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The likes of Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn have made networking easier and more fashionable than ever. These sites are also the perfect places for women to begin building their profiles – both personal and business…

The recent CIMA report “Breaking glass: strategies for tomorrow’s leaders” highlighted increased visibility as a key strategy for success for its female members.

Therefore, any woman who wants to advance her career to a more senior level in the finance function, or indeed any other function, should give priority to raising her overall profile.

Mercer’s recent “Women’s Leadership Development Survey” revealed that only five per cent of organisational respondents provide a “robust programme” to develop female leaders.

This means that there are a reduced number of visible female role models to emulate at all levels. So although there is much talk about what governments and organisations can do for women, there is so much more that we can do for ourselves.

Self-promotion
Women now make up 60 per cent of European graduates and more than 50 per cent of the workforce. They frequently wait for recognition and hope to be invited, endorsed and promoted. But they are disappointed that despite doing a good job and being patient, full credit and recognition is not always forthcoming.

They therefore have to know what they are good at, be able to clearly articulate it and promote themselves. In modern jargon they have to build their “personal brand”.

Personal branding, according to Dan Schawbel, the “Gen Y personal branding guru”, is “the process by which we unearth what makes us special and communicate this to the right audience”.

This is the time to find your “personal power”. You might want to find a mentor or a coach to support you. And yes, you have incredible skills and talents, but if you don’t know what they are, how do you expect anyone else to know?

Networking
Individuals with strong networking skills have been identified as having a high potential for success. Political skill, which is defined as the “ability to understand others at work and to use that knowledge to influence others to act in ways that enhance one’s personal and organisational agendas” (Political Skill at Work: Impact on Work Effectiveness, Ferris & Perriwé) is a key characteristic needed for career advancement.

This is an area in which women should excel, yet they still hold back. Women are just as good at building relationships as men. Women have traditionally tended to tap into their networks to organise babysitters, find the latest restaurant recommendations or run their home, so there is no reason to doubt that they have these skills.

However, the thought of stepping up and engaging to make themselves personally visible, whether that be within their own organisations or in outside networks specifically for their own benefit – for example, being political – fills many with horror, so they look for reasons not to.

But the creativity required to dream up the excuses suggests that their inner capabilities are first class.

Don’t be afraid of “no”
So what prevents many women from stepping out of their comfort zone? My observation is that fear of failure and rejection play a key role.

But what is the worst thing that can happen? That they could receive a negative response, perhaps? Women have to learn not to tie professional rejection into their sense of personal self-worth.

They also have to understand that “no” is merely the beginning of the dialogue, not the end as they so deeply fear. When they really understand what their key skills and achievements are, those success stories will play a powerful role in the negotiation process.

Networking within organisations
Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, suggests in her TED talk “Why we have too few women leaders” that women need to “come to the table” rather than simply sitting on the sidelines waiting for recognition. They need to step up and raise their profiles. But how can that be done? There are a few simple steps to follow:

  • Participate in meetings. Speak up!
  • Find a mentor and a sponsor.
  • Network with colleagues outside the normal sphere of activity or geographic location.
  • Volunteer for high-profile assignments. Participate in sector or professional networking activities.
  • Ask for increased responsibility.

Networking outside an organisation
There is no situation which cannot potentially be professionally useful. We all have friends, families, colleagues and business associates.

There are so many avenues to connect – whether through alumni organisations, hobby and sports groups, conferences, professional associations and so on.

Even random encounters can be beneficial.

But when networking it is important to always set a professional goal and follow up on it, even if it’s only a business card exchange or a commitment to connect on business networking site LinkedIn.

I have one friend who sets out to get ten business cards from every business event she goes to.

Online
For the first time ever reluctant networkers have a great tool to support their physical networking. They can now network online.

Not only do these platforms provide background information on colleagues, bosses and other contacts, which always helps to facilitate conversation and give additional insights, they also serve to raise the individual profile of everyone who participates.

There are actually more women than men using social media. Engaging online is entirely self-scheduling and can be fitted around other responsibilities, making it a perfect instrument for staying connected.

Professional profile
All women should create one or more online, comprehensive, professional profile. And then engage.

LinkedIn now has 100 million members and is highly effective. This sends out a message that you take your career and professional activity seriously. Your profile must include a professional business photo.

Many women are not keen on this for any number of reasons, but I have mainly found it is related to confidence issues and insecurities regarding appearance and concerns about wide internet exposure.

But women should understand the power of appearance

Join CIMA’s women’s network where CIMA members and students can seek advice, network and share tips on advancing their careers: http://community.cimaglobal.com/groups/ content/cima-womens-network

Further reading
Read CIMA’s report “Breaking glass – strategies for tomorrow’s leaders” and honest, insightful case studies from some of CIMA’s most successful female members at www.cimaglobal.com/women

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