The strongest bit of advice I can give to any woman wanting to get to the top of their profession is this: you – and only you – will be the person responsible for your success.
As a woman, some industries will be harder to succeed in than others, but it’s always going to be about being better than the person next to you, regardless of your gender or theirs. I think I’ve got to where I am today because I’ve never considered myself to be a woman in business. I’m a business person. Getting to the top of the organisation has meant working hard under that guise, rather than my gender being a contributing factor to my successes and failures.
I took charge of my own career
I’ve always pushed for the next level, regardless of my role. After university, I took a temp job as a receptionist in a software company, and I gave it my all. I was soon asked to join the telemarketing team, where I got my first taste for sales.
Again, I dedicated myself to that job, thriving so much that I was headhunted to set up a telemarketing team at Hyperion. From there I moved to a field-sales role, something I really had to push hard for. In 2007, Oracle acquired Hyperion, so I worked there for 5 years, before moving across to the NetSuite side of the business as a sales rep.
In 2014, I stepped into a leadership role, using my sales experience to head up a team selling to software and technology companies. From there, I advanced into a position looking after Northern European sales, running the direct and channel business for those regions, including the UK&I, Benelux and Nordics. It was from there that I became VP of EMEA for Oracle NetSuite.
Ultimately, dedication, pushing hard and being focused on what I wanted were the reasons I’ve made it to where I have. Whether you want to become a business leader or successful in your field, it’s going to be 100% about working hard and nothing else. Focus on the task at hand and pour your energy into that, rather than worrying about how being a woman could hold you back.
Don’t segment women off
Everyone should just be ‘people’ in business. So, while they can be a great way for women to talk through any issues or concerns, sometimes the creation of female-only networking groups can do more harm than good. These circles can say ‘we need a group’ and siphon women off, bringing more of a divide between women and men in the workplace. I’ve always thought a better way to go about it is with mentoring as it can help inspire woman-to-woman knowledge sharing and support, but without creating a specific group for it.
I’ve been very lucky in this regard – I know some very ambitious women I’ve been able to lean on when I need a ‘bump’ in motivation. One of my closest friends is the CFO for a major bank, so we support and mentor one another quite a lot.
On that note, I have found that people tend to be happier opening up and discussing issues with women, so I’m in a better position to have frank, open conversations. If you can encourage people to have open conversations with you, then that will serve you well as a business leader.
I think the best managers are those who treat everyone around them with equal levels of respect. Every part of a business is important – from the CEO to the receptionist – and everyone should be valued as such. So make sure all of your people know they can approach you with any concerns. Sometimes you might not be able to reply immediately, but their knowing they can have your ear when you can will make you a great leader.
Choose the path that’s right for you
University was very important for me personally as I learnt a lot that was relevant to my work, but I don’t think it’s essential for everyone – school leavers shouldn’t feel like it’s their only choice.
There are so many options for training courses or higher education later in your career if you decide you want a change. I went to Keele University and took a Management Science degree with French and German, which set me up well to start out in my career – learning the ins and outs of business and with the ability to apply those skills on a more international level.
But, later in my career, I wanted to diversify – adding to my expertise with a psychology degree. Psychology had always been an area that interested me and, while I didn’t change my career as a result, I found doing the degree has helped me learn a lot more about decision-making and navigating the behaviour of the people around me.
Three things to take away
1. Focus on the job at hand – whether it’s on your day-to-day tasks, or the larger scale of your career – make sure you find what is important and dedicate your energy to reaching that goal.
2. Pick your battles – some things are not worth your energy. A lot of women fall into the trap of fighting too many battles, like trying ‘break the glass ceiling’. If you focus on your goals and success, you’ll smash through the glass ceiling on the way through.
3. Keep grounded – we’re all equal at the end of the day. If you want to know how small and insignificant you or your problems are, go to the mountains. The peace, combined with their size will soon put things into perspective.