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Ines Wichert is a senior psychologist at the High Performance Institute at Kenexa, an IBM company in the UK, where she specialises in talent management and female leadership development. She also serves on the board of the London chapter of the European Professional Women’s Network, a network of more than 3,000 women across 20 cities in Europe.
Before joining Kenexa, Prof Wichert wrote a book called Where Have All the Senior Women Gone? 9 Critical Job Assignments for Women Leaders, which focuses on women at middle-level management who are uncertain about their next career move. She grew up in Germany and studied for a PhD in organisational psychology at the University of Cambridge in the UK.
1. What inspires you?
I am inspired by perseverance – by people who manage to deal with great adversity and obstacles and who keep getting up and giving it another go. I know a number of entrepreneurs who have built great businesses and seeing them get up after setbacks and believing in their ideas and products is very inspiring.
2. Who are your business heroes?
My business heroes are the chief executives and chairmen who genuinely want to create more gender diverse organisations and top teams. Despite the daily pressures of meeting short-term profit targets, they invest time and resources in developing tomorrow’s top talent and in creating a diverse and inclusive organisation. A great example is Sir Roger Carr, chairman of Centrica and BAE Systems. We were both judges for last year’s Breaking the Mould awards, [which celebrate companies that do the most to create a pipeline of female leaders of the future and is held in association with the 30% Club]. And I was impressed with the passion and commitment he has for creating more diverse top teams.
3. What is the best piece of advice given to you by a teacher?
A teacher once told me that it is better to own a smaller piece of work than to only be a part of a much larger piece of work. One of the senior women I interviewed in the past for my work offered almost the same advice. There is definitely something to this. Taking full responsibility for a piece of work and getting your name attached to it provides great personal development and increases visibility.
4. What is your biggest lesson learnt?
My biggest lesson learnt, and something that I am still working on daily, is the importance of prioritising. There are often many competing demands on my time: family, work, speaking engagements, the need to exercise (at least a little bit). I’ve become much better at planning ahead and working out what is important or urgent at any one time. I am very lucky in that I have a lot of autonomy over how and where I work which helps greatly.
5. What advice would you give to women in business education?
Ask for what you want. And ask repeatedly. There is plenty of research that shows that you need to ask for what you want and my own experience of working with women has shown just how important this is. Working hard is of course important but it’s not enough. Unless you ask for a promotion, a more challenging assignment, more support or a pay rise, it is unlikely to come through.
6. What is the last book you read?
The last two books I read were The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz and The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright.
7. What is your favourite business book?
There are lots of great business books. I do a lot of work in the area of leadership development and still like Ram Charan, Stephen Drotter and James Noel The Leadership Pipeline. I like the book’s focus on transition points and the need to learn new skills but also to unlearn old skills and behaviours that have brought you success in the past in order to be successful in the future. I also enjoyed reading Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. It’s a very engaging book with a powerful personal story and rigorous research references to give it substance.
8. Where would be your favourite place to study?
I had a wonderful time when I studied for my PhD at Cambridge and I would happily go back there if I had the chance to study again. I enjoyed the vibrancy – there were always amazing talks and seminars to go to. It’s also an environment where you were encouraged to be intellectually fearless.
9. If you could do it all again, what would you do differently?
I spent some time thinking about this question. I have to admit that while career planning is an important factor for women’s career progression, I didn’t have a career plan for a long time myself – I just kept looking for new opportunities and challenges as I went through my studies and my career. Things so far have worked out well. But, in the process of writing my book, I discovered that there are certain core roles that can really supercharge your CV and your career. If I had had that knowledge earlier and thought about it more consciously, I might have been able to fit in another one or two critical job assignments.
10. What are your future plans?
These are really exciting times with an increasing number of organisations starting to grasp the benefits of diverse leadership teams and inclusive cultures. There are still many more organisations I want to work with and I also have a long list of people I want to find ways of collaborating with. And if I can find the time, I would love to write another book or two.