Category: Career Progress

end of competitive advantage

What does success mean to you?

What does success mean to you? It’s an interesting question to consider as you go through your career and particularly when you are considering your options after a career break.

Conceptions of career success

When we talk about how successful someone is in their career, we still tend to use the obvious external markers. How much are they earning? What level have they reached in an organisation? If you consider that being the CEO earning £1m+ a year is the pinnacle of career success, it’s easy to feel that you have failed in your career once you’ve stepped off the career ladder to the top.

In fact, research has shown that the majority of people tend to judge their own success by more subjective measures. A classic study by Jane Sturges found that factors such as enjoyment, accomplishment, influence, expertise and personal recognition rated highly in a group of managers’ descriptions of what success meant to them. For all of the women in the study, the content of the job was rated as more important than pay or status. Balance criteria were also used by some of the managers – meaning that success for them was how effectively they combined a satisfying home and work life. From my perspective, achieving fulfillment and satisfaction in both home and work life is one of the greatest measures of career success, yet one that is rarely mentioned when we commonly talk or read about successful people.

What does success mean to you?

Developing your own success criteria can help you to feel more positive about the choices you have made to date and to develop clearer objectives for this next stage of your career.

A useful coaching exercise to help with this is to mentally fast-forward to your 70th birthday. To put you in the right frame of mind, imagine who is there with you, where you are, even what you are wearing.  Now imagine you’re giving a speech discussing what you’re proud of having achieved in your career and your life as a whole. What comes to mind? What will make you feel you have succeeded in your life? Write down whatever comes to mind and you’ll have a good starting point for developing your own personal view of success. And that’s what really matters…

julianne&katerinaJulianne Miles, from the blog Women Returners: Back to Your Future aka Julianne Miles and Katerina Gould, an occupational psychologist and an executive coach who support professional women to return to work after a long career break.

Working Mums - Finding your work / life blend in 2015

Working Mums – Finding your work / life blend in 2015

If you’re returning to work in 2015 after maternity leave you might be understandably worried about the prospect of juggling work and your new life at home. Hopefully help is at hand! Last year working mum Anna Rasmussen launched a research project called Keeping Women In. Anna asked 250 high potential working mothers to tell us about their lives inside and outside of work. She specifically asked the women what they needed their employers to do to support them to reach their full career potential after having kids. The results of Anna’s research are based on the concept of achieving an acceptable work / life blend.

Her research is full of simple, effective tips for businesses (and bosses) to support working mothers. You can download a free summary report and also watch this short video

One of the key findings of Keeping Women In was that 80% of the potential solutions to help support working mothers relate to leaders and individual bosses. Just 20% relate to the wider business. Here are some examples of top tips for both:

Tips for leaders managing working mothers:

  • Openly talk to your working mothers about their home lives and discuss any specific challenges they face eg. childcare, school holidays, current workload and working in the evenings
  • Set clear objectives and career plans
  • Recognise merit and contribution over presenteeism
  • Acknowledge hours worked outside of the office and provide recognition
  • Openly communicate career opportunities and provide encouragement and support to move to the next level

Tips for the wider business for managing working mothers:

  • Offer a condensed working week in school holidays, flexibility to work from home if needed or emergency child care support
  • Ensure effective technology is in place to support remote working
  • Develop a culture that supports high achieving working mothers
  • Organise company family days
  • Encourage company networking and mentoring so that high achieving working mothers receive exposure to senior figures within the business

Implementing small changes can make a huge difference to the over-all well-being of working mothers and this in turn impacts productivity and retention.

I’ve had the privilege of working personally with Anna on this project and have seen first-hand the positive steps working mothers and their employers have taken as a result of it. Hopefully you will find it equally inspiring.

We are determined to continue to support working mums in 2015! As such, we going to be running a series of webinars over the next few months to give even more insight into our Keeping Women In research findings and we need real working Mums – people like you to get involved!

Anna photoAuthor: Alexa Garthwaite, supporting the marketing of the researcher: Anna Rasmussen. Anna works with organisations to attract, engage and retain female talent. She has developed the app Open Blend which facilitates interactive coaching sessions between a business leader and a working mother. If you would like to be added to the mailing list for further updates about Keeping Women In, including webinar details, please email – She would love to hear from you

Using your instincts in career decision-making

Using your instincts in career decision-making

“I’m thinking about applying for corporate jobs again and have been approached about a part-time Marketing Director job. I know it would be a good move and work with the family but for some reason I’m putting off making the phone call to the recruiter.”

