Rising Above: Essential Career Tips for Women

How not to sell yourself short and achieve more
Women make up more than 50 per cent of college-educated workforce, yet they hold only 4.6 per cent of CEO positions. How can female leaders go further?

By Laura Chan, Principal Recruitment Consultant, LVI Associates (A Phaidon International brand) | 6 Mar 2023

While progress has been made in recent years, women still face significant challenges when it comes to advancing their careers. Gender biases and stereotypes can create barriers to success that are difficult to overcome.

In this article, we’ll examine common challenges faced by female candidates and offer recommendations on how to tackle them.

Despite her trailblazing and empathetic leadership during times of crisis, even former New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern faced gendered criticism. (Photo credit: NBC News)

Become your best advocate

If you’ve ever felt afraid that you wouldn’t live up to expectations, or that you’re ‘underqualified’ for your role, you’re not alone. According to a 2020 KPMG study, 75% of female executives have experienced imposter syndrome in their careers. At key junctures in your career – such as interviews and promotions – it’s especially important to take steps to manage this so you can do yourself justice.

During interviews

First, research the role that you are interviewing for. The preparation required would be to align your current skillsets with the role and responsibilities.

Second, understand the culture of the organization. This allows you to align your motivations, values and belief to the organization, emphasizing why you would be an overall strong cultural fit. This will set you apart from the other candidates as it will allow you to come across as both competent for the role, and authentic for the organization. 

I often see that females undersell themselves during an interview as they may perceive themselves as less competent, or less attainable. When talking about personal achievements, use adjectives such as “spearhead” and “led”, to show future hiring managers that you can be assertive and motivated.  Be proud of the accomplishments you have and speak loudly about them. Hiring managers will feel as enthusiastic as you when you are passionate!

When it's time for promotion

It is always important to keep a track record of individual achievements, and key milestones of your career. Focus on your key performance indicators, while proving your capabilities through the accreditations, projects completed, and your proven track record within the organization.  

Highlight other achievements outside of your job scope, such as:

  • Helping teams create a more efficient system to bring up productivity
  • Your success in coaching & mentoring junior colleagues within the organization

It is always good to have internal advocates, be it female or male, as these internal advocates will be able to speak highly about your success within the organisation.

There’s a great article by leadership coach Nicola Skorko that talks more about the truth behind imposter syndrome and detailed tips on how to manage it.

When it's time to negotiate salaries

Compared to their male counterparts, women often shy away from asserting themselves in the workspace, particularly when it comes to salary negotiations. A common concern is that doing so might potentially brand oneself as ‘difficult’, while also inviting conflict with management. 

Whether it might be a perception issue or otherwise, you can go further by making sure you’ve done your research. One way of doing this is to check with your specialist talent partner and look for salary surveys to understand if you are within the market rate. 

Second, it is easier to negotiate a better salary, when you have a proven track record on how you have performed in the organization. Data, figures, and facts are concrete evidence that future/current employers cannot deny.

Thirdly, let the employers/future employers know that you are appreciative of the opportunity that you have been presented with, however, to match up with the current industry standards, you would be looking at an increase of x% as stated in different salary market surveys.

Finally, it is always better to be confident about yourself. What that means, is to be passionate about the work you do, talk about your accomplishments, and talk about the successes you’ve had. At the same time, be honest about the support you would need to move into the next stage of your career. In the end, you are the best advocate for yourself.

Build your network

Besides becoming your best advocate, surround yourself with the right people that will also advocate for you.

Join a supportive network

A great way to get started is to join a supportive network. Find groups and associations within the industry, and attend conferences and events. This would create an ecosystem of females who you know are your allies and advocates for you.

For example, in my specialised area in engineering, female engineers are extremely difficult to find, as it is such a male-dominated industry. Large associations such as Society of Women Engineers Singapore (SWE@SG) provide seminars, talks, and special programs where mentors are available for you to seek advice and build a network.

Other networks, such as the Singapore Global Network, are also a great place to get connected to other women leaders and supportive professionals.

Celebrate wins – even small ones

In the workplace, celebrate the wins of others, no matter how small or big it is. It is important to find opportunities to celebrate women’s accomplishments, especially if you understand how difficult it was for the other party to achieve their goals. Understand who would be your strong advocate, be it within your organization, or your industry.

By putting yourself out there, people will recognise you, the efforts you put in, and how you would be able to break the glass ceiling. Many female candidates I work with have created support groups for other females in their company, to discuss issues, challenges and opportunities to improve the working culture. They have regular meetings to discuss their successes at work. This creates a strong camaraderie of female talents who support the wins of other females.

Be organised in navigating career transitions

Sometimes it becomes necessary to transition to a different role. That can be a daunting process – and here are three things to look out for in managing the transition successfully.

