20% of women in business believe they’ll never make it to the boardroom

A new report shows that working women fear bad management and office politics are holding them back in their careers. Nicky Little gives her tips on breaking through to the boardroom

How to break through the glass ceiling

How to break through the glass ceiling

 

How to break through the glass ceiling Photograph: Alamy

A new report has discovered that while over 25 per cent of female employees dream of becoming a chief executive, a third say they have failed to meet their career expectations.

The report, Breaking the boardroom: A guide for British businesses on how to support female leaders of the future, comes from O2 and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). It finds that almost a fifth of working women believe it is simply impossible for them to reach a senior management role.

Female respondents cite poor quality line management, a lack of development opportunities and the challenges of office politics as just some of the reasons why they’ll never make it to the top. Some feel good luck often leads to success, rather than skill, ambition or determination. And then of course there is the age-old issue of lack of female role models. Half of the women surveyed say that all the decision-makers in their companies are male.

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If you’re stuck in an uninspiring role at a company which doesn’t seem to appreciate you it can be very easy to feel that there’s no way out. Here are our tips for breaking out of the rut:

Find a mentor

Is there a female leader in your organisation you admire? If you’re in a business where all the leaders are male, are any of them particularly proactive about progressing the careers of women? If not, look beyond your own organisation, maybe to clients or suppliers. Approach a leader you admire and ask if they’ll mentor you or even just have a coffee and a chat. A mentor can share experience, offer guidance and support, and signpost opportunities. At times they may even be an advocate for you and help to open doors. A good mentor will not be afraid to challenge you, but the overall relationship should be a supportive one. Many successful mentoring relationships last for years and are invaluable to the mentee. They can be very rewarding for the mentor too – something to remember when you get your own feet under the board table.

Create your own opportunities

Research shows that usually women will only apply for a new role if they can meet 100% of the criteria. Men, however, are happy to apply if they only meet 50%. In her bestselling book Lean In, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg also commented that women can be more reluctant than men to go for a role if they don’t have a great deal of relevant knowledge or experience. The lesson? Create your own opportunities. Volunteer to lead a high profile project. Tackle a business challenge that will raise your profile and visibility. Be bold, and take some calculated risks. Aim to make a difference. And don’t be afraid to shout about it.

Research the role you want

Think about what kind of leadership role you want. Research it thoroughly. What skills and qualifications do you need? And just as importantly, what attributes and behaviours do you need to demonstrate? All of these things can be developed. Many organisations are becoming increasingly aware that it’s not enough just to look at someone’s expertise when it comes to promotion. Leadership skills are important too. Can you think strategically, communicate a vision, motivate and engage others? If you’re not sure, ask some other people what they think. Which brings us on to the next point…

Seek feedback

Be proactive and ask the people around you for feedback. What are your strengths? Where could you improve? Put together an action plan to develop the skills and behaviours you need to reach the role you aspire to. If your company doesn’t have a leadership programme in place, look for other development channels. Perhaps you belong to a professional association which offers learning opportunities, or you may be able to benefit from online learning or networking groups. Stretch yourself, step out of your comfort zone, and carry on seeking feedback along the way.

Be yourself

Authenticity matters. Don’t feel that you have to become a person you’re not in order to get ahead. People will respect you if you stand up for your values and the things you believe in. One of the biggest shifts we’ve seen in leadership in recent years is the need for transparency. Be open and honest. It’ll help you to carve out a role you love and are passionate about – which makes leadership a lot more positive and enjoyable for you, and for the people around you

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