Q. What are your tips on breaking through the ranks in a male-dominated company?
A. The key is to look for the opportunity in the challenge. Find yourself a sponsor in the leadership team. My sponsors have been male leaders throughout my career. Sponsors championed my capability at a level of management that I would otherwise have had no visibility with in the early stages of my career.
Looking back I realise that my first career sponsor was John Motion, then General Manager at ACP where I was Editor of Dolly magazine. I worked closely with John on Dolly licensed brand extensions: Dolly Books, Dolly Video, Dolly Club. He identified me as a potential future leader and then a decade later, when he was the CEO of Pacific, he hired me to run the monthly magazines as a Group Publisher. He created a significant step-change for my career and set me on the media management path.
If your organisation is male-dominated, then choose a male sponsor, as a sponsor will be most effective for your career if they are in a position of influence within the organisation. When men have the power, use it to your best advantage via a sponsor. If your company has greater gender balance, then choose the leader you believe to be the most accessible to you, man or woman.
If you hit your head on the way up the ladder because the top levels of management are closed to women, then you can either challenge this or leave and find a company that is focused on merit rather than gender. The least aggressive way to challenge the gender bias, unconscious or conscious, is to speak to the Head of People and Culture about this. That’s what I do. Gain their advice on what can be done to open up opportunities for women in the leadership team. If you are not satisfied with this discussion, you can arrange a time to meet with the CEO and ask the same question. If after all of this you decide to move to another company, do the women in your organisation a favour and ensure that you let the company know why they have lost your talent.
If you have any questions that you would like answered along the way, submit them in the comments below and I promise to respond in an upcoming post.