Sheryl Sandberg

My Top 5 Tips for Success for Women (or anyone!) in business

Network Dublin 2I was delighted to join the Network Dublin women in business gathering in June in the Intercontinental Hotel in Dublin’s Ballsbridge.  I was keynoting at their annual awards lunch.  There was a broad mix of women present from startup entrepreneurs and solopreneurs to seasoned small business owners to women from the corporate world.

Spending time with other entrepreneurs and hearing their stories is my favourite pastime – even moreso when it’s other women.  There are so many women out there starting and growing fascinating and profitable businesses that we just don’t hear about – either because they’re bootstrapping and don’t need external investment so the government agencies and venture capital providers aren’t involved or they aren’t large scale exporting or they just aren’t part of this month’s “flavour of the moment” sector.

Network Dublin with Barbara Moynihan

Great to bump into fellow IIBN member Barbara Moynihan of On Your Feet in Dublin – Barbara was up for one of the Network Dublin awards

At the event we had representation from niche childcare related businesses to owners of health & beauty businesses and spas to a dating coach, a number of specialist healthcare providers, the usual sprinkling of corporate marketeers and business development managers, life coaches and even a woman who promised to allow you to enjoy your morning meditation anywhere in the world through the magic of VR.  All had a story…or a number of stories.

You all know the saying – If you want something doing, give it to a busy person.  Well our Network Dublin group was made up of exactly those busy women.  Everyone I chatted with had a couple of jobs, a couple of side projects on the go, a couple of charities or causes they were involved with and a family to keep on track as well.

Before I move onto the advertised blog content, I’d like to give a quick shoutout to our charity partner of the day.  It was Hugh’s House in Dublin.  Wow – what a project.  The founder is Ade Stack.  During her own baby’s hospital treatment, Ade learned that overnight accommodation in Dublin’s Temple Street and Rotunda hospitals for parents and guardians of children receiving care was both sadly lacking and grossly inappropriate so she decided to do something about it.  In the past I’ve joked that Irish comedian Dara O’Briain was a nightmare to follow onto a speaking platform but it was much harder to follow Ade Stack’s 4 minute pitch from the heart.  There wasn’t a dry eye in the room.  It’s a fabulous charity so if you can volunteer or help out in any small way then please do.

The main substance of my talk was 5 Top Tips for Success for women in business written from my own perspective and experience.  It was incredibly hard to get the list down to 5 but without further ado, these were the ones I chose:

1 Take a #GiversGain approach to business and life

There are so many elements to this but it’s a theme fundamental to how I operate and have always operated and it works for me and many other people.  Also called paying it forward, paying it back, karma and a multitude of other titles – but I like the #giversgain label that Camilla Long introduced me to.  The basic premise is to help other people and do so on the basis that you will receive nothing back in return.  The reality is if you give to the world, it gives back.

So – have a mentor but be a mentor too.  When networking, be generous with your introductions or give some of your content away without the expectation of something in return.  Positivity breeds positivity.  Enjoy yourself at work and in business and do the things that feel right to you.  In networking I’ve always just collected interesting people that I get on with and like.  I’ve never targeted people that I think might be able to do something for me – that just doesn’t work and I’d feel uncomfortable doing that anyway.

At the end of the day, people buy from people they like and as all opportunities are attached to a person or a group of people, goodwill will take you a long, long way – be it in procurement or recruitment.

Always help the people that you’re a bit further ahead than and remember Madeleine Albright’s words – “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women”.

2 Work Hard – I’m sorry but there are no shortcuts

At least none that I’ve ever found.  Whether you’re scrabbling your way up the corporate ladder or starting a business, putting in the hard yards in terms of time and commitment is critical, especially in your startup’s early days when you’re the main resource or in the early part of your career when you don’t have much of a track record.  I can remember sitting next to a young entrepreneur at dinner one evening and I asked him how he would cope when his only option was less sleep & he said to me – that won’t happen because I’m capping my working week at 60 hours.  He was really annoyed when I replied – Your startup will fail.

Obviously it isn’t about working 100 hours every week but you must accept that success requires work and work takes time.

There are plenty of people out there who will sell you books or courses telling you something other than this but in my experience there is no substitute and those shortcut peddlers are either lying or much smarter than me.

My own worst example of this, and one that I’m not proud of in retrospect, is joining a 1 hour sales Skype call on my wedding morning in 2014.  However, I made a call at the time that it was necessary to be in the conversation and the government agency we were pitching to refused point blank to move the date.  Worse still, we didn’t win the work.  You will know your own reasonable limits and these are different for us all.

 

Final word on this point – you do need to stretch yourself.

