Strategies for female leaders who want to land executive roles
Women are notorious when it comes to being self-critical about their successes and failures. So, if despite your stellar achievements to date, you have been passed over again for another great executive role, or if the ten biggest executive search firms are not constantly banging on your door – don’t dwell over it for too long.
If you’re asking questions like “Why was I not contacted for that role when my track record made me perfect for it?”, “How did my male colleague ever land that job?”, or “Why do I seem to be stuck in the middle while the men around me bag big raises or progress to senior leadership?”, maybe the time has come to change your approach.
In today’s workplace, women need to take things into their own hands. Even with all the hype about getting more women into leadership positions, the number of us who do make it to the top is still small. Waiting for diversity programs to gain traction or for Australian business culture to change dramatically is not a strategy for success. If you want to land the executive role you deserve, you need to challenge the status quo.
Here are ten strategies for female executives to put themselves in a pole position when the next opportunity for that leadership position arises:
1. Focus on your Business Skills
In pursuit for that great executive role, women are usually prepared to invest considerable time and money in their personal development. They readily listen to career advice and they rarely say No to another course that builds leadership skills, confidence and communication skills to survive in a male dominated corporate world. Throughout my career I have come across many women who are a lot more confident and present themselves much better in high level job interviews than many male candidates. They rarely lack confidence or fall short when it comes to the leadership skills, and they are often much better prepared to become a viable contender for a position. But what about the key business skills and expertise that are vital to be considered for a high level position? Commercial skills, in-depth business understanding, industry knowledge, business and financial acumen and having achieved tangible business results are most often the decisive factors that tip the scales in favour of a candidate. Unfortunately these are areas where a woman’s track record often does not stack up. So, make sure that your development focuses on those strategic business areas.
2. Ramp up Your Networking Strategy
By nature women should excel at networking, but they often don’t. Many of them lack informal networks and while they are great when it comes to engaging themselves in more formal networks, they are often absent when the informal networking is happening – mainly because of a lack of time and having to juggle too many things on the home and business front. Keeping in touch with people, meeting up for coffee and a quick catch-up, going out for drinks with the team, making that call just to “say hi” to keep in touch can make all the difference. How about making your informal networking more formal by putting a reminder into your diary – aim for at least ONE appointment every fortnight. If you consider joining networking groups, don’t just limit yourself to joining women networks only. Focus on networks with powerful leaders who can help women advance.
3. Streamline Your Career Goals
In my experience, female executives often fail to make the shortlists for the C-Level roles because their career trajectory and track record might not be that seamless, upward-oriented and as straightforward compared to their male counterparts. Take some time and look at your career to date. Re-evaluate your own work-life priorities. Acknowledge your talents and what you are good at. Understand what you stand for. Where do you want to be in five years’ time? What is your functional and industry expertise you want to be known for? Formulate your career goals and underpin them with a strategy and specific actions. Discuss the plan with your spouse as it might mean that your better half needs to be flexible as well. This can help widen your horizons. After all, the greatest job just might be on the other side of the world and not on your doorstep.
4. Communicate Your Value
Unfortunately women often get judged harshly for self-promotion but you shouldn’t wait for others to discover you or until your boss will do the right thing for you. Communicate openly that you are there to move up the ladder and prepared to walk the talk. If you work in an international organisation, being mobile and communicating your interest in an overseas posting will help.
5. Showcase Your Business Strength
As an executive search professional I feel that women often undersell themselves and they really make it hard “to be found”. A good social media presence is a good start to become more visible. Also think about showcasing your strengths and expertise in different ways. Use your business knowledge and start becoming active in industry networks. Build and share your expertise by publishing articles and saying yes to speaking engagements. Engage with industry leaders and become an actively contributing member of professional and industry associations. This will give you the opportunity to showcase your strengths and you will become engaged and noticed at a different level.
6. Find Mentors and Sponsors
Having not one but several mentors is important. Make sure that you choose one who has the expertise and is willing to teach you the ropes of the business and the function you want to excel in. Ideally, this is someone within your organisation or someone who understands the industry and the functional expertise in the area where you will build your career. In addition to a mentor, you will also need to look for a sponsor. This is someone who is prepared to actively promote you, to work with you to engineer your career path forward and most importantly, who is ready to open doors for you and introduce you to the right people. Again, look for a well-known and well-connected industry expert to help you. Remember, the best jobs come through referrals and from pro-actively selling yourself.
7. Mentor others
It’s never too early to become a mentor yourself. If you are one of those women leaders who has made it to the top, then you are in an ideal position to build a legacy and really make a difference and support your fellow ‘FeMates’.
Once you have developed a great talent, be ready to provide references and act as a referee. Become a mentor for young talents and graduates in your organisation and you will see that they will go places and move up the ranks and they will be able to open doors for you as well.
8. Develop and build relationships with Executive Recruiters and Executive Search Professionals
Don’t wait with this one until you are looking for a new position. Relationships get built over a period of time. Once you have made contact and started to build a relationship, don’t expect job offers to just pour in. These professionals work for the client and get paid by the client, so they are probably focused on developing and fostering client relationships more than candidate relationships. However, candidates become customers, so position yourself with the search professionals specialising in your industry or function. Don’t just send in your resume, but meet with them, build a relationship and most importantly, make sure you keep in touch and they will call you once the right position comes along. It also helps to build relationships with CEOs and key people in the company you always wanted to work for and in your industry in general. And remember, people do business with people. If you open doors for them, they will open doors for you.
9. Take a Leap of Faith Don’t overcomplicate things.
Women are well known for only applying for jobs if they tick all the boxes. If you know that the position you really want is out there, just throw your hat in the ring. You never know, you might find yourself in a situation that you really make it through the process and you get a job offer. How great would that be!
10. Say Yes More Often
And once you have been tapped on the shoulder, don’t overthink it. Just go for it, even if the job is in a different city and doesn’t sound like your dream job when you initially receive that call. Listen first to what’s on offer and then make the decision if you want to engage in the process or make the move. Keeping your eyes and ears open and being open to job offers might just lead to another opportunity.