Success stories: What it takes for women to break through

by Cameron Edmond14 Jun 2013

With countless media reports showing barriers still stand in the way of women advancing in their careers, we examine why it isn’t all bad news and take a look at those who have beaten the oods and broker through to the top.

McKinsey & Company’s (MK&C) report, Unlocking the full potential of women at work, found that women who overcome the barriers do so by being resilient, result-oriented and persistent in asking for feedback, as well as demonstrating team leadership and an overall robust work ethic. Here are their key traits:

Resilience is an important quality for women wishing to advance. With the odds stacked against them, perseverance is key. “I’ve had many failures along the way,” one woman interviewed by MK&C said.

Result orientation refers to the focus on improving the bottom line through ­high-performance.

Getting feedback is an important part of improving one’s skill set and correcting errors that they make. MK&C found that women find feedback from men more helpful, as other women will often side with them instead of giving more objective criticism.

Team leadership the ability to inspire and lead teams becomes an increasingly important aspect for women as they advance in an organisation, as other women hoping to do the same will look to them for guidance.

A robust work ethic is, like the other factors mentioned here, a necessity for any employee regardless of gender. What is highlighted here is the evidence that – through perseverance and hard work – overcoming the gender barriers is a definite possibility for all women.

Many of these women see themselves as ‘sponsors for a new generation’, believing that helping younger women adopt new mind-sets and behaviours will be pivotal to advancement. Most wish they had developed confidence earlier and taken more risks. “I have told myself that this person doesn’t to want work with me or that I wouldn’t get that role ... and I didn’t test to see if it was true,” one woman said. The report added that these women learnt the value of informing senior leaders of their goals. “The minute I became directive about what I wanted, my career went on the fast track,” one woman said.

It is also important to acknowledge that success is ultimately subjective. Whilst the C-Suite might be seen by some as the ultimately goal, this isn’t always true, especially not for the women surveyed.

MK&C found that 59% of women are not interested in the C-Suite, with the office politics and personal agendas involved being unattractive to them, as well as expressing fulfilment in their already high-ranking positions. “I have 600 employees I manage and I love interactive with them and giving them purpose,” one woman said.

Although there are certainly things women can do to help themselves advance, this is a two way street. Managers need to be mindful of the environment their female staff work in, and ensure that the culture of the workplace is such that women displaying the factors listed above are recognised and given credit – only then will entrenched cultural mind-sets be switched.


  • by oldBroker 14/06/2013 9:47:58 AM

    Every point mentioned can also apply to men. "resilient, result-oriented and persistent in asking for feedback, as well as demonstrating team leadership and an overall robust work ethic" are all attributes that are gender-agnostic. Love the line "only then will entrenched cultural mind-sets be switched"... maybe we should ask Gail Kelly her opinion on that.