Ten Top Tips for Women in Business

This is an influencer post by Alison Kay, Global Vice Chair, Industry EY

At the current rate of progress it will be 80 years before we have gender parity. I think that’s too long to wait. Accelerating women’s advancement is not just a fairness argument. It’s also an economic imperative that creates higher growth, increased prosperity and stronger communities.

Working women

So here’s my top ten tips for what you can do to fast-track your career and make sure you – and your organization – make the most of your abilities.

1: Build a solid foundation right from the start

Take a job that will not only provide insight into your industry, but also help you build a solid foundation of core business skills. Ever since my university days reading geography, I’ve been attracted to asset intensive industries, so when I left university I had a clear idea of the sort of company that I wanted to work for.

My first role at United Utilities gave me a real insight into the world of power and utilities and helped me understand the close connection between industry and society – without water and energy the economy doesn’t work. As I progressed I learned the significance of the political interconnection too. Learning to recognize and manage these competing interests has informed a lot of my business thinking. I now lead a team within EY that is trying to quantify the importance of consumer and stakeholder trust and help businesses to find a better balance with the traditional measurements of business performance, such as profit and growth.

2: Seek out great mentors

I count myself very fortunate to have worked with senior people who’ve been prepared to mentor and coach me. At United Utilities the Operations Director at the time was very honest and gave brilliant advice. He told me the next job for me was his, but since I was 26 and he wasn’t moving I should go into consulting and get some international experience so I didn’t lose my spark. He encouraged me to take a risk, challenge myself and grab every opportunity. That’s what propelled me on to do an MBA and move to Accenture.

After that my career took on a new dimension and two people who really helped me get to the next level were leading partners at Accenture and EY who were both very generous with their time and advice and who saw something in me that was worth investing in.

3: Earn the trust of your mentors

I strongly believe that you have to be a good mentee too.

This is about showing people that you are worth the investment of their political and emotional capital. You have to work hard to show the value you can bring to the team and the organization.

4: Ask better questions

I love being the leader of a firm that asks questions and takes nothing for granted. We believe that by asking better questions, we can get better answers and unlock new solutions and opportunities. What I particularly enjoy is the opportunity to question and collaborate with different people from all around the world and in different business environments.

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As Global Industry Vice Chair at EY, I have the opportunity to ask better questions of some of the world’s most senior and experienced business leaders and to collaborate with them to help build a better working world.

5: Take risks and learn

We all have to make decisions that carry a certain amount of risk, but fundamentally it’s about having the confidence to keep challenging yourself and reaching for the next level. For me, leaving Untied Utilities and moving to London to work in consultancy were big decisions that would not only affect my career but change my life.

Although I was confident I was making the right decision and I sought a lot of advice, there’s always a fear that things won’t work out.

For all the decisions I make, I have a working assumption that as long as the downsides don’t appear too big, it’s worth taking a risk. You have to keep challenging yourself and you have to remember nothing will be gifted to you. You have to earn your place in a competitive global workplace.

6: Invest in your professional skills

I chose to study for an MBA to broaden my experience. I didn’t want to specialize in a particular part of business, and so more specialist courses didn’t really appeal to me. I wanted to gain more financial and strategic insights that an MBA can give you. I also knew that it would provide me with a respected qualification and opportunities to build my professional network – both of which I knew would be really important to progress my career. Looking back I don’t think I could have made the move into consultancy without it.

It’s because of my MBA experience that I’d encourage anyone to do further study after their undergraduate degree. It gives you lots of new perspectives and although combining this with a business role can be difficult, it gives you the extra edge you need when competing against the best.

7: Network: Meet one new person at every event

I don’t think that women always naturally see networking as a good or useful thing to do. But I believe it’s really important to make yourself and your ability visible both inside and outside your current workplace.

My top tip for networking is to be proactive and get involved, as you will only get out what you put in. It’s not as scary as it first seems and once you begin networking, you will usually know some of the people at any event. You should always challenge yourself to meet at least one new person at each event and most importantly, stay in touch with them.

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I’m a member of lots of different networks which have really helped me to build contacts across industries. Some of the best are Aspire, POWERful Women, the World Energy Council and EY’s own networks, although I still know I need to do more and seek out new opportunities to meet new people with interesting perspectives.

8: Manage the men in your organization

Men clearly have a really important role to play in accelerating the pace of change, promoting women in their organization and ensuring that there are just as many opportunities for women as there are men.

This isn’t about conflict, but actually building connections. I think we still have problems around unconscious bias and more needs to be done to help ensure that female employees can succeed and move into those leadership roles. For me the real focus should be on mentoring and coaching women in the middle tiers of an organization. We need to find great mentors and as senior women be great mentors ourselves.

EY really gets this. It’s great to have Mark Weinberger as our global chairman. He has made a conscious effort to address unconscious bias, ensure there are clearly mapped out pathways to leadership for women, as well as developing teams diverse enough to unleash the innovative spirit and new ways of thinking that the organization is famed for. I was lucky enough to work with Mark as part of EY’s 2020 team and that was an amazing experience.

9: Seize every opportunity to develop your skills

One of my biggest regrets is not going abroad early on in my career or while I was at university. Based on how interconnected and global our world has become, it’s important to take the opportunities that are going to help you excel in your experiences. Take time to learn something new, and use those vital experiences and skills to push you into the roles you want.

10: Believe in yourself: Anything is possible if you put your mind to it

In the final year of my MBA, I also changed jobs, moved to London, and got married. Juggling everything was stressful and seriously difficult to manage, but I was able to achieve what I wanted.

Succeeding in the business world takes a lot of hard work and ambition.

Believe in the skills you have, the lessons you’ve learned and what you can do. Confidence is key, and having it will help you to propel ahead.

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