps in a meeting, maybe going down in the lift with the CEO! Be intuitive and inventive and find an opportunity!

Learn to speak up at meetings – not quietly, but confidently! Often women speak hesitantly and quietly and it takes practice to develop a more confident speaking voice. Maybe join Toastmasters
or another such group that helps you with presentation skills and voice modulation and projection.

  • Do you have difficulty saying “NO” (Mistake 39)? Another of my female executives allows others (usually males) to encroach on her time. This means she works excessively long hours – well after those who ask her “can you help me with this because you’re so good at it…” have gone home! She has a high need to be “liked” and so spends far too much time helping others without looking after herself!

Many women (and some men) don’t like conflict. And if there’s a pattern I’ve noticed with clients it’s that those who haven’t learnt to “confront” (not being “confrontational”) are definitely not
promoted as often as those who can confidently handle conflicting situations. So what should you do when asked “can you help me…”? - learn to say something like: “I’m on a really tight
deadline right now but if it can wait a couple of days, I might be able to show you how you can do this task…” - make sure you repeat the message if they don’t accept your answer and persist with
“oh, it’ll only take you 10 minutes…” - when you see a repeat offender come near your desk, pick up the phone! - take a time management course (or buy a book on time management) that allows you
to learn additional skills in dealing with those time wasters including emails and the telephone.

These are just some of the reasons why women don’t get promoted to more senior ranks – there are many others, of course, though lack of skills, knowledge, experience and education are not usually what holds women back!

In my next post, I’ll discuss a few more reasons and some remedies. Meanwhile, I would love to hear some comments about issues that female executives may have and how they have resolved these and have risen to more senior levels!

Reference: Lois P Frankel, author of “Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office” ISBN 978-0-446-69577-0 Business Plus, December 2004.

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