Ali

Muhammad Ali – Dancing in the Lights

Cruising along in a well worn and comfortable spot will not bring you the success you’re capable of.  Remember the late Muhammad Ali’s words when someone asked him what it was like being in the ring.  He replied “Out here I’m just dancing in the lights; the real work is done in the back room”.  Enjoy your moments in the limelight but don’t neglect the grafting that needs done.

3 Celebrate All Your Wins – big and small

At the end of every working day, write your greatest achievement of the day in red pen at the top of your paper diary.

Gene with cake

My nephew Gene on one of his birthdays

Some days it might be a big win such as hearing you’ve successfully secured that promotion or received the £50k sales order you’ve been chasing and other days it might be something small such as getting to the end of the day without giving up or clearing those admin tasks that’ve been bothering you for weeks.  As the weeks and months go by, you have a visible and tangible record of your achievements and if you’re ever feeling a bit low or in need of some encouragement, you can flick back through your diary, see how far you’ve come & relive some of the glory of your past successes.  I pinched great idea this from my friend and IIBN colleague Susan Hayes, The Savvy Economist.  In her TEDx talk (5 Key Ways to Define Yourself & Turbo Boost Your Career) Susan describes how she used to do this in the very early days of starting her own business, but it works for many different scenarios and it’s both effective and very easy.

In the early days of your startup, make sure you work towards and measure some milestones, however small.  Ensure everyone in your small team shares and knows this week or this month’s goals and when you get there, take a short break to recognise and mark your collective achievement.   If it’s a Friday evening, take everyone out for a quick drink or a bite to eat and celebrate what’s gone well that week and what you’ve achieved.  Take the time.  It matters and you’re worth it.

4 Don’t Procrastinate and always move things along at pace

Procrastination is a savage thief of time and so much more.  I read a really good (long read) blog about this topic recently and I recommend a read here if this is something you know you’re prone to.  If it is, this blog will scare the life out of you.  I’m not too bad.  Life in an early stage startup improves the speed with which you make decisions and reduces the amount of information you require before a decision can be made.

For years now I’ve managed my own working life using the Eisenhower matrix (the Important/Urgency grid) but the trick you mustn’t miss is to remember the Important/Not Urgent box as this is the one that drives your long term career or business strategy.

The bigger the organisation is that you operate within, the more need there is to spend time formalising and streamlining your decision making processes.  The glacial pace of decision making was what drove me out of the public sector years ago.

Keeping things moving along on a daily, weekly, monthly & yearly basis according to a plan in your head or on your wall or shelf is a real skill but one that’s definitely worth perfecting if you can.  Teach your newbie team members how to make swift and good decisions and you’ll have a much happier and productive workplace.  Everyone likes to see and feel progress.

5 Have a Plan

I like the Sheryl Sandberg quote “Option A is not available so let’s kick the s*** out of Option B”.  Sheryl Sandberg used to annoy the hell out of me with her Lean In preaching but I feel better disposed to her after the way she has subsequently revised some of her earlier recommendations for women in business since her own sad personal tragedy happened.

It’s good to have a plan, but it shouldn’t be fixed in stone.  You need to incorporate an element of flex and you also need at least a Plan B – but probably a less fleshed out Plan C & Plan D as well.  We live in uncertain times and technology has introduced a pace of change into many occupations that would previously have been difficult to imagine.  My Network Dublin talk happened on the day that the reality of the Brexit referendum outcome began to emerge.  Prime Minister David Cameron had literally just resigned and my audience & I mused over what his Plans B & C or D might have been as he went to his bed the night before.  Indeed – we wondered if he had any!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this blog & please do send us your own Top 5 Tips in the comments below.

Women – would you like to earn as much money as your male colleagues?

I was at #altukgc13 yesterday on the 5th floor of the Royal Festival Hall.  It came about thanks to Lloyd Davis & James Cattell who jumped into action following cancellation of UK Govcamp because of a bit of snow & the chaos that wreaks on the British public transport network (I note that even Buzz Aldrin had to take the train from London to Edinburgh on Friday and sit in standard class, although from the photos online he appeared to be having a great time).

