Women and Success in Today’s World By Sophia Matveeva

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Last week I chaired a discussion titled Women and Success in Today’s World between four women from the worlds of tech, finance, corporate management and film. Unlike many similarly titled discussions, this one gave no-nonsense advice and did no shy away from controversial topics. Lets face it, “leaning in” can seem impossible when you are just asked to make the coffee or have to deal with a sleazy boss.

Our panellists were Shannon Edwards, Crystalline Strategy Director and Huffington Post contributor; Anne Francke, CEO of Chartered Management Institute and author of the FT Guide to Management; Petra Monteiro, Managing Director, Regulatory Reporting, Goldman Sachs, and Annette Porter, Director, Nylon Films. In this blog, I am summarising the excellent advice that we got from these accomplished women.

Networking

Networking events that are predominantly aimed at men like rugby and golf can be boring. However, it can be useful to go. You don’t need to follow the game or know the rules, just go to network. We heard of one woman who went to a golf tournament, but never picked up a club. She walked the course with the group and built her network.


If you are not invited to typically male networking events that could help your career, speak up. You may be the only one to notice that you are not on the list, so don’t be shy.


Appraisals and Negotiations

When negotiating your pay, show and quantify your achievements. Use benchmarks to show how much other people in your sector get paid.


The best negotiations are those when you can walk away. For this, you need to know what is non-negotiable to you and what isn’t.


Women often don’t work near the money supply, i.e. in finance or in sales. Since they are further away from the centre of control, it can be harder for them to access more money. Consider this in your next career move.


One of our panellists once found out she was getting paid less than her male counterpart. She went to HR in the hopes of solving the problem, but was told that she started on a lower base and they could not give her a raise big enough to match his salary. This is infuriating and unfair, but there are lessons to be learnt from this:

The likelihood of HR solving your pay problems retrospectively is very slim.
Negotiate your salary when you start so it is easier to move up.
If you discover a gender pay gap, begin talking about the issue in general terms, e.g. “I know that there is a 20% gender pay gap in the industry” and then mention your issue.
Talk to your boss’s boss. The top management of the organisation is often very aware of the need for diversity and want to increase it. It is also the top management that get criticised for a company’s lack of diversity in the public eye. However, they are usually not in a direct position to do so, because they do not hire many staff. Therefore, your boss’s boss may be more willing to help you than your direct boss.

Every day

Women can allow themselves to get trapped into spending time with colleagues who are far too junior to them and cannot help them progress, simply because they are also women. Do not fall into this and do not always have lunch with the other PAs. Make sure to have your informal network in line with what you want to achieve.
There are informal influencers in your organisation, i.e. people who are not senior management, but whose opinions are listened to. Make sure that these popular influencers are in your network.
Don’t drink too much with your colleagues. In the UK and US a culture of over-indulgence in alcohol with work contacts has developed. Having too much to drink can impair your judgement and have a serious impact on your professional reputation. Don’t do it.

Bad behaviour

After a straw poll of our panel and audience, we discovered that a sleazy boss or client is unfortunately not all that rare. This is important to remember if you are in this unfortunate position because you are not alone.
One option is to use humour: some well placed sarcasm can go a long way. “Aren’t you married? So how would your wife feel about this? Shall we call her? Here, use my mobile.”
Another option is to obviously ignore the advance. One panellist told us that she went to a business dinner to discuss her proposal to acquire a new company. Her boss made an entirely different proposal. She answered by opening her file and talking about the benefits of the acquisition. He was embarrassed and did not continue his pursuit.
Sometimes the above methods don’t work. First try the two options above, but if the situation is really bad, leave. This does not happen everywhere.

Scary feminists

The idea of women’s empowerment can scare your male colleagues and bosses. You do not want to be labelled as the angry feminist.
You do not need to be vocal about pursuing a feminist agenda. Do your job well, network and make sure to highlight your achievements. If you do this well, you will not need to scare your colleagues with talk of “women’s empowerment.”
Studies have shown again and again that diversity creates better company performance. Remember, when you are concerned that you are the only woman in the room, you are not concerned about feminism per se, you want to increase company performance.
Finally, a quote that I particularly liked comes from panellist Anne Francke: “we are not going to change the culture unless we are in it.” Too many women leave jobs not because they don’t like the work, but because they don’t like the culture. But how can the culture change unless we stick around to change it?

About The Author:

Sophia Matveeva is Associate Director at Hawthorne, a strategic communications consultancy. She has worked in communications throughout her career and has lived and worked in Europe, Asia and the US. Previously, Sophia ran the PR for the India Art Fair and managed managed the investor relations and communications function of Benson Elliot Capital Management, a leading private equity real estate firm based in London. Sophia began her career at Finsbury, a top tier communications consultancy. She expects to receive her Executive MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School in 2016