Marion had left the corporate marketing world 6 years before to spend more time with her two children who were approaching senior school age. She now felt keen to return to work and had been focusing on the logical plan of using her past experience and networks to get back into a leadership position. She’d had a few promising leads but noticed that she was dragging her feet and putting off following up on them. Why was she making this so difficult for herself?

As we talked, I noticed that Marion’s energy soared when she spoke about friends who had set up their own businesses and about her own ‘impractical’ entrepreneurial ideas. When she reverted to talking about the ‘realistic option’ of going back to mainstream corporate life her energy drained away like a pricked balloon. Her tone of voice and body language were telling a different story from her words. As we talked, she identified a strong reluctance to give up her freedom and autonomy and the focus of our conversations switched to the feasibility of entrepreneurship. Having turned down a second round interview for the Marketing Director role, she is now enthusiastically developing her own venture.

Rational vs Instinctive Decision-Making

Many of us tend to believe that our decisions should be directed by our rational brains and we distrust our emotional response. But we need to remember that our experience of working, be it positive or negative, is subjective. Whether we enjoy a job depends just as much on how we feel about it as how good it looks on paper. Our emotions are often linked to underlying values, like Marion’s pull towards freedom. And an instinctive reaction can pick up something intangible (like a company culture or a manager’s personality) that does or doesn’t feel right before you can explain the reason why.

And there’s another reason to listen to your intuition. It’s true that ‘gut feel’ can be misleading and lead to faulty conclusions*. On the other hand, psychology studies show that we do not always think best when we rely on reason alone. For more complex decisions (like career choice) our rational brains can hit information overload. If we put our attention elsewhere and allow our unconscious mind time to work through all the factors and come to a decision, we are more likely to make an ‘instinctive’ choice that we will be happier with over time, even if goes against a logical pros & cons evaluation**.

Ways to incorporate the emotional & instinctive in your decision-making

1. Follow your energy. When you talk about each of your options, notice when your energy levels rise and when they drop. What are you most drawn to investigating? Ask your friends/family what they have noticed too.
2. Try describing yourself out loud in each of the different options: “I’m running my own business”, “I’m a Marketing Director”. Which intuitively feels best? Which feels more like ‘you’?
3. When you find yourself over-deliberating about your options, take a break, engage in an activity that distracts your mind for a few hours and then write down your decision before consciously thinking any more about it.

And in general, when you’re considering your next move, value your emotional reactions just as much as your logical analyses.

Note: names and some details have been changed to maintain confidentiality

Further Reading
* For examples of biases see Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast & Slow
** One study by Dijksterhuis & van Olden asked participants to look at 5 posters and choose which one they liked best using 3 different techniques: 1) pros & cons 2) gut feel 3) look, solve anagrams, look again, decide. A month later the 3rd group were happiest with their choice. This Unconscious Thought Theory effect has been replicated in more complex decisions such as renting an apartment (See Richard Wiseman, 59 Seconds).

julianne&katerinaAuthor: From the blog Women Returners: Back to Your Future aka Julianne Miles and Katerina Gould, an occupational psychologist and an executive coach who support professional women to return to work after a long career break.

Best tips for Business Travel for Working Mothers

Best tips for Business Travel for Working Mothers

At last week’s City Mothers event Freshfields partner Kathleen Healy shared what she learned from her 9 month posting to Hong Kong with 2 toddlers. Daunting, that’s for sure. But Kathleen proves it can be done and enjoyed too. She shared the stage with Catherine Weir from Citibank, who has been travelling the world with her husband and 2 children for over 15 years, and is currently based in Geneva.

I went along to the breakfast and have summarised for you what Kathleen learned during her posting, with  additional tips and advice from Catherine:

1. Focus on ‘How could it be done’

In your head you may have a voice telling you ‘It can’t be done’, quiet that voice and focus on ‘How could it be done’ instead. Most employers have supported families through the process of re-location before and can be an invaluable source of information. They often know what has helped other families. There are a huge amount of on-line resources. Remember to also check out resources from other employers, large corporations with many years of expat experience, such as Shell, often have freely available resources.