One of the groups I joined discussed why it is that conference speaking platform slots are overwhelmingly dominated by white, middle aged males.  We had a lively discussion & generated some ideas.  One of the women in the group, the very fabulous & sadly ex-public sector Sharon O’Dea, has successfully managed to break onto the speaking circuit herself where she talks about technology.  Rare indeed.  Sharon agreed that she will write a blog with some tips for interested people on how they may do the same.  You can find Sharon’s blog at http://sharonodea.co.uk/

The discussion got me thinking that many of the reasons that women in particular don’t put themselves forward for speaking slots are similar to the reasons why women are so rubbish at either negotiating or improving their salary packages.  That was my driver for writing this blog.  When I was a younger person in a junior job it didn’t occur to me that there was a difference in outcomes of salary negotiations between men & women.  I naively assumed that everyone did as well as each other.  I knew I felt a bit uncomfortable having to wrangle with my MD in this way once a year.  Then one day in a team meeting a wonderful woman that I used to work with, Kirsten Gillingham (now Bursar at St Antony’s College, Oxford) challenged our MD about this inequality & made reference to the many studies that have been done showing that women are extremely unwilling to negotiate their salary and are financially disadvantaged as a result.  For me, merely becoming aware of this fact was enough to bring about a change in my own behaviour from that moment on – another reason for writing the blog as hopefully the same thing will happen for at least one person that reads it.

When you get to the stats they’re a bit alarming.  For new graduates, 57% of men negotiate a higher starting salary than the sum they are first offered but only 7% of women do.  In recruitment exercises, 90% of men immediately ask for more money when their offer comes through but over 50% of women accept the first offer.  Women earn about 75% of what men do in the same role.  I’m not talking about the public sector here or organisations where there is a transparent pay scale – although I will say that even then, you do still have a chance of negotiating a better deal when you’re joining the organisation.

So why is this?  What are the contributing factors?  I think there are probably a lot including:

  • women systematically underestimate their own abilities and performance
  • women underestimate their own value and the contribution they make to an organisation
  • women often aren’t used to negotiation because of the types of jobs they do
  • women probably care more about fairness
  • women are nervous & less confident of their position if they don’t have complete information – in this context specific salary information on other people is unlikely to be available
  • women don’t usually like conflict & will be extremely reluctant to threaten to walk if they don’t get what they want
  • at recruitment time, women may believe they’ll be able to improve their lot once they’ve started working & demonstrated their value to the organisation
  • perhaps women are more scared of losing the job offer than men are
  • maybe bosses treat this as a bit of a game and women don’t readily understand the rules
  • perhaps worst of all, success & likeability are positively correlated for men & negatively correlated for women – I can think of many occasions where I’ve underplayed my own achievements in order to be better liked or more easily accepted (we publicly put our success down to luck or help from other people).  So the male that negotiates a great package for himself is seen as an all-round great guy whereas the woman who does the same thing is seen as a hardnosed ballbreaker.

No doubt there are many more.

So how can you improve your salary negotiation outcome?

  1. By being aware that this is just how things are done.  It isn’t personal and you may not like it.  During the hiring process most company’s recruiters will start by offering you less than they are authorised to spend on the post.  It is perfectly acceptable for you to refuse that sum & state what your expectation is via a counter offer.  The negotiator will then often lowball you with another offer that is less than they can pay you.  Again – just stick to your guns & continue to counter offer.  Stay calm & polite at all times.  Don’t give any reasons why you want more money unless they really press you to.  Often they won’t.
  2. Be familiar with your industry metrics so that you know what’s realistic – it probably isn’t realistic to ask for £50k when you’ve been offered £25k – but who knows – dependent on your sector & skills maybe it is.
  3. Practice your negotiations with a friend or mentor & reassure yourself that your demands are reasonable.
  4. Remember that negotiation at its core is culturally masculine.
  5. Don’t be afraid to initiate a conversation with your manager about a salary increase – my own team is made up of males & females but inevitably it’s the men who will chance their arm and pitch to me the reasons why they deserve a pay rise, even when they aren’t due for one.

Ideally the process should be changed as there’s also a commercial downside & cost to behaving in this way.  No enlightened company will consciously operate like this as they will appreciate that in order to succeed commercially; they need a gender balanced and happy workforce who are treated fairly.  At Learning Pool we want our people to have the same opportunities and to be treated equitably.  We recognise the very large sums of money we spend recruiting and training our team members so it’s in our interests that they are content & stay with us for the long term.  There’s probably a special place in hell for managers who offer pay rises only at the point where their people threaten to leave.

When I was researching this topic last night I watched again Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg’s famous TED talk entitled “Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders” – it’s just shy of 15 minutes long & well worth a viewing or another viewing.  I won’t repeat what she says but she makes some great points that really made me think.  The link is here http://www.ted.com/talks/sheryl_sandberg_why_we_have_too_few_women_leaders.html

I sincerely hope no-one is offended by this blog post.  That isn’t my intention & those of you who know me will know that I thrive in a male dominated sector and industry.  There’s lots more that can be said on this topic and I hope many of you will start a conversation using the comment section below.