How to be Female at Work and Still Excel

Comeback Girl Grow Up as a Girl
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Many of us are afraid to be our integrated selves, and be “fully female” at work in the belief it might hold you back. Recently in honour of International Womens Day, some very talented women in my “real job” talked candidly in a webinar. They shared on climbing the (literal) ranks as females in a professional services firm. It’s fantastic to show your friends your first payslip but then how do you grow up in a company in a way that meets your needs out of work as well as in?

Being Female at Work and Thriving

As a management consultant, which all of these ladies are, you need to hold yourself out as an expert in some sort of enterprise transformation, and the goal is a high “utilisation”, or time spent with clients. These two have not always been conducive to having a full and rich personal life. That said, these three have toiled creatively and resourcefully to get ahead and do great work. As I listened to them on IWD, I thought more working women needed to have the tips they shared in their arsenal. Three members of the PA Consulting Women’s Network were interviewed: Tess Bregman, a recently promoted consultant in our Netherlands business. Secondly, Abiola Barnor who is a senior MC in Business Intelligence and Data Analytics. Finally Hsui Mei Wong who is a Partner for Healthcare in the States.

Below I’ve summarised their best tips:

Go in your career at a pace that suits you

You need to work out a way to progress that suits your individual situation. One strategy is to play the long game. Abiola Barnor knew early she wanted promotion AND children. She adopted an “Abiola-shaped” strategy, appointing a mentor with a similar path to her dream and accepted others might get promoted more regularly. Moreover, Abiola was vocal at work about child-rearing challenges. This built intimacy and trust with her team. Often women assume they should leave jobs because they can’t see how it will work. Abiola, however, shared her worries and the work became sustainable as a result.  She thought, “I am going to be honest about this challenge and see if there is a workaround”.

Have conversations about the reality of your work/life balance that are constructively framed

With diversity of thought in a healthy working culture comes individual journeys of experience. It is your responsibility to educate others on what you have on your individual plate.  Once you are honest about what might get in the way of a deadline (eldercare, urgent vet visits, life emergencies) it’s important to instill confidence that you can align everyone’s interests. Abiola: “I would always frame those conversations around…I will pick up (the work) at such-and-such a time. “Educating (managers)…and saying “I want to make it work…we are still working on what it looks like for all of us “but “I am not expecting PA to have all the answers” is a winning mindset.

You can and should be the one to move the dial

Hsui Mei “Just because it hadn’t been done doesn’t mean it can’t be done”. Hilariously (now!) she commuted on the NY Subway at peak hour when pregnant with a heightened sense of smell, her height positioning her nose at armpit level.  Unless she had shared the problem, no one would have thought to do something for her. Like Abiola but she didn’t assume, spoke up and arranged for the tweaking of her commute times. Again these “small inflections” make a cumulative impact for those coming behind.

That old chestnut – speak up

Tess Bregman’s managing partner challenged her when she was hesitant to ask questions in a meeting: “You’re a smart girl. I’m sure if you don’t know the answer…someone else in the room won’t know either”. This permission emboldened her to always ask questions, thereby becoming a far more effective operator. Tess also encourages you to talk about your good work. (Editorial opinion: most women are rubbish at this). Tess “stories are inspirational and help us reflect and decide which way we want to go”.  In other words, they give others permission to do good work, go for promotion and ensure that they are seen. 

“Shout about other peoples’ performance if they are not shouting about it themselves”. “But there’s something…around telling your own stories as well”

It would not be in service of my readership to cut this down for a quicker read so I’ll share part two in the next blog post. 

Next post read about:

The power of having a “venting partner”,

Spotting talent in others and calling it out,

The fact that you always have more time than you think so play the long game and finally, model inclusiveness in the mentoring group that you select.

More of this savviness, sense, shrewdness and sanity in the next post. Rising at work whilst achieving balance and your unique self is challenging but affirming. These interviewees have not got it perfect. As I read on Twitter last week: perfection attainment suggestion suggests and endpoint. With our careers today, there is no such thing.

Image by JacLou DL on Pixabay

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