Women taking the lead

Caroline Elliot gives some tips for women leaders on finding a network and thriving in a male industry.

Caroline speaking to a room of seated delegates
Caroline addressing the delegates at her session

I travelled to Antwerp last week to meet a wonderful group of powerful women who are part of a new Networking group MizBiz. It has been founded by four bright, professional women who feel there is an opportunity to bring together female professionals from across the industries to meet, support and encourage each other. Of course for a start they all speak superb English, which made my life easier.

I was talking to them about women in leadership with stories and hints from my own career but I also ran a session about networking.

Some of the tips I gave them about being a female leader were:

  • Provide solutions not problems….no-one wants to hear what cant be done
  • Actions speak louder than words – its all very well saying that you support women but if you arrange to have your meetings at 8.00 every day how realistic is that for someone who has children.
  • Hold your worries to yourself – you don’t always have to explain why something has gone wrong – think would a man apologize in the same way?
  • Don’t be afraid to negotiate your pay….women can often hold back on that. When I appointed women to roles they would say thank you, whereas when I appointed men they would say how much?
  • Have confidence in yourself – you can say no to opportunities as well as yes
  • Make yourself noticed – in a meeting don’t be the one who sits there and says nothing. Make sure you make a point. If everyone else is talking, just make a signal to the chair person that you want to say something. Don’t expect people to turn to you and seek your ideas, you have to put yourself out there.
  • Juggling – of course you will be juggling your career with home life (so will men) so be ruthless about what’s not important. In the list of things that need doing prioritise, prioritise, prioritise.
MizBiz events bring together a selective and diversified group of inspiring women

The importance of a mentor and a network

However probably the most important tip and hint I can give is find a good network with people you respect and who will support you.

  • Find a mentor, or more than one. When I was progressing I had really good mentors. I had more than one – maybe one who was more special than others – who saw something in me, who believed in me and was generous spirited and pointed out opportunities to me and introduced me to people. You need mentors from different skills background – so make sure you have someone you admire as a leader, you may need advice on HR issues, you may need a good legal brain or financial advice.
  • Build your network. I had a wonderful network of people at the BBC and it has served me well now that I have left. If I want to ask someone to speak at one of my courses I always know someone with the right CV. A good network is a two way relationship, so I do things for them too.

Inspiring stories from a great session

Everyone was very animated by the time the session ended and they did plenty of networking. There were many inspiring stories of women who were making it in a man’s world, for example the car industry and engineering. They talked about how to network with confidence in a room full of men, and they practiced how to make the right impression, although one joked that people always remembered her anyway because of her haircut. We discussed finding common ground for conversations so that everyone could join in, not just the men.

I set the challenge that each person should have five new contacts by the end of the evening and judging by the noise level, I definitely think this worked.