Successful women are everywhere. But the reason why some are more likely to succeed is still a question I am asked often.
Every woman has her own definition of success. That is the beauty of choice. I have always defined success as the ability to achieve the goals that I have set myself. Success is personal but in my experience and according to the evidence I have gathered through my interactions with successful women during my 30-year career, the path to achievement has a number of commonalities.
Successful women do the following:
- Network like crazy. This is a consistent piece of advice that I have been given by successful women and men. An executive recruiter once told me that if two CVs are quite similar, then most often a decision will be made in favour of the candidate that is known via networks. “You need people to be talking about you a lot and to the right people,” he said.
- Take risks with their career. Most successful women will tell you that their path to the top took many unexpected twists and turns. Westpac CEO Gail Kelly started her career as a teacher before switching to banking and then migrating from South Africa to Australia for a career opportunity in her new industry. Taking risks within an industry can also be rewarding. My career started in newspapers, then magazines and now digital. And within the magazine industry I switched genres in a way that many of my peers would not: from young women’s magazines to food to fashion to mass women’s magazines.
- Always say yes to new opportunities. In her book Lean In, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg asks women to consider what they would do if they weren’t afraid. That chapter reminded me of a woman I once worked with who complained regularly that her options within her organisation were limited. But when presented with new possibilities she chose her comfort zone instead. When men are presented with a promotion they are only 30 percent skilled to do, they don’t hesitate in accepting because they choose confidence over fear.
- Choose the right partner. In an interview with Women’s Agenda sister publication LeadingCompany, Nestle Chair and non-executive director Elizabeth Proust explained the importance of a supportive partner to her career success: “If my husband hadn’t helped – more than helped – raise our daughter and do domestic tasks, I would not have been able to do what I have been able to do.”
- Prioritise their children. I am regularly asked how I have successfully juggled a rewarding career and two children. My response is that I have always openly prioritized my children. Only in exceptional circumstances have I missed a drama performance, musical showcase or award presentation. Enjoying time with your children when they need you is surely reward for all of that hard work. If you don’t feel comfortable discussing your children in the workplace then it’s unlikely to be a company where you will succeed.
- Schedule in some me time. A number of female bosses have shared this tip with me over the years. From going for a long walk, taking up yoga classes or getting into the routine of a morning swim, the clarity of mind that time out affords you cannot be over stated.
- Make mistakes. This one took me a long time to come to terms with. I always felt that anything less than perfect wasn’t a success. But I have learned so much more about what success looks like as the result of the mistakes I have made along the way.
- Take care of their team. You are only as good as your team. Oprah Winfrey famously took her staff and their entire families on a Mediterranean cruise a few years ago as a thank you for their part in her success. While that kind of reward isn’t practical for almost anyone else, the odd team dinner or lunch, a birthday cake or bottle of wine can have a similar result in engendering loyalty.
- Acknowledge others. Non-executive director Sam Mostyn is quick to credit others whenever I have congratulated her on any aspect of her career. Given her remarkable CV, Sam could allow herself a little chest-beating from time to time. And yet she doesn’t. Her modest style is undoubtedly part of the reason that she is highly sought after for ASX Boards.
- Believe they will be a success. A consistent theme with successful women I have interviewed over the years and met with in recent times is a strong belief in their own ability. Almost without exception, successful women never imagined themselves as anything but successful. When I was a teenager I set myself a goal and didn’t stop to consider that I may not achieve it. When I did, I set the next goal. It is only now, 30 years later, that I wonder if that combination of goal setting and achievement can continue. I think it can.