Women in Management

by Rita Bailey

Senior manager - groundwork

Now you have formulated your plan and built up a very clear picture of the resources at your disposal – your reputation and achievements – you need to treat your end goal as a project and put in the essential groundwork that will ensure you get the result you want.


Do you have a mentor, such as a senior, experienced manager or a previous manager, to whom you can turn for advice and feedback? If not, make finding a mentor a priority and include them in your ongoing planning to achieve your next role.

If your organisation is not sufficiently forward thinking to offer you a mentor, then you need to be proactive and find one either externally or inside the organisation (in the former case, you may need to network to find a mentor who will be a valuable resource to you). Your mentor is part of the support system that will help you identify what’s required at the next level. This goes beyond job descriptions: with good mentoring support, you will work out who are the key players, the nature and details of the organisational politics involved in the post and how best to manage the new working relationships. It’s this sort of information and advice that makes mentoring an invaluable tool.

You are not limited to one mentor. Indeed, you may find it useful to seek out several mentors, informal or formal, with whom you can raise questions and from whom you can seek advice on an on-going basis.

Mentors move on and get promoted too, so a mentor who can share their strategies and lessons about the road they travelled will help you progress quickly. At the least, they will help you minimise the mistakes that come from taking new risks.

Mentors can be board sponsors, actually supporting you to secure board appointments. Yours may be an existing member of the board you are seeking to join and thus an ideal source of advice, feedback and insights

Mentoring can help you to

  • Build excellent working relationships
  • Influence upwards, working at the next level
  • Broaden your thinking and act more strategically
  • Engage with top executives and directors successfully.

Inspiration can come from anywhere, so don’t limit yourself.

It’s up to you whether you choose male or female mentors. Depending on your own needs, either can give you great insight and guidance.

Find a mentor you admire, respect and trust. If your organisation or industry lacks senior women to mentor you, look for role models who inspire you.


Networking may require some concerted effort, particularly if it’s not a ‘natural’ thing for you to do. Developing your profile and making connections will be critical. It is important to have a plan for networking so that you get the most of it and it contributes towards your end goal.

  • Keep in mind that networking to build connections and find your next leadership role will require you to be creative and confident.
  • Use your networking activities to help you find board sponsors, mentors and any other resource you may need to keep on track with your plans.
  • Start with your existing network. You never know who your current contacts may know. You are now approaching your networks with your goal in mind and asking for referrals or introductions, or finding out if your contacts know other directors. This focus can help others to help you, as you are now approaching them with more specific requests.
  • You can also make sure that any new people you connect with also make referrals that can help you with your plan.
  • One of the obvious ways of networking is to attend networking functions. Again, it’s best to have a plan that helps you to stay focused. If there is a pre-attendance list, look for people whom you might want to make a connection. If there are specific people you want to meet, you could email prior to the event to ask them if they will be attending and let them know you would like the opportunity to meet them.
  • Some people are good at working a room; if that’s not something you’re keen on, make one-to-one appointments. For example, you might offer an invitation to coffee or a drink; as time is so precious, the idea of a quick coffee to exchange advice can initially seem more inviting than lunch.
  • Keep tabs on the people you meet. Tools such as LinkedIn are professional and enable you to see if people move on.
  • Professional institutes and industry or trade associations are also valuable in helping you to widen or diversify your networks, so make sure you consider them a part of your plan.
Quick lessons
  • Have a clear focused plan.
  • Research, so you are prepared.
  • Know what you offer.
  • Make sure your reputation is positive.
  • Network and build on your own contacts.
  • Be clear about expectations.
  • Be confident and stay positive

Understanding politics

There are plenty of resources dedicated to understanding politics (see Political Intelligence). It’s critical that you find supporters to advise you how to decipher unwritten rules, behaviour patterns and relationships, if you are to succeed at the higher levels in any organisation.

Consider what you did to understand the politics involved in your current post. Politics cannot be avoided; they’re part of human behaviour in the workplace. If you don’t get to grips with politics, it will prove challenging to operate and work successfully at the top.

Essential board skills

Up-skilling opportunities are a chance to keep learning and developing. It is also about taking on new challenges and committing to investing in your personal or leadership development (see Leadership). When opportunities for leadership come your way, welcome them – they are preparing you to secure the directorship you want and to engage with senior people.

The self-review you undertook previously was an opportunity to identify specific ways to improve skills that will be essential for working at senior leadership levels. It is a mark of your strength and professional maturity that you now seek to identify ways to improve.

Examples of the key skills you may find valuable, if you have not developed them already, are

  • Public speaking
  • Negotiations
  • Corporate governance.

Public speaking

At the level you’re aiming for, public speaking is expected. If you are not feeling too confident, then it’s best to address this quickly or this drawback will surely limit your advancement.

It does not matter how technically capable you are, you should be speaking at conferences, seminars and professional institutes to continue to build your reputation, profile and make you visible.

Solicit feedback from key colleagues in your audience when you have delivered a presentation, as this will help you to hone your skills. You can also join organisations, such as Toastmasters International, to develop your public speaking.


With diverse personalities on any board and debates frequently taking place about strategy and sensitive business issues, there are often great opportunities for conflict. Conflict and negotiations are part of everyday life, so the ability to debate and negotiate with other strong-minded individuals is a skill worth developing. Negotiations are about aiming for a win-win outcome that benefits the organisation.

To identify your preferred negotiation style, see Negotiation.

Corporate governance

Corporate governance is the responsibility of board leadership. It involves how companies are run, directed and controlled. There are multiple and complex relationships involving the board, shareholders, workforce, clients and the community. With such diverse stakeholders, the board’s directors are accountable for its proper governance.

A well-run company generates a growth and creates investors’ confidence. Global corporations and their wealth are considered to be critical to world economic growth. High-profile collapses, such as like Enron and Lehman Brothers, have put corporate governance under the spotlight. So, proper governance is important. In preparation for your next role, it is important that you understand what is expected in the company you are involved in terms of legislation, practice, policies and responsibilities.