We Need Less Leaders Called John: Expert Tips on How You Can Balance Out Gender Disparity in Top Roles

It can be tempting to think that, when it comes to equality in the workplace, there’s never been a better time to be female. From quotas to get more women to board level, to gender pay-gaps published and addressed by scores of the UK’s top companies, we seem well on the way to a truly level playing field.

However, while there’s still more men called John on the boards of FTSE 500 companies than there are women, it can still be a tough world out there for ambitious ladies looking for a place at the top table. So, whether you’re looking to snag a corner office or simply step into a role that offers more flexibility or better pay, how do we ensure we’re still beating the big boys at their own game?

Tom Froggatt, Director of Singular Talent, an agency focused on hiring top talent, has hired a wealth of top executives across both genders, so we asked him for his top tips on how to succeed as a woman in the workplace: 

1. Kiss imposter syndrome goodbye

Looking at the traits needed to become a successful CEO as part of the Hiscox Formula for Business Success campaign, Froggatt explains that “successful people are, almost uniformly, confident. That doesn’t mean they never have doubts, but that they back themselves to deal with challenges that arise and to find solutions.”

Sounds simple so far, right? But when you take into account the unconscious conditioning women are often exposed to, with modern discourse pillorying female leadership qualities such as assertiveness as ‘bossiness’, it can be hard to be self-confident. That’s why our first tip is to ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ by practising a belief in yourself and your skills. Confidence doesn’t mean being brash or boorish either – Tom says that ‘being quiet and considered’ is a key trait in many CEOs, so look instead to focus on appreciating what you do well and playing some tricks on your subconscious through body language at key moments.

As Amy Cuddy explains in her TedTalk, when we consciously alter our body language to make us appear more confident than we really are, we can actually make ourselves more confident. Just before you go in for that job interview, remind yourself to broaden your shoulders, stand up straight and exude success.

2. Speak up for yourself

Whatever your role or company, it’s vital that you can clearly communicate with your colleagues and key stakeholders. With that in mind – especially for leadership positions – it is usually expected that you can express in the interview why you’re the right person for the job, as clearly and concisely as possible. Not only will this highlight your strong communication skills, your response can be a key indicator for hiring managers on how well you’ll be able to network and build trust in your role.

Communication starts with your CV, so make sure yours is snappy and clearly shows off your key achievements in your previous and current roles. Then, prepare for an interview by researching the people you’ll be interviewing with so you can build rapport and show how swiftly you’ll be able to integrate with your team. Also, don’t be shy of communicating when you’ve done a good job or asking for the salary you’d like. One major imbalance that keeps the gender gap wide is men’s tendency to push for the pay they feel worthy of – so ask for the money you really want, and not what you think will get you the job.

3. Invest in you

Froggatt says while “there are some positions that have qualifications as a pre-requisite, most don’t. You can get to a certain point in your career by applying and developing what you learned at school and university, but after that you must continue working on yourself to progress.”

“What’s essential to business success,” continues Froggatt, “is an ongoing commitment to personal development.” So, get a march on your competition by pushing yourself to learn. Remind yourself what really stood out to you about your job or chosen sector in the first place and re-connect with your favourite parts of your career in order to showcase your hunger to learn. 

Even if you’re already taking classes to develop your skills, attending seminars and workshops or reading (or, even better, contributing to) industry blogs, figure out what you can’t learn in these more traditional settings and find a way to get that knowledge. Outline these efforts in your CV or share your knowledge with your team and you’ll soon find that you’re increasingly attractive to hiring managers, a bigger asset to your boss and more trustworthy to your colleagues – all essential for the top job. 

Whatever you’re looking for in your dream career, the journey to finding and securing the perfect job in a man’s world can be both difficult and overwhelming. Hopefully, with the tips above, you can start making some steps towards improving your chances and really owning your career. And never forget – you can do this!

Charlotte Giver

Charlotte is the founder and editor-in-chief at Your Coffee Break. With a background in PR working in Los Angeles and Barcelona, Charlotte has been working hard running Your Coffee Break from the YCB HQ in London’s Covent Garden for the past 4 years. Dried mangos, Starbucks and runs through Hyde Park get this Londoner through the day.

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