Hard work, not sisterhood, breaks the glass ceiling

LATEST figures show that only 12 per cent of FTSE100 directors are women, or 5.5 per cent if you exclude non-executives. There has been much talk about a male conspiracy to keep women from having a seat on the board – and there is some basis to the assertion; people tend to hire in their own likeness. So what should women who want to hang in there be doing to improve their lot?

Firstly, they should ignore the shrill and entitled sisterhood – no-one gets to the top and stays there without putting in long hours and a great deal of focus. Then be realistic about your goals and talents – there is no point in applying for a finance director role if you cannot count. Third, find a supportive partner who can take care of your home life and family while you focus on your career – all top career women such as Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo and Helena Morrissey, CEO of fund manager Newton, have made big sacrifices to get where they are and have supportive and understanding husbands.

Also think twice about quitting your job or taking a career break – women who leave rarely climb back into the same positions or get back into corporate life, current research shows. And remember that virtually every successful businessman or woman from Elizabeth I to Lady Thatcher had a mentor – look for a small group of individuals who can form your own little individual executive board to advise you and help you progress.

Address weaknesses that might be holding you back through coaching or training – if your employer won’t provide them, consider paying for them yourself (it isn’t always as expensive as you think). And try to improve working life for women by getting the most senior men involved in reverse mentoring schemes – it will help kill sexism and foster a more understanding environment about the conflicting challenges facing many women.

Jane Renton is the author of The Economist guide to Coaching and Mentoring and a former BBC TV presenter who currently teaches public speaking and media presentation skills

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