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You study hard at school and university and good grades come your way. You enter the world of work and expect the same rules to apply: success comes as the result of a job well done, right?
Wrong. And if you thought otherwise, chances are – according to the panellists at an EBRD event to mark International Women’s Day – that you are female.
“Good grades are not enough – that’s not life,” the EBRD’s former First Vice President Noreen Doyle said at the debate on Nurturing Female Talent in Business. “It’s a lot about self-promotion. If I could have my time again, I would like an infusion of self-confidence in my 30s. That’s the most differentiating factor.”
The 80/20 rule
The difference in levels of self-belief between men and women is illustrated by the 80/20 rule, Noreen added. Whereas women look at a job description and apply for it if they can satisfy 80 per cent of the requirements, men will apply for a position if they can satisfy 20 per cent of the criteria and will assume they can learn the rest on the job.
Being good at what you do is, of course, essential, the speakers at the EBRD event said. But it’s only part of the picture.
“It’s also about visibility, making yourself known, taking credit for your work and using opportunities to network,” said Betsy Nelson, who recently joined the EBRD as Vice President for Risk and Resources. “If I’m not telling my boss what I’m doing, how are they going to know?”
The talent lottery
It is, however, not just a case of women promoting themselves more actively. Companies and investors need to expand their selection criteria instead of gravitating towards employees or investees who are like them, according to Gita Patel, a manager of the Trapezia investment fund which invests in women-focused businesses.
“If you want to win the lottery, you need to buy a ticket. In the same way, businesses need to make sure their selection pool includes the talent that women represent,” Gita said. “Currently, head hunters don’t work hard enough to penetrate networks to find the best talent.”
So, what concrete advice did these three highly-respected female business executives have for up and coming women in business?
Gita urged women to invest in education and skills throughout their careers. She also advised them to explore mixed professional networks – not just women-only ones.
Confronting the pay gap
Betsy put the onus on managers to nurture the careers of younger staff by asking them how they want to develop their careers, thereby encouraging a long-term perspective. She also urged women to be bolder when discussing issues such as pay.
“If you don’t feel you’re being paid enough, ask and make clear that it’s important to you,” she said. “Often, people feel disgruntled but don’t bring it up.”
Noreen offered two tips. First, learn self-confidence. “It’s like acting: in the beginning it feels strange to project, to stand on stage or behind a lectern. But the more you do it, the more normal it feels. You just have to practise.”
And second, develop your professional networks.
“Once a week, have lunch with someone who is doing the same kind of business at a different company,” Noreen said. “The worst thing you can do is to have lunch at your desk or with the same people every day.”
By Mike McDonough
Last updated 8 March 2012
International Women's Day: at an EBRD event about nurturing talent, female business experts share their experiences.
This factsheet provides a background on the EBRD’s initiatives that contribute to gender equality.