How women are reclaiming power in their careers


The successful woman used to be this rare creature who dressed in black suits with white shirts had her hair in a bun and wore barely any makeup. She would either decide not to have kids, or if she did, she would take a very short maternity break afraid of losing her job. If the latter, she would end up juggling calls and meetings while privately pumping milk or making quick calls home to the nanny from the office bathrooms. Her conversations would be business focused, and she may have consciously decided to restrict her mention of her kids and family, or her well-being and self-development.

The changing face of woman

Recent times have seen substantial cultural shifts in terms of women's identity, expression and space in the workplace. Traditional power dynamics are changing and, with the rise of movements like equal pay and #metoo, working expectations, equal rights and empowerment are topics which can no longer be swept under the carpet. In a way never seen before, expectations around ‘being a woman with a career’ are shifting; both internally (within ourselves) and externally (within our culture).

Powerful women in highly visible roles, influencers who juggle their career with kids, family, hobbies and often volunteering. We also are seeing more often women who are the main breadwinners and husbands who are the trailing spouse. It's amazing!

There is a new space to BE and be heard as women. We are seeing that it is no longer acceptable or expected to have to relinquish strong aspects of womanhood in work. It took us several centuries but it seems like we're coming to the understanding that there would be no human race if it wasn't for women too.

However, we still have a long journey ahead of us. Last year in Singapore women were paid 18% less, and held only 6% of CEO roles in large-cap companies. When I read this, I almost cried. It hit me even harder when I looked at the stats from the so-called "progressive countries" like Sweden and Germany, where only 2% of CEO roles are held by women. I felt embarrassed reading that my home country Spain, only has 1% of women in CEO roles. Female entrepreneurs don't have it any easier, as female founders still just got 2.2% of the venture capital investments.

How do we realistically navigate this?

The top 3 things I’ve seen through working with countless ‘high performing’ successful women these last years are:

  1. So far, our careers have not have given us the opportunity to really ask ourselves what we truly want. We’ve settled with asking ourselves ‘what’s possible?’ instead. Delightfully, we’re reaching a point where question 1 - what do we really want? - IS and SHOULD be a question we all allow ourselves to ask and find the answer for.

  2. We are less vocal about our achievements and contributions, we take less credit for our work. And on top of this, based on my experience as a career strategist and headhunter, I'd say that when we do so, we use terms like "we did" or "I collaborated" instead of "I did" and "I lead". Despite being capable and tenacious professionals in our roles, this isn't reflected in our ability to work the job market. This tendency to undervalue our skills directly impacts the perception we have of ourselves, as well as how the outside world sees us. This leads to a lower salary offer for a role, compared with the budget a company has put aside for it. Hence, unfortunately, we aren't perceived as the capable women we know we are for the job.

  3. We may have been culturally trained to be more accommodating, or less ‘bold’ when it comes to fighting for what we deserve. We do desire to advance in our careers, yet on average, entry-level women are 18% less likely to be promoted than their male peers. This disparity at the beginning of the career has a dramatic effect on the pipeline of women that get to C-suite levels. We are all aware of the gap in salary and promotions, but often limited, or uncertain, in how we go about resolving this in our own personal circumstances.

My calls to action are:

  1. Set the right expectations: Starting a job and leaving on time, making boundaries clear, checking priorities and being honest about time expectations. You may notice that there are people in every company who always seem to leave on time - How do they do it? How is it possible for them and not you? We have a significant role to play in teaching people to treat us in the way we want to be treated. Sometimes that means being bold and starting as you mean to go on - from day 1, be mindful about leaving the office on time and people will come to expect this of you.

  2. Hold your head high: Communicate your pregnancy, upcoming wedding - heck, even your medical or gym appointment with the same confidence and certainty that you would use to respond to a question about client data. Like it's simply a fact; because it is. If you behave in a way that suggests you're nervous or apologetic, you'll subtly communicate the message that you think you should be. And you should not.

  3. Don't be shy and promote yourself: No one will ever know how great you are unless you tell them about it. There are ways of doing this that will remain true to you, without seeming obnoxious (a fear many of our clients, and even we, sometimes deal with!). Getting clear on your achievements, and how to communicate them will help greatly in this respect. Don't hide yourself in a team, embrace the warrior inside you and speak up!

  4. Ask... and ask the right way: Think your pay isn't reflective of the market rate for your skills, or that you're working at the same level of colleagues being paid more competitively? Your company are unlikely to observe they're underpaying you and spontaneously offer an increase. That's extra work for them. So you need to make the first move. Approach this as a business case: Do your research, list down your most prominent contributions to the company until the date, build a proposal clearly stating what you're asking for and provide evidence for why the company should agree, then initiate a conversation. Back up your salary review request with market data (check recruiters annual published rates for industries/sectors). If they say no, get a clear response as to why. You may be able to agree specific goals / KPI's that need to be hit to qualify for a raise. Get clear on what these are, and ask for the right support to achieve them.

  5. If you don't stand for what you deserve no one will: We need to be strong negotiators and remember that it actually starts the minute we go to the first interview, and not as many think when the offer comes. Don't be presumptuous but don't be shy. Remember that if you don't ask for it, you will never get it. But if you do, you actually might. And if a company doesn't see your value, WALK AWAY. Other organisations will.

  6. It's OK to feel uncertain when trying to answer "what do I really want to do?": As this is often a new question for us, we don’t always know HOW to explore it, and it's okay. Don't let fear hold you back. Give yourself the space to think, imagine and explore. Don't procrastinate about your happiness any longer. Just start. I can confidently say that IT IS (and will increasingly be) possible to get what we want, to create our Happy Mondays.

    If you have any questions or you have other tips to share, comment below or contact us! We’d love to hear from you!


sandra quelle