Do we spend too much time waiting on permission from somebody else to ask for what we want? Are we waiting too long to find somebody to support us – as a sponsor, a mentor or simply as a friend?
Do we sit back and wait to hear too many inspiring stories from others, before we become part of the story ourselves?
These are some of the questions I’ve been thinking about following a number of comments made recently among female company directors at an AICD/Women’s Agenda roundtable.
While this group of remarkable women spoke about the value of mentors (and particularly sponsors) for getting ahead, others expressed concern that women are waiting for too many stars to align before they grab opportunities themselves.
Sally Carbon, an Olympic hockey gold medallist who’s spent a couple of decades on boards, having joined her first at 22, raised the need to take “personal responsibility” while discussing how women can get ahead.
“I’m a believer of being a mentee and mentor, and in being a sponsor and sponsee,” she said. “But I also believe in taking control of things myself. And I think we as women feel like we need to ask permission of somebody else to support us.”
In a call to action, she added: “Of course they [mentors] do help, but bloody well get out there and take it yourself! Be the leader yourself!”
It’s a good point, especially in the context of some of the career-related advice we publish on Women’s Agenda, as well as what’s offered at so many seminars, events and training programs directed at women. It’s one thing to have the tools and techniques available, it’s another to utilise them effectively for getting what you want.
Carbon believes women can do more to take control of the “little things” – things that can help promote women as a “safe option” to those key decision-makers who, sadly, still see appointing a woman to a particular position or board as “risky”.
Taking the safe route is a controversial method, as Carbon acknowledged herself. She said she’s found herself almost “acting like a man” in certain situations in order to avoid expressing traits she believes certain people may find irritating – such as taking three sentences to explain something that can be explained in one. “To me it’s about what we can control,” she said.
Even once women have mentors and sponsors – sponsors are more effective many of the women company directors agreed – it’s up to the sponsee to ensure the relationships is fruitful.
While portfolio director Kirstin Ferguson said sponsors assisted her in getting many of the board appointments she’s achieved, she added that it still came down to how she took responsibility for her own career – in cultivating relationships with sponsors, ensuring they knew what she could do, and putting herself forward for positions that came up.
“I worked hard and worked at how I could be in a position to take these opportunities [rather than] hoping it’d evolve somehow,” she said.
Indeed, Ferguson was the first woman appointed to the board of Queensland Ruby Union, among a number of other listed and unlisted boards. They’re opportunities that wouldn’t have come about if she’d sat around waiting for them.
What do you think? Are women waiting for the right opportunities instead of taking action themselves?