2. Think about what it will add professionally

This could for instance include: new contacts in your network, access to different levels or different parts of your organisation, greater exposure to decision makers, building up of unique experience or making you into the ‘go to’ person.

iStock_000009313311XSmall_03. Ask the same 2 questions for your other half

Encourage your other half to think lateral and be positive. In Kathleen’s case, her partner was keen to join, and as an IT analyst he was able to find work as a contractor in Hong Kong. Even if he is keen to go, it’s still good to make sure he thinks about the benefits for himself, particularly career progression for him and how it might be enhanced/otherwise affected as they can help both of you through those really tough moments that invariably come up once you have arrived at your new location.

Following your partner abroad can often feel like a career sacrifice. However it doesn’t have to be. Catherine’s partner learned Chinese during his stay abroad which – albeit many years later – turned out to be a great asset for a trader.

4. Ask the same 2 questions for your children

What will your children get out of it, and how could it benefit them? What would you like them to learn? Most children are surprisingly adaptable. Make sure you find information on childcare in the country you are moving to before you leave. Your employer, Mumsnet and on-line research can give you a lot of insights. In countries like the Philippines and Hong Kong, most people have live-in nannies that are very affordable, as a result families do not have childcare issues. Imagine if you could adapt to what is the custom in the country you are moving to, or whether you would be a lot happier sticking to a different arrangement.

5. Understand the culture of flexible working in your new location

If you currently work flexibly you may need to consider adapting your ways of working or working hours to the working culture in your new location. If working flexibly is something your new working office embraces, you may need to adapt or at least be sensitive to the new environment. Perhaps you might need to adapt for the first couple of months, and use that time to understand what it will look like for your colleagues, managers and staff, before you introduce a new working schedule.

6. Remember to review your contractual terms

Before you decide to go, consider:

  • What does your current contract state, perhaps you signed up to being mobile long time ago in which case it might be harder to refuse
  • If you are asked to take up a secondment but you don’t wish to go, is that ‘not now’ or ‘not ever? If at some point you may like to travel again or be considered for secondment in the future, when would you be prepared to do so?

If you do decide to go, consider:

  • What benefits will be part of the contract, what benefits will NOT be included. In case some benefits are not included, that you would like to have, perhaps there is some flexibility and space for negotiation
  • What are they asking you to sign: a new contract, a local contract or an extension of your current contract?
  • How will you be paid? Home or local currency? Will you need a local bank account?
  • What will happen to your work in your home office? Client relationships? How will they be looked after?
  • What happens when you return? Will you indeed receive the same Terms&Conditions, salary and bonus opportunities?
  • What does it say in your current contract about the smaller but sometimes equally important matters? eg. Will you return to the same office space and same desk?

Also remember to stay in touch with your home office while you are away. Perhaps you can dial into calls or find video conference facilities to help you keep in touch. It is key your colleagues still remember you when you return and you are in touch with developments in your ‘home’ office. Make sure you also update them on what you are doing and what skills and expertise you are gaining. Get credit for what you are doing and don’t be afraid of a little self-promotion.

Overall both Kathleen and Catherine agreed that planning is critical. The more you research and prepare, the more likely it is you will get what you need in your new location.

59620014_IngeWoudstraWebsiteAuthor: Inge Woudstra, Director Mum & Career. Based on a talk by: Kathleen Healy, partner in the Employment, Pensions and Benefits Group of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP. She heads the Asia Employment, Pensions and Benefits practice. Catherine Weir, Managing Director, Head of Citi Global Family Office Group and Vice Chairman of CITI Institutional Client Group in EMEA. The talk with organised by CityMothers on 12 September 2013.




Leadership tips for aspiring female tech executives

Leadership tips for aspiring female tech executives

Some great practical, no-nonsense views from Sonya Brown. Get your home-team ready, know the industry you get into and live near to your work.

Read more on VentureBeat / Entrpreneur, published on: 16 February 2013


end of competitive advantage

The end of competitive advantage – how to make the most of it for you!

Are you frustrated by the lack of upward progress in your career? Have you had to re-invent yourself several times as many women do? Did you end up moving sideways rather than upwards? Have you perhaps got stuck at one level and just sat there for a while?

Then you are probably one of those people with a bit of a patchy CV, where it takes a while to see a clear thread.

I bet you are also someone who thinks that to get to the top one needs a straight line, and there is no hope left for a proper career for you. You are thinking “Actually, you might as well give up now. “

Well, hold your horses and prick up your ears: It may just be you are on the career path of the future!


The end of competitive advantage

Recently I heard Rita McGrath speak on her new book: The End of Competitive Advantage, at an event organised by HBR London. She argues that competition is no longer about just competing against competitors and getting the best competitive advantage. On the contrary, more than ever entire industries are being wiped out by changing parameters. Entry barriers to industries have become lower and new entrants to the market come from unknown sides.

