Thursday, 24 July 2014

CAREERS WEEK GUEST POST: Want to climb the career ladder? What's stopping you?

By Liz Rouse OBE

Where next?  Been doing the same old job or wanting to get back into work? Thinking about stepping on to the management ladder?   

For most of us, the way to progress within an organisation and indeed earn a bigger salary is to take on management responsibilities. If the case studies of "superwomen" profiled in the press are correct, some women can't wait to be managers - to be in charge. Not only do they run highly successful businesses or rise to the top of their profession, they also seem to have wonderful partners and children, and great childcare! But when faced with an opportunity to go into management or take the next step up the ladder, many of us are more ambivalent. Perhaps we are not so eager to take on extra responsibilities, worrying how this will affect our families and how we will manage childcare. Anyway we don't necessarily see ourselves as "managers", part of the hierarchy. Would we have to change, can we be true to ourselves and our values? 
Why are women so diffident about applying for management roles and asking for the pay and conditions they want?

Women tend to be much more cautious about applying for management posts than men, we can lack confidence and hang back waiting to be asked rather than putting ourselves forward.  Men are more ambitious in their applications and seem to worry less about whether they have the right skills and experience. But this means lots of very competent and experienced women are not fulfilling their potential, and there are fewer role models of what it means to be an "ordinary woman" manager.  Writing in The Guardian Women in Leadership Newsletter (July14) Demetra Katsifli says Employers are likely to offer lower salaries to people who display a lack of confidence, appear overly eager for the job or fail to negotiate their employment terms. Women seem to be grateful to be offered the job. If you are offered a job, negotiate the terms and conditions.

Although we may lack confidence, women can get frustrated by the management we experience, or the poor managers we see in our organisation.  This may be your experience.  You can't help but feel you could do it better yourself!  There a number of ways to "try out" management - get a secondment, stand in for someone going on maternity leave, or work on a special project.  These are great ways of building your confidence, showing what you can do and getting noticed.  Although in the current climate of job cuts, you may just have management forced upon you whether you like it or not - just told that if you want to continue in your job you have to take on extra responsibilities. 

Whatever your reasons, if an opportunity comes along are you ready? Do you have the right skills? Will it mean more time at work? 

Surely most mothers have management skills - multi-tasking, time management, communicating with difficult people (like a recalcitrant 3 year old!)  But when taking on a management job, you do have to prepare for changes -  you do need different skills and you need to spend your time differently.   

A lot of people worry about management jobs involving more time at work and more pressure but, the thing to remember is, management is primarily about getting things done through others, not doing more of the work yourself. This means that you may have to use different skills to the ones that made you good at your original job and you will have to use your time at work differently. You will need to spend time clearly allocating tasks to others, defining and assigning work, and coaching and mentoring staff so they get better at their jobs. One of the commonest mistakes new managers make is to try doing it all themselves. Also when things go wrong, they take over the work themselves. If you do this you will be overstretched and your team will not learn how to do things differently.  So being a good manager is valuing the time and effort you put into supporting other people to do their jobs, as well as getting on with your own specific tasks at work. Not doing more work yourself.

Management is also about negotiation - getting resources for your team to do their work, building networks with colleagues and, of course, managing your boss!  So one of the first things is to make sure you negotiate your terms and conditions. If you need to work flexibly or restrict hours due to family demands show how this will work for the organisation. As Demetra Katsfli suggests, dont be too grateful - be clear about what conditions you need to do the job well. 

Ready to take the next step and apply for a management post?

Build your confidence by reminding yourself of what you are good at, the positive feedback you have received, the things you have achieved and how you have learned from your mistakes.  Be aware of the gaps in your skills and experience, and the areas where you need to improve.  If you do have gaps, show how you have already learned from observing other managers (good and bad!) or how you plan to fill them by getting a mentor, doing some management development or specific training. Last of all remember that managers are not born; management is something you can learn to do. So go for it!

Elizabeth Rouse FRSA OBE has a professional background in strategic leadership and management in higher education and the art & design sector. She is now Professor Emerita of the University of the Arts London where she was Deputy Rector and Pro Vice Chancellor until her retirement in  2012. In this role she was responsible for research, academic development, quality and standards and the student experience and has led national projects promoting widening participation and graduate employability in the arts. Elizabeth received an OBE for Services to Higher Education earlier this year.  

When working as a senior woman executive in a large university, Elizabeth was often asked to mentor or give talks to women in the organisation who wanted to progress their careers and to share her experience about becoming a successful manager and bringing up her two daughters. Here, Elizabeth gives us some tips about moving into management. 

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