The professional women I work with are always looking for that extra edge to take their careers to the next level and frequently turn to professional development courses and advanced degrees to give them an advantage. Certainly, additional years of education are shown to have a more positive effect on women’s earnings than on men’s (1). As an accredited executive coach with a Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge, I clearly believe in the added knowledge, confidence and credibility that additional qualifications can impart to an ambitious woman. However, they are only parts of a much larger and more complex set of issues that hinder women’s career progression, which include the underutilization of well-trained women, the long-hours culture endemic in many industries, and pernicious self-doubt in women. While these factors may seem beyond our control as working women, there are strategies, as successfully utilized by the senior women I interviewed for my book Beyond the Boys’ Club: Strategies for Achieving Career Success as a Woman Working in a Male Dominated Field to help address these real challenges that demonstrate there are indeed ways a business woman can play in the boys’ club...and win.
Over-Qualified But Under-Utilized
I have long suspected that the continual pursuit of more qualifications is a red herring for women in the struggle for workplace equality. It can be a distraction from looking at the actual qualifications of their male colleagues and what those male peers are actually doing to get ahead. More women are leaving the university with a wider range of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees than ever before, and are making real inroads into fields that were previously male dominated, such as law, medicine and business administration. For example, London where I am based, is a metropolitan city like many others that attracts the best and brightest professional men and women from around the world. However, research from Women in London’s Economy (2) suggests, “By the time they enter the workforce, a larger proportion of women in London have higher level qualifications than their male colleagues...but are less likely than men to attain supervisory or managerial posts.” Clearly, the fact that women are not “trickling up” to senior positions cannot legitimately be blamed on a lack of the right qualifications for much longer.
Top Tip: If you feel that confidence and a promotion always seem to be one more degree, qualification or training course away, the chances are you need to draw attention to what you are already achieving rather than concentrating on what you perceive yourself as lacking. Look realistically at the qualifications of the men around you. Another set of initials behind your name will not automatically lead to promotion.
Presentee-ism and the Long-Hours Culture
Presenteeism is experienced as a pressure—imposed by others or even by oneself—to be seen as putting in long hours. It’s based on the usually unspoken understanding that this is one of the traits upon which your commitment to your career will be judged in the future. Presenteeism is a game most women cannot and, in fact, do not want to play. Certainly technology can be a woman’s friend in the battle against presenteeism, as a business woman can indeed be contactable away from the office. While most of my clients at times lament the ubiquity of the “crackberry,” for example, they would not be without them for the flexibility they offer. Hours alone are never a game business women can “win.” Use the time you do have wisely.
Top Tip: Make sure your key performance indicators are tied to realistic deliverables—it is easy for a manager to look to hours alone to judge who will get promoted if goals are fuzzy and not tied down to tangible measures. Schedule your lunches and coffee breaks with the rigor you would give your child’s dental appointments, to make the most of building strategic relationships with clients, colleagues and potential mentors. An hour spent building a relationship will get you further in the long run than an hour spent at your desk.
The Specter of Self Doubt
Rebecca George, a partner at Deloitte and one senior woman I interviewed for Beyond the Boys’ Club, recounted some of the main differences she saw between male and female candidates at interviews. “Often, I have found that I have two candidates with exactly the same qualifications, and the woman will never say she can do all of the job, whereas the man will not only say he can do it all, but that he’s the best possible choice,” she laughed. Rebecca found it interesting to see how the dynamic of confidence affects men and women before they even start their jobs. What she notices in job interviews was borne out in research from University College London in 2008 (3), where researchers found men, especially those of lower actual IQ scores, routinely overstated their intelligence—while women underplayed their own. They reported: “Men are not cleverer but they appear to be more confident, which can have beneficial effects in the interview room.” Unfortunately, the same research also found that very bright women often believed their IQ to be much lower than their actual score.
Top Tip: As a smart woman you must tell others what you are achieving. Copy your boss in to any congratulatory e-mails you receive from clients or send to your team. Volunteer to deputize for your boss and speak at industry events as frequently as you can. As you begin, pursue and finish projects, send short reports highlighting the collaborations and successes to the internal company newsletter. Most editors are happy to receive content. Hard work will not be rewarded unless paired with visibility.
As I say to my clients, no one will ever care about your career as much as you do. Now is the time to stand out as the talented and ambitious business woman you are, and begin to understand what you can proactively do to move beyond the boys’ club.
1Eagly, A. & Carli, L. (2007) “Women and the Labyrinth of Leadership”, Harvard Business Review, September
2Women in London’s Economy Report 2008, Mayor of London’s Office
3 Furnham, A. & Buchanan, T. (2005) “Personality, Gender and Self-Perceived Intelligence”, Personality and Individual Differences, Vol. 39, pp. 543-555
About the Author
Suzanne Doyle-Morris, Ph.D.. is an executive coach specializing in developing female leaders. She is an international speaker and is author of Beyond The Boys' Club. New for 2010 is her Virtual Beyond The Boys Club' Boot Camp fast-track career development program. For book sales and program enquiries and reservations, visit http://www.beyondtheboysclub.com/boot-camps.html
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