As a result competitive advantages are only temporary. They are transient. To understand what she means. Just imagine how the market is shifting to emerging economies like China, imagine what the Internet is doing to the newspaper industry, imagine what on-line teachers are doing to business schools and what digital photography has done to one-time industry leader Kodak (- in case you have missed it, Kodak filed for bankruptcy in 2012) .

Rita McGrath argues that for businesses it means the end of a sustainable competitive advantage. She states that the only thing that is sustainable in future are specific types of assets: trust, relationships between people and the networks organisations have. Those don’t change.

As a result organisations that want to survive need to keep on innovating. They need to discover by working with multiple small pilot-projects at the same time (aka: lean development or lean start-up). It is about planning only to the point that they know, then re-plan once they are there.

And that is where your chance is. To help businesses work like this, they will need people with diverse experiences. People that have been outside of their industry, can grow quickly with the changing demands of their customers, can see external threats coming, think outside of the box or don’t even see a box.

In short: people like you, with diverse work experience. I believe a patchwork CV perfectly qualifies you for this.


What you have that others don’t

Typically careers are about advancing upwards. But imagine someone with a straight-line career. Let’s say a university professor, who has worked hard to get there, making the right career moves at the right time and now has arrived. How easy would they find it to adapt if people stop coming to universities and business schools and pick up what they need to learn from on-line guru’s? The university professor may find it hard to adapt, and will possibly even refuse to.

But that’s not you. You have adapted before. You have seen more of the world. It is so much easier for you to adapt. It is so easy for you to bring new perspectives. Like most women, you have probably been forced to re-invent yourselves several times. You have been forced to stop, think and review your values and priorities. You have moved sideways and taken on board new things. Suddenly what you have, has become a key skill.

On top of that of course, if it is all about networks, trust and relationship, that might be something you are good at too!


Become an entrepreneur of your own career

Last just a few tips on how you can make the most of this development. Obviously it isn’t going to work to wait around till the world needs you. What you need to do to make the most of this development is: Become an entrepreneur of your own career. This could include some of the following steps:

  1. Keep on developing and adding skills. Develop sideways. Develop deeper.
  2. Try new things. Keep stepping out of your comfort zone. Where is the world heading and what can you do in that area? Do you need to be vlogging? Do you need to keep up to date with Social Media or biochemistry? Where will you learn most?
  3. Always keep a focus on client-skills. Ask yourself: what is it that will help you, with your capabilities, be more useful for others

And of course, at your next job interview, make sure you mention your diverse experience as an asset. Explain how you have become more open to change, more resilient and how it help you bring new insights and ideas into the business. Explain how you have an asset that can help the organisation in this rapidly changing world.

Author: Inge Woudstra, working women’s expert, trainer and researcher. Inge is the founder of the flagship portal Mum & Career that shows professional working mothers how to navigate career and family.

Are you currently struggling? Juggling? Or are you just not happy with your role in life? For a full hour consultation to get the focus back in your life, just e-mail:

How women can best progress in their career: Find a sponsor

How women can best progress in their career: Find a sponsor

Much of the research on women and work published since the Davies report has focused on what women must improve upon in order to progress their careers. The key areas identified are:

  • Self Promotion
  • Networking
  • Career planning
  • Recovering from maternity leave
  • Sponsorship

Asking women to work in ways designed for men doesn’t work

In response, there have been numerous `women`s initiatives’ implemented by companies to improve retention levels of key women. However many of these initiatives are not working, mainly because the emphasis is often on what women should be doing better. The focus on `doing better` aims to persuade women into ways of working that were designed for and by men.

In fact women work differently to men and recent evidence proves that this diversity is good for the bottom line. What is needed is more understanding of these differences, more understanding between those above and those below, between women that want to stay and those that want them to stay.

Sponsorship doesn’t ask women to change, it helps them progress

A recent report from Reed Smith* analysing the effectiveness of various `women`s initiatives’ finds that sponsorship programmes are the most effective way of enabling women to more senior roles. Sponsorship is a structure designed to build connection and understanding. Different from mentoring the responsibility is on the sponsor to enable the progress of the sponsee . By seeking out promotion opportunities and networking on behalf of the sponsee, this system works for women in place of the ` old boys network’.

Women are traditionally over mentored and under sponsored. With an emphasis on sponsorship, women can be progressed rather than asked to change. However sponsorship is also one of the least likely of these `women`s initiatives’ to be in place with only 23% of the companies surveyed having a sponsorship programme compared with 53% that have a women`s network.

