The Importance of a Career Strategy for Executive Women

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“She believed she could, so she set a goal, then made a plan and worked the plan til she did.”
— A J Blesing

Do you remember Susan Colantuono's TED talk The Missing 33%?  In summary she says that "The Missing 33% of the career success equation for women is not because women don't or can't have business, strategic and financial acumen, but because very few women are clearly told how essential these skills are for reaching the top."

Great advice. Finally. A solution that works. 

And doesn't it feel good to be able to pinpoint the problem of lack of women in leadership to one particular issue?


IS IT REALLY THAT SIMPLE?


Of course not. It’s an idea, not a silver bullet.

I don't need to tell you that the issue is much more challenging than merely understanding balance sheets - after all there are many superbly financially savvy female executives out there who still struggle.

Case in point my recent gobsmacking conversation with a well known male Financial Columnist who told me that women weren't good with money and didn't care about money and that he only knew two financially savvy female leaders (paraphrased - and perhaps he had watched Susan's TED talk but got the wrong end of the stick).  

Other issues in this complex area include:

  • exclusion tactics by those already in positions of leadership leaving some women believing it’s not only not possible, but not something they really want anyway

  • fewer opportunities at the top for both men and women (ergo higher competition)

  • lack of female role models in CEO roles (just 7% female CEO's in S&P/ASX200 in 2018) and 

  • the subsequent high levels of scrutiny and potential for backlash for executive women, sometimes culminating in a fall over the Glass Cliff which deters many others from following in her footsteps. Another case in point - the recent débâcle at the ABC. 


ANOTHER Idea - another MISSING 33% 

I've discovered a startling fact.

Most women don't have a clear career strategy. In fact, they've probably never even heard of the need for one.

According to recent research from the Women CEOs Speak Study (Korn Ferry and The Rockefeller Foundation, published August, 2018), "65% of the female CEOs surveyed said they only realised they could become a CEO after someone told them so. With few .... female CEOs to model after, only 12% of women CEOs said they had aspired to a CEO role for “a long time.”

In a nutshell, many executive women, including those already leading, don't aspire to become the boss - they don't aim for the top job, they don't believe it's a real option for them and they don't plan for the possibility of getting there. 

Someone else told them it was possible.

And I'm not surprised.

After talking with literally hundreds of women about their career plans here's what I notice in the narrative that surrounds women and their career - 

  • "I was lucky"

  • "Someone tapped me on the shoulder"

  • "I didn't know it was possible until my boss suggested I apply, and even then I didn't feel ready"

  • "I was in the right place at the right time" 

  • "My career just unfolded"

I recently facilitated a discussion with a room full of female CEOs and Managing Directors in Sydney where all but one said they had no plan to lead or clearly defined career strategy, and that the opportunities just presented themselves or unfolded. Three of them said they were simply lucky.

Passive language. No agency.  

Don't forget that luck is really what happens when planning meets opportunity - and not passive at all.


LET'S NOT BLAME THE WOMEN AGAIN
Let's not just blame women for yet another issue that they get wrong. Executive women have enough to feel guilty about without adding lack of career strategy to the burden.

  • We teach women about work - and how to do that well, rigorously, thoroughly and appropriately

  • We teach women about the importance having an identity outside of work

  • We're forever reinforcing the need for women to have work life balance and the ubiquitous Women in Leadership Conference panel on said topic is testament to that.

  • But what we don't teach young women and girls is about the importance of having a career strategy.  

    Is it that we educate boys differently? Yes, but not that much. However, the informal education of young men and boys, along with the role modelling from so many more male leaders definitely  includes the possibility that the top job might be for them should they want it and plan for it.

The socialisation of women and girls leaves a lot to be desired.   After all, many still believe it’s better to have effortlessly been discovered than to be perceived as having strived, pushed and manoeuvred to get to the top.

Organisations need help defining and following the necessary steps to maintain a proven pipeline of female leadership candidates .....….and women need help identifying the right career approaches to prepare for CEO roles.
— Jane Stephenson, Korn Ferry


However educators, coaches, mentors, sponsors, L&D professionals, talent acquisition and retention specialists all need to keep this in mind and ensure career strategy is part of talent development from the get go.  

Ensure that the talent you recruit or champion knows where they are aiming for and of the importance of having a clear plan for how they might get there.  



After all, if they don't know where they are going, how will they know when they get there?


FOR THE INDIVIDUAL? 

Senior level executive women need to ask for support in planning a possible tilt for the top from the moment they're appointed.  It's not over bold, it's simply a strategic play.  Wouldn't you prefer to find out sooner rather than later what the future might hold?

One super talented younger ambitious woman I mentor negotiated her tilt for her new bosses role, prior to her commencement date, with great success. It further enabled her boss to plan his exit strategy and groom her for taking over from the start.

If your career isn't working out for you right now, do something about it. Life's too short to stick in a role going nowhere, with a boss who keeps you playing small, in an organisation that you've out grown.   

You run the risk of becoming a smaller version of yourself and that helps no-one.

So take the time to get back in touch with what's important, where you were heading before you became a square peg in a round hole, and put a plan in action. 

Never forget, don't let perfect be the enemy of the good.

After all, a mediocre plan that you executive is far better than a perfect plan in limbo. And any strategy, even the wrong one, is frequently better than no strategy.


SURVEY TIME
I'd love to know your thoughts - why not have your say?

  • It will only take two minutes and may be just the thing that helps us understand this issue further.

  • Do you attribute your success in your career to luck or planning? 

  • How has your approach worked for you?   

  • Click on the link for this survey to have your say. 

Want help with your career strategy and executive brand?
Why not book in a 30 min one on one  phone call to learn more. 1st in best dressed rules apply.

Feel like your leadership journey has stalled? Email ablesing@amandablesing.com to set up a 30 min one on one to learn more. Helping clients shift from feeling invisible to becoming invincible in just 12 months