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It’s a meritocracy, right?

In this article UBM’s Heather Beach talks to FMJ about female career development and explains why she is surprised that, out of a business with 65 per cent women in it, there were no more than 18 per cent on the board

Heather_Beach_photoI never would have considered myself to be a feminist. In fact, three years ago, I was slightly embarrassed to be invited to attend a focus group in my company (UBM – a FTSE 250 company) to understand why, out of a business with 65 per cent women in it, there were not more than 18 per cent on the board.

In fact, these statistics are fairly normal. The British Chartered Institute of Management shows that women hold positions as 60 per cent of junior managers, 40 per cent of middle managers, 20 per cent at senior levels and single digits at chief executive.

In spite of my misgivings, the sessions organised by UBM were a revelation.

What they uncovered for me is that women do have different challenges to men in managing their careers. Some of these are tangible and some intangible. The most obvious of these is the fact that we have children and that in spite of changes in the law, still most of us stay at home to look after them for a while. Then, once they are grown, it is a rare couple where the woman does not still arrange the bulk of child and house care.

Then there are the intangibles. There are the ways we scupper ourselves, and the way the pervading culture scuppers us – much of which is unconscious. How many men these days set out to be deliberately sexist, and yet we often recruit in our own image…

What is powerful is revealing all of that – and then we have some choices about it.

Last year we started a network for women in health and safety which has ultimately resulted in the #SHE1000 event we are organising for all women and those men who support them across property, security and safety. It takes place on 23 June at ExCeL. https://registration.n200.com/survey/2m7nygsvuv9f4. We’ve held a number of regional meetings and had some great speakers. This has resulted in so many learnings for me in my own career and in supporting the women around me in progressing their careers. Here is a round-up of the best!

So how many of us even think about planning our careers? In fact, I have heard some women say “I won’t apply for that promotion as I want children next year” or “I don’t want that position because I want work/life balance”. Surely, it is the case that the more senior in a company you become, the more you are able to define what your work looks like, including negotiating your return from maternity leave.

Here’s the nub of it. Statistics show that if a man can do six points on a job description he will apply for the job. The woman has to be able to do nine. How many of us wait for the man who is our boss to tell us that we should apply for that promotion? All of this is so deep rooted for us. Confident women can make everyone uncomfortable – including other women. How does this sit with the need to be sugar and spice, which at least some of us were brought up with?

Women often work on the assumption that if they just do a good job, someone will notice and promote them. It ain’t necessarily so. Take the opportunity to ensure when you do good work that you publicise it – on your intranet, to your manager, to his/her manager…. Showing off is necessary on occasion!

Get really good at them – and use every opportunity to ensure you are doing them. They are a great way to raise your profile and to impress. Conversely, being bad at them – for men and women, can seriously limit your career progression.

See the value of internal and external networking and make the time for it. Think about what you want to achieve from the session. What is important is not who you know, but who knows you – and what they say about you when you’re not there.

It seems that men prioritise this more than women do – some women may feel guilty about not sitting at their desk “doing stuff”. Yet, how many networking opportunities are truly inclusive? Is there anything else as normalised as “golf days” in business culture – a sport mostly (but not exclusively!) enjoyed by middle class, white men? Create and take part in inclusive networking occasions. You never know who you will meet who can help you…..

This is true for men and women, but it seems that men are often better at it. You need to always be aware of what the overall business objectives are and how what you are proposing links to the P&L. Use commercial language.

A great piece of advice I heard recently, was not just to find a mentor, but to pick someone in the organisation who always seems to fly – and hang on to their coat tails. I have never tried this myself, but I really like the idea.

Someone recently said, treat the CEO like (s)he was a child – and this is true of anyone in a senior position. You need to forget the detail (put it as an appendix) and make your key points really succinctly and clearly, linked to business objectives and if possible with pictures/graphs. These people are really time poor, don’t care about the detail of your great idea – and need you to be clear and to the point.

As always – the key for any truly successful leader is authenticity. Be true to yourself and honest – but you do need to maintain a positive attitude, because who wants to be around a mood hoover?

With the shift in management style away from the command and control culture of the 80s and 90s and into something much softer, which looks at engagement and empowerment of the team, women should be perfectly positioned to take advantage of this. But until we start to understand how to manage our own careers and to be much more confident in what we have to offer, we will continue to be the glass ceiling whilst men retain the top jobs.


Heather is organising a training event for all the networks in property, safety and security at Protection and Management Series. The aim is to bring together 1,000 women and supporting men from across the sectors – including women in FM. There will be training in “How to work a room” from Heather White, professional branding and networking specialist, prosecco and cupcakes! Register here: http://bit.ly/1oydrah

About Sarah OBeirne


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