Focus on Connecting-Up To Progress Your Career

Did you know there are only 14 female Chief Executives in the top 200 listed companies in Australia? And only 24 female Chief Financial Officers (CFOs). These are the latest figures from the Chief Executive Women (CEW) ASX200 Senior Executive Census 2018.

And yet, women comprise nearly half (46.9%) of the Australian workforce. Perhaps even more shocking is that 35.2% of Boards and governing bodies have no female directors, whereas only 0.9% had no male directors.

With men in such a dominant position in corporate Australia, what can we as women in the corporate world do to improve our chances of moving into senior leadership roles? Through my business journey, I have learnt that a very important aspect of achieving this, is through, connecting-up.

Executive WomanWhat is connecting-up?

When I talk about connecting-up in business, I’m talking about the things you do to establish a personal connection with influential people at work. A lot of employees enter and leave the workplace but the majority of them will not make their mark on the C-suite. They might be fantastic at their jobs, but unless they reach out and connect-up with the key influencers, they’re unlikely to be remembered.

If you want to fast-track your career in the corporate world and be taken seriously, you need to be memorable. You need to work the corporate ladder by making your career your responsibility. Why? Because it’s as hard as it’s ever been for women to reach the top in Australia. Roles like CFO and other profit building responsibilities are by and large the domain of men. So if the position of CEO is your goal, you need to be strategic about connecting-up and what stepping stones are going to get you there.

How to connect-up and make your mark: 3 top tips

1. Look for suitable mentors and sponsors within your organisation

Finding mentors and sponsors within your organisation who are in senior positions is a fantastic way to set yourself up for rapid career progression. Not only can an influential mentor give you valuable advice and career guidance, they can also give you access to opportunities that may not otherwise come your way.

For example, if the C-suite is looking for a more “grassroots” view of a proposed change initiative, or a representative from outside the ranks of senior leadership, you’ll be at the top of their list of people to include in meetings and transformational change discussions.

You’ll gain access to data that is out of reach for other employees of your seniority, which gives you a competitive advantage. Not only that but senior members of the organisation will get to see what you’re capable of first-hand, which is information that rarely filters through the managerial layer of an organisation.

A sponsor will promote and profile you and your achievements to their senior colleagues when you don’t even know they are talking about you.

2. Take the initiative and reach out

Tip number 1 isn’t just going to happen for you. You need to make it happen by taking the initiative and reaching out to senior leaders. Take your time to observe and do your research first. Is there someone within the senior ranks with whom you share a common trait? Where you grew up, hobbies you like, personal values and philosophy are all potential touch points for connecting-up.

Take care to ensure the connection is genuine. Senior leaders don’t want their time to be wasted by inauthentic “ladder-climbers”. Consider what you have to offer, the value you add to the business, to possible mentors in return for their advocacy. The best relationships are always two sided.

You could be valuable by helping them break down a perceived “us vs. them” barrier between the leadership ranks and other employees. Perhaps it’s something more personal than that. Determine what it is that they want and how you can help them to get it.

3. Don’t be afraid to ask

Operate on the basis of the mantra, “If you don’t ask, you don’t get!” Women in the corporate world can make the mistake of believing that if they work hard and do their job well, good things will come. Of course, that’s true to a degree. But unlike men, women are not as frequently upfront in asking for what they want.

Ask senior executive leaders to meet you for a coffee. Ask for a secondment or promotion. Ask for more responsibility. Ask for a pay rise. If you want these things, you have to ask. You need to clearly articulate your value and why you deserve the pay rise or promotion. Example, if you ask for a 10% pay rise you need to articulate how you grow revenue by more than 10%.

Kathryn Fagg, president of Chief Executive Women, believes companies need to move more women into operational roles early in their careers. Not only that, women need to ask for the opportunity to switch into business units where they are responsible for a P&L that will help them move up the ranks. Many female CEOs have moved out of functional positions, such as strategy and legal, in order to rise to the top. Remember, the worst that can happen is your request will be declined. This is not the end of the world. It may even be an opportunity to receive constructive feedback.

So stand out, be memorable, reach out, connect-up, seek advocacy, and don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. These are the things that will advance your career to the next level.

If you’re looking for a peer coaching and networking group to help you connect-up, contact Behind Closed Doors for practical and valuable learnings, to help build your career success.

Other than the top three tips above, what tips do you have to help women get into CFO and CEO roles in corporate Australia? I would love to hear from you.

Warmly, Donny

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