Formulate your "Why"

Before making a career switch, it’s important to first understand your motivations, goals, and interests. This will enable you to pick an industry and role that aligns with your aspirations. Consider your strengths and weaknesses, and think about what you enjoy doing. By identifying your “why,” you’ll be better equipped to make an informed decision about your career path.

Personally, my rather diverse background has allowed me to hone my skills in sales, business development and client relationships. Crucially, I’ve become attuned to understanding human needs – both on a personal and societal level.

Through these work experiences, I realize that I truly enjoyed making a difference in someone’s life – which leads me to become passionate about the environment and sustainability. Hence, here I am today, choosing the path of a specialized talent partner in this niche industry. This allows my interests, strengths, and passion to intersect in my career path.

Connect with industry professionals

Networking with professionals in your desired industry can provide invaluable insights into the necessary skills and qualifications for the job. You can also learn from their challenges and experiences, which can help you replicate the success that these industry professionals have achieved. 

Attend conferences and events, and join groups and associations within your chosen field to build a supportive network, they would be your advocates, allies and people you can rely on when faced with certain industry challenges. Many of my candidates are in niche industries, and therefore, oftentimes, the industry experts they meet during a conference can one day end up being their superiors and colleagues.

Understand in-demand skillsets – with the help of technology

Upskilling yourself is crucial when transitioning to a new industry. Research the necessary skillsets and accreditations required to attain a role in your chosen field. By building your knowledge and skillsets, you’ll be better prepared to transition seamlessly between different industries.

  • Leverage LinkedIn. LinkedIn is such a powerful platform to not only market yourself to future employers and talent partners; it is also a good tool to connect with industry experts and form a community via LinkedIn groups focusing on females in the workplace.
    The more you market yourself on social media, the more people will recognize you within the industry. By posting your thoughts on interesting articles or recent news, people will look at your page as a source of information and insight into the chosen topic. This is good for creating your personal branding and image for current employers, and potential future employers. 
  • Upskill via online learning platforms. There are multiple platforms such as newsletters, online forums, or learning platforms such as Udemy, Skillshare, EdX and Coursera, where you can learn new skills (digital literacy, coding, upskilling on your industrial knowledge
Manage expectations if you’re adjusting to a life as a working mother

There is another career ‘transition’ of sorts unique to women in the workforce – readjusting to work after having children.  Although I haven’t taken a long leave of absence myself, I’ve learned from conversations with female candidates that such transitions can be tough, and many feel it’s difficult to return to their previous career path.

Many structural, and systemic issues have led females to leave the workforce, to take on child-caring responsibilities. We need to first acknowledge that there are gaps within organizations and society, for females to feel guilty for forgoing either their childcaring responsibilities or their work responsibilities.

However, if we were to focus on what we want to control while re-joining the workforce, it is definitely to negotiate a working arrangement that might allow flexibility to take care of your children. For example, leaving work earlier to pick up your children earlier or working from home options to care for your children. In an era where flexible work arrangements are a norm for many, leverage this to speak with managers to find a working schedule that suits both the organisation as well as the individual.

It is important to set realistic expectations for yourself. You would not be able to return to 100% of the capacity that you had before a child, as you have a very different focus on life now. Even if that means going back to 70% capacity or part-time, that is alright, because your priority has shifted from work to caring for your children.  

It is also important to be patient in getting back into the rhythm and pace of working life – this might look like a part-time role, or taking on task-based opportunities first in the organization, before fully transitioning back to a full-time opportunity.

Last but not least, acknowledge your feelings, challenges and emotions. It is an emotionally-taxing transition back to work, while still juggling responsibilities at home, therefore, be gentle and acknowledge your hard work and efforts.

Final words

I work in an organisation where women make up majority of the leadership board because of meritocracy – where we recognise the individual based on performance, focusing on equality of outcome and not out of a mandated artificial opportunity. I am grateful to be part of an organisation where leaders set a culture that allows people of all diverse background to raise through the ranks based on merit. 

In my personal journey, I have been promoted purely based on the outcome of results – encouraged on the equality of opportunity, rather than a mandated set of outcomes (eg: % of females within the leadership board). I understand that I am speaking from a fortunate position, however, I do know that there is still so much to do as a society to improve the working conditions and encouraging equality of opportunities for all.

In my role as a talent partner, I am proud of be a strong advocate for creating a more diverse and inclusive culture within my specialised industry, encouraging leaders & board members to hire based on talent. While there are still significant challenges facing female candidates, there are steps that can be taken to overcome them.

This article was written in collaboration with LVI Associates, a leading specialist talent partner for Infrastructure and Renewable Energies under Phaidon International.

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About Laura

Laura leads a team of consultants specialising in senior-level hiring for business-critical engineering and commercial talents within the Water market across the APAC region. Before specialising in hiring, Laura worked in the social enterprise and service industries. 

Connect with Laura here.

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