Collective wisdom: women leaders share their career tips for the next generation

By on 05/03/2021 | Updated on 08/03/2021
Never mind the gap: senior officials share the career advice they wish they had known sooner. Credit: sasint/224images/pixabay

Don’t limit yourself, and remember Winne the Pooh. To celebrate International Women’s Day, senior officials share the advice they wish they had known earlier in their working lives

To celebrate International Women’s Day on Monday 8th March, we asked a range of current and former women leaders from all over the world to share the advice and tips they wish they’d known at the beginning of their careers. The hope is that this celebrates their achievements, shares the lessons they have learned and inspires women who are starting out.

If you have a tip to share, we’d love to hear from you. You can comment below this article, tweet us @globegov or send an email to [email protected] and we can add your insights.

High standards

“The advice I wish I’d had, and which I routinely pass on to women I coach and mentor, is that we’re least likely to do the things we most worry about. Women often set very high standards for ourselves and then worry that we’re not living up to them. But serial over-performers are at low risk of under-performing, while people who question whether they’re living up to their values are highly unlikely to be seriously compromising them.

“There’s a fair amount of space to fall short of our own standards before anyone else would even notice that we’ve done so: realising that headroom exists can be a great reliever of tension, allowing us to relax and thus to grow.”
Clare Moriarty, former permanent secretary of the UK’s Department for Transport, Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs and the Brexit department, DEXEU

Taking on challenges

“Find passion in your work and don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone. The biggest leaps I’ve taken in my career, though intimidating at the time, have inspired me to take on more.

“Also, embrace the difference between listening and hearing; understanding of the perspectives around you requires listening.”
Lynn Barr-Telford, assistant chief statistician at Statistics Canada

Forget the spreadsheets

“Focus on what’s really important and stick to the Pareto principle.

“Women, especially at the beginning of their career, tend to be overly diligent and dutiful. Do you often find yourself working late on spreadsheets or briefings that somehow ended up in your inbox ‘because you always do them so well’? In the meantime, your male colleagues – no Excel skills, sorry! – can be found at important networking events, getting to know the people that will, one day, help their careers along.

“It took me years to find out that focusing on the 20 % that’s really important in your job will get you 80 % of the results you want to achieve – the good old Pareto principle. Find out what this 20 % in your job is – most often, it won’t be that spreadsheet.”
Eileen Fuchs, head of division for digital policy, EU and international affairs at Germany’s Federal Ministry of the Interior, Building and Community

Look beyond your technical expertise

“One thing I often tell young people starting their careers is: don’t limit yourself based on your technical expertise. New fields and industries are emerging every day, and it’s important to seize the opportunities that arise. Learning something new is an investment in yourself, and adaptability is an asset that can help both individuals and organisations flourish.

“And don’t forget all the competences acquired during your training, from problem solving and project management to teamwork, mentorship and communication. They may be your most valuable assets, applicable to many settings and sectors.”
Dr. Mona Nemer, chief science advisor of Canada

Believe in yourself

“As a young woman, I wish I’d paid more attention to Christopher Robin in Winnie the Pooh who said: ‘You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think.’ I was all of those things, but I just didn’t believe it. I bet you are too!”
Angela Owen OBE, founder of Women in Defence UK

Triple action

“Three things stick out. Less is more – put in the right effort, not necessarily more effort. Always make time for your health, wellbeing and resilience. And remember, just because someone is more senior or more confident – or male – doesn’t mean they are right.”
Leslie Evans, permanent secretary to the Scottish Government and the first woman to hold this role in Scotland

About Kate Hodge

Kate is a journalist and editor, holding roles at both the Guardian and the Financial Times. She specialised in education and combines writing, commissioning and editing with social media and audience engagement. If you have any ideas you would like to pitch, or suggestions to improve the website, feel free to email her on [email protected]

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