Helping women reach their leadership goals
Australian Jo Miller was looking to advance in the corporate world, but found she was hitting roadblocks that prevented her from reaching her full potential.
Instead of accepting defeat, she hired a coach to figure out the next steps in her human resource and recruiting career.
That coaching process proved so valuable she decided to switch career gears — and formed her own company Women's Leadership Coaching Inc in 1998.
Ms Miller now tours the world providing women in business with a road map for how they can work towards leadership positions in their chosen fields.
She was recently on Island speaking at a sold-out workshop, hosted by the Centre for Leadership in Bermuda.
One of the biggest tips Ms Miller gives women looking to advance their careers is to build an influential support network “in a very strategic and focused way”. They can do this by building a community of five key types of people around them who can offer advice and assistance when working their way up the corporate ladder.
But she maintains these relationships should be genuine and not forced or fake.
After launching her company 15 years ago, Ms Miller was able to interview more than 1,000 up-and-coming women leaders and identified a common set of challenges encountered by women hoping to advance — particularly in industries dominated by men like technology, finance, and energy.
One of the findings from that study was that many women lacked senior level sponsors and mentors who could help guide and encourage them in their careers.
She encourages women to find ways to become a person of influence and demonstrate their strengths and skills, regardless of the current role they are in.
Kendaree Burgess, one of the founders for the Centre for Leadership in Bermuda, maintained that employees who got themselves noticed for the smaller roles could also put themselves in the running when bigger projects came up.
“The aim is to get, not just your peers, but the people you report to, to see you in such a way that you become a natural for that position you are aiming for,” Ms Burgess said.
“That helps to build confidence because once you start to become a person of influence, where people can see your work and see you add value, you become the natural choice.”
Another tip for success in the workplace is to be clear about your specific career goals.
After taking part in Ms Miller's workshop, Jenny Smatt-Adkins, another founding member of the Centre, learned how women should take charge in their own career advancement instead of waiting to be seen or picked for the raise or promotion.
Ms Miller said while the economic downturn has resulted in less chance to advance in certain fields, women can still work to improve their skill set and be “ready and visible” for when the opportunities arise.
They can do this by understanding their ideal career niche and then building a ‘brand' or reputation as an emerging leader.
Another area where women can stand out among the pack is by learning “positive and effective” ways of navigating office politics, Ms Miller explained.
Instead of seeing ‘office politics' as a negative term, Ms Burgess learned that it's good to change your perception and look at it as a way to better understand the various roles and functions of the organisation.
“Many women get in the organisation and start to look at the issues and become overwhelmed and think they can't fight against it and say ‘I will just do my work',” Ms Burgess said. “But being the girl in the corner doesn't get you anywhere or get you noticed.
“Instead women should see it as a way to strategically look at the ‘politics' and how to use that to your best ability to make it work for you. You can also educate yourself on how things are, so you know what to do or not do to make yourself visible.”
Rochelle Simons, one of the Centre's founding members, heard about Ms Miller's work after researching the topic of women's leadership development.
“It fit nicely with what the Centre for Leadership was about and the content of the course and some of the other work that Jo offers was really interesting, so it fit right in target with our mission,” she said.
The Centre for Leadership was formed by five women in late 2006, who came together to discus areas where support for women's leadership in business was lacking.
Ms Simons said: “We formed the Centre with a focus on women's management, to inspire and create successful leaders in the boardrooms, classrooms, store rooms and living rooms of our community.
“Our aim is to change the face of leadership by promoting the contributions of women.”
The centre held its launch event in 2007. Since then it has built a strong following after hosting a number of smaller functions and workshops featuring both local and international speakers.
The organisation didn't even have to formally advertise last week's event — and after sending out an e-mail to member clients, the course sold out within two weeks.
“We initially were aiming for 30 people, but we ended up with close to 80 folks in a room,” she said.
Feedback from last week's event was extremely positive. Ninety-four percent of participants rated the overall programme and content as being ‘very good or excellent', while 100 percent of attendees felt the facilitation was ‘very good or excellent'.