Top advice for women in business from three power players

MaryLou Costa is a key member of the Marketing Week features team and her blog brings her unique Australian perspective to brands. She also oversees the Market Research Focus weekly bulletin.

There was definitely some girl power in the air at the NABS An Audience with Women Leaders event in London last night.

P&G marketing director and WACL president Roisin Donnelly, former Future Publishing chief executive Stevie Spring and easyJet chief executive Carolyn McCall were the high power female panel dispensing their career advice to an all female audience of up and coming marketing, advertising and comms talent.

It was certainly an inspiring conversation, and I think the issues facing women in business could be discussed for hours. I for one would like to hear more about balancing motherhood and a career – Roisin’s point about making choices and Carolyn’s point about compromise rather than sacrifice will ring true for many female business leaders.

I don’t want to get into a political discussion but I think the maternity leave situation in this country, as Stevie mentioned, will continue to be the root of women’s struggles in the world of business.

I’ve read about how shared parental leave is the norm in Scandinavian countries, as is subsidised childcare, and I really believe this is the only way we will be able to stop some of the discussions around women being disadvantaged in the workplace. Other discussions like differences between male and female leadership styles and gender psychologies is all a matter of opinion and I can’t see any resolute conclusion around this.

The best words of advice from the NABS event last night were:

Stevie Spring

Stevie Spring

– You need courage, to be decisive, have confidence, and be flexible. Be numerate. But don’t confuse salesmanship with leadership.

– It’s about attitude as much as aptitude – how you lead a team and the attitude you bring to that.

– You need to have a supportive partner. You need to think hard about this because it will make a big difference. Leadership roles will involve long hours and will be routine unfriendly. You need a supportive home structure to cope with that.

– You are judged on your appearance whether you like it or not. It’s foul, but you have to get used to having an armour.

– You can be a mediocre bloke as a leader, but you can’t be a mediocre woman leader. You are representing an underrepresented class.

– It’s true that women can be more emotionally affected than men, but don’t ever cry at work. A good tactic to control crying is to try and whistle at same time because it’s physically impossible to do both.

– Recognise the difference between five years experience and one year repeated five times. The first is worth much more. Get as much experience as you can. Not just in all the fluffy stuff but learn the hard stuff too. This is what a lot of women shy away from.

Carolyn McCall

Carolyn McCall

– People want to believe in their leaders. If you’re going to make decisions that people are not going to like, treat people intelligently and even though they might get upset they will be able to move on.

– Regardless of how demanding a job is you can have balance. There are ways of dealing. You have to build a team to cover some of that with you. It’s not insurmountable.

– Always keep your composure.

– You have to find the right mentor. You should get a male mentor because having a female only perspective is not always that healthy.

– There is a difference between sacrifice and compromise. I don’t think I have made sacrifices but I have made a lot of compromises.

Roisin Donnelly

Roisin Donnelly

– You aren’t a leader because of your title. You’re a leader because people choose to follow you.

– You need to be super intelligent, be able to look at numbers, cut through the crap and make the right decisions.

– You can be your biggest enemy. There is always that voice in your head telling you that you are not the best. Men don’t have that. Women undermine themselves a lot.

– If you don’t have a career strategy it is not going to just magically happen. If you sit waiting to be discovered it’s not just going to happen. You need to look at yourself as a brand and gain more exposure.

– When you’re a mother you have to choose. You have to make a choice and be happy with it. If you have chosen not to be at your child’s sports day you have to then get on with it. And if you are at sports day, be there. Don’t walk around checking your BlackBerry.



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