Supporting women to reach new heights in their profession

Women in business
By Ellen Arnison

16 September 2016

"There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t support other women," claimed former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, in a 2006 speech to the WNBA. The famous phrase has made it into popular culture and across keynote speeches ever since - but what does supporting women really mean, and why is it important?

At the start of a working life, your career stretches before you, hopefully travelling in an upwards progression. However, the reality is that life is not linear and there will be plenty of obstacles thrown your way.  

Perhaps it’s better to think of a career as a climbing frame or jungle gym, giving a range of routes to the place you want to be. Navigating your career to a place on your terms takes time, support, and a dollop of useful advice, and Madeline knows the value of this support in male-dominated professions.  

What she may have wrong, however, is the suggestion that the responsibility for support should solely fall on other women, rather than as a concerted effort regardless of gender. It is everyone's responsibility to examine and challenge attitudes and assess how this contributes to the glass ceilings. 

Myths and methods

Don't believe in Queen Bee Syndrome

Queen bee syndrome is the idea that professional women who have reached the top will keep other women out because they pose a threat (with a special place already reserved for them, according to Madeline!). 

This syndrome is, of course, nonsense and was once again shown to be a myth in a recent study by researchers at Columbia Business School in New York. The new study looked at management teams in 1,500 companies over 20 years and contradicts a 1973 study that suggested women in authority were more critical of female subordinates.

Instead, researchers found that the lack of women in top roles is down to male determination to retain control, and there was an expectation that 'token women' would be acceptable at board level. They discovered that if a woman was appointed as a chief executive, then other women were more likely to achieve senior roles. 

Consider mentoring and make your connections genuine

“The strongest relationships spring out of a real and often earned connection felt by both sides,” said Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook and founder of the Lean In movement.

Mentoring is, quite rightly, an important feature of personal development. It’s a way of seeking advice and guidance and is of benefit both to mentee and mentor. A mentoring relationship need not be time-consuming or structured. A quick chat and a few words of experience might make all the difference – especially when they come with warmth and a genuine desire to offer a leg-up.

Network for success

Whether you believe author Harvey Coleman’s theory that what gets you promoted is only 10% down to performance; networking is vital to a thriving modern career. The writer and management consultant's school of thought considers that being good at your job is not enough to ensure advancement.

Instead, Harvey believes that getting ahead - especially in the corporate world - is 60% exposure and 30% image. Whether your networking is an informal get-together or a structured women’s business group, it’s a way of learning from other women and creating a good impression.

Share the lessons and advice

Let other women know what you’ve learned, especially if you did it the hard way. It can be difficult to admit to being fallible, but the lessons you learn in the process could be invaluable for others. It also normalises the notion of errors as part of the improvement process.

Learn how to be a leader

Give women the best chance to reach their potential and to fulfill their ambition by ensuring appropriate training, support and coaching will be available.

Female leadership in 2017

We’re looking to run a programme throughout the UK for all female CAs on becoming a leader, or developing existing skills – if you’d like to take part please let us know your preferred city by emailing us at pd@icas.com

Topics

  • Career development
  • Leadership and management

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