So what can you do if your company does not have a sponsorship programme?

Of course you don’t need to wait till your company sets up a sponsorship programme. You can find a sponsor for yourself. Just target one or two people that you could learn from. For instance, choose someone who is in a position that you would like to be in.

Be clear about what you want from your sponsor, do you need a sounding board or some introductions? Ask for their help. The sponsors that we work with at Beacon Women speak of the privilege of being able to help others; experienced people have a desire to pass on wisdom. Being a sponsor can provide some much sought after ‘meaning’ through work.

Why aren`t more companies using sponsorship as a way to improve retention of women?

The answer is that a sponsorship relationship has to be managed carefully in order to work well. Many sponsor relationships break down, usually because the sponsor and sponsee have not been prepared for their roles and are not properly supported during the process.

Beacon Women works with potential sponsors and sponsees ensuring that both parties benefit and that measurable outcomes are achieved.


Authors: Joanna Barker and Tara Zutshi are the Co-Founders of Beacon Women. Both have worked at senior executive level in Media and FMCG. They founded Beacon Women to help grow the female talent pipeline in the UK’s biggest organisations.

Beacon Women is running a workshop in July for HR professionals and managers who are interested in launching an internal sponsorship programme. Through their MARIO system of effective sponsorship they will show you how to manage your female talent with this cost effective and empowering system. Please contact Joanna or Tara if you are interested in attending.

The impact of divorce on your career - will it kill your career?

The impact of divorce on your career – will it kill your career?

If you are looking to understand the impact of divorce on your career as a working mother. The first thing you need to understand is that divorce is like a death. You might have heard it before, perhaps even twice, and here I say it again.

Just like a marriage and becoming a parent, you cannot plan your divorce nor know how it feels or how you will cope (or not) until you weather that storm.

When you go through divorce that’s when you get to know exactly what you are capable of, the good and the bad and the just plain ugly. You get to see what others have been through and realise that there are indeed some things in life that are very capable of knocking you sideways and propelling you into a land that you never had any intention of visiting let alone residing in.

Yet here you are. In the land of inner pain, anger, resentment with a touch of relief and anticipation for what the future holds. A place where concentration, sleep disturbance and appetite attack are all names of avenues, street and roads.

Welcome to the land of “The Divorced Working Mum.”

So what happens when you find yourself divorced and the main carer of your children? How does that affect your career or work prospects?

For me personally, my divorce experiences steered me to working in a totally different way than I had anticipated. I had two children and no family around to help. I had to drop out of courses during divorce number one and had to quit one job during divorce number two and opt for a part-time position that was paying me not only a fraction of my previous salary but that was also mind-numbingly dull.

So did my two divorces kill my career?

That’s the story I held for a long time. That’s the belief that I carried with me for a long while until one day, I realised that, the divorces had actually shifted me to where I am today, doing what I love.

Remember that mind-numbingly dull job I ended up in? Well I couldn’t stay there and took the huge risk of resigning and working for myself.

Today, I am working with children and families affected by divorce, trauma and loss and I am pursue-ing my other love and passion, which is writing. I work for myself. I control my days and hours. That is what has worked for my children and me.

So will divorce kill your career?

Divorce will affect the way you work and perform. As already mentioned, your concentration is one of the most obvious areas. It can be affected by your emotions, which are affected by your thoughts which then play a role in determining your actions.

The one piece of advice I could give any mum going through divorce is to take time off, do ask for help and take it and accept it when it is offered. Ok, that’s more than one but they are all important. Only when you take care of yourself will you be able to see things clearly as you will be creating the space to do so.

This is no time to be superwoman just as when you lose a loved one through death, it is not the time to be superwoman either.

If you are employed then speak with your boss, let someone in the office know what is going on in your personal life. If you are now the main carer of your children, find out what work options there are for you.

Divorce encourages you to reassess your current situation to find and discover very creative ways to get time with your children, earn some money and look after yourself.

It’s not easy. We love spending time with our little ones, but bills need to be paid.

But here you are. The change has come. You are being steered. Which way will you go? What will you do? What can you do? Know your options and take it from there.

Author:  Soila. Soila is known for taking away the pain of trauma and loss in children, adolescents and their families. She has a Masters in Psychology and is a member of the British Psychological Association. Soila has worked with children and families for over 10 years., 07850 85 60 66