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Women in Business - navigating career success by Viki Holton and Fiona Elsa Dent, Palgrave Macmillan, £26, 200 pages.
Under the weight of public opinion and threatened legislation, the glass ceiling, which has kept women out of the boardroom for the last century, is slowly begining to crack. So a book such as Women in Business - navigating career success, which highlights some of the best ways for women to achieve promotion, is most timely.
Written by two Ashridge Business School professors, Viki Holton and Fiona Elsa Dent, this book is based on a survey of over 1,400 female senior managers and directors, conducted by the authors in the hope of ‘identifying a few golden nuggets’ to share with other businesswomen.
Unfortunately, as with most surveys of this scale, the results didn’t yield one magic formula to pave the way to the top, where female representation is still very small. As a result, each chapter provides several topic areas, with varying quotes from survey participants included as illustrations.
For example, in chapter four - titled Career Promoters – advice on what can help you achieve your career goals has been categorised into eight different areas. Some are obvious: supportive family and friends, for example, and networking. Others include organisational support, development and developmental relationships and building self-awareness.
On the topic of self-awareness, one woman writes:
“A few key colleagues, peers and senior role models… have really challenged my thinking on my self perception and developed my self awareness which has been a life saver in so many ways. There are often times I doubt my own performance and I question the value I bring to an organisation. Over time I have learned to tap into and deal with these feelings and use them to propel my career rather than seek support for reassurance alone.”
The importance of luck, moving regularly and working internationally is also explored in this chapter. Another woman writes:
“Moving jobs every three years, not necessarily companies, and sometimes sideways rather than a promotion… broadens the experience, fosters new ideas and provides new challenges.”
There is a lot to take in. However, what the book lacks in simplicity, it makes up for in tables, timelines, tips and exercises for the upcoming leader.
In chapter three, Early Career Issues, there is a list of 10 top tips to consider when you first start out in your career, including the importance of developing your personal brand and sitting down and writing a career plan – a concept helpfully developed further in chapter nine, Strategies for Career Success. In chapter six, Women and Leadership, readers have the opportunity to discover their leadership styles through a questionnaire.
The book also provides strategies for companies to become more diverse – one of the main findings of the survey being that there is still very much an old boy’s network in place, particularly when women are trying to combine children with their careers.
One woman describes the overt discrimination within her company:
“I was not given a promotion to senior vice-president HR in my previous company as I was pregnant with my second child. The fact that I returned to work after six weeks did not make a difference!”
Overall, women are typically perceived as more accommodating and relationship focused than men, who tend to be viewed as tougher and more output focused. The latter is considered a good thing until a woman behaves the same way, in which case she is regarded as aggressive and dominating.
The co-authors recommend the creation of a leadership academy in particular - for both men and women - to manage talent fairly. The academy would include, a buddying system to explore leadership style, coaching sessions, annual women leaders conferences and flexibility for both senior and junior working parents.
It is clear from the responses in the survey that company culture and stereotyping still needs to change significantly in order for women to reach the top. Those who take the time to read Women in Business will find it a useful tool in tackling this issue.