I used to coach, mainly male executives, helping them get better business results. They faced many of the same challenges as women and responded well to gaining clarity about their career goals and why they wanted to achieve them. They were more or less confident about doing so but that was the challenge. From time to time I would be asked to coach a women and over time I realised that a woman's career context is very different from a man's.
For a man, the need to earn a living is a given. From very young their thoughts are taken up with how they might do that, not whether they will do it. For a woman it's different, there is always an ambivalence. Admittedly with the economic pressures it is more likely that more women will work but even if they do, it's not just a question of working but also, what else they want to do! Because of the ambivalence, it is important that women look at the bigger picture of their career if they are to progress, especially to executive level.
Women's career ambitions aren't helped by the fact that they often don't have a specific goal in mind. The satisfaction of their ambition is often a preferred set of circumstances rather than aiming for a specific role. They want things like: having a certain level of responsibility, having the right level of challenge, having a life that works, constant learning and being respected by colleagues. In addition, there is the seismic interruption of having children, or just the possibility of doing so, that gets in the way of making career plans. This phenomenon is referred to by Sheryl Sandberg as ‘leaving before you leave’ as women are inclined to anticipate the difficulties before they happen.
A way forward
To help women negotiate this disruption, I encourage them to think about their career as a whole, right from the beginning. Many feel, given so much uncertainty, that isn't actually possible but I disagree. If you start from who you are and recognise that will not change, you have a pathway to envisioning an inspiring future, despite there being inevitable question marks. My career context model above illustrates my point.
The Career Context Model
The key is connecting with who you are. You can find out more about the exercise I do with clients to help them here. When you know who you are, you can work out what's important to you - your purpose in life. Connecting who you are with what you do creates an alignment that is exciting and potentially fulfilling, that is if your actions honour that connection.
When you know that you have access to all your energy, from it comes your drive to succeed. It will help you know what to do or whether what you are doing is what you really, want to be doing. When you know what energy, you have the next question is " What is the deal about work?" This is the fundamental question all women need to answer, and the sooner we do it the greater the sense of autonomy and intentionality. When we know the answer to this question, only then we can we decide who are the people we need to enrol to enable us to make this a reality.
If we have been holding back from investigating it, it may have something to do with one or more of the 5 areas that tend to hold women back; Being strategic, being visible, asking for help, setting boundaries and talking about money. If this is the case I suggest you consider taking the steps suggested in this model. And if you need some help in thinking things you give me a call.