Six ways women can make it to the top

There is an awful lot of talk these days about work-life balance. Ask almost anyone in or around middle age and they’ll tell you, whether they mean it or not, that there is more to life than money and more to life than corporate success.

They’ll tell you about how they aim to work from home one day a week; how they share the school runs with their spouse; and how they value quiet time away from the cut throat world of their day job.

But what if you aren’t much interested in work-life balance? What if you are genuinely fiercely ambitious? If what you really want out of your 85 years is not the time to chat with other mums and dads at the school gate and take two yoga classes a week, but a chance to get status, to claim your place firmly in the 1% and to breath the rarified oxygen available above the waterline of mediocracy? 

Then you will need to approach things slightly differently. And if you are a woman, you will have to approach it very differently. How? The answer is to be found in Heather McGregor’s new book Careers Advice for Ambitious Women.

McGregor herself is pretty successful. She runs a high-powered head hunting business. She has a column in the FT. She presents a series on Channel 4. She has a pilot’s licence. She has three degrees. And of course she has three children.

However, good as all this sounds, she reckons, as she approaches 50, that had she tweaked her behaviour slightly over the years, she’d now have even more than she does. You should probably pick up a copy if you want to make it to the top or if there is a woman around you would like to make it to the top. But for those of you who are too busy to read, here are a few of her top tips. They all sound utterly exhausting and they are. But so is getting to that oxygen.

 

• Get the best possible qualification you can. A degree doesn’t mean much these days unless it is from one of the very top universities and it is a first. So get another – and in particular get an MBA. You might think you can learn everything you might get from an MBA course from a book, and you might be right.

But do it properly and you will give yourself huge confidence (this is key to success) and you will give everyone else confidence too (a good MBA is short hand for employers when it comes to figuring out if you have the skills you say you have). You’ll also meet the kind of people you will need to know if you want to get to the top. And you’ll make more money too.

• Remember that, whatever Nick Clegg says, life is not just about what you know. It is also very much about who you know. “The truth is that if you want to achieve your goals in life, you need to be both good at what you do and good at building relationships with people who matter.”

So talk to everyone (Heather likes to corner important people at breakfast in hotels) and network seriously with people who you like, admire and trust. Hold events and invite them. Work with a charity with an interesting board. Learn a good networking sporting skill (golf or shooting). Keep a proper database of all the people you know, where you met them and what you spoke about. I find this last bit impossible. Heather doesn’t.

• Say no to things that don’t matter to your work. That’ll make it easier to do the things that do – “assuming you want to get to the top”.

• Accept that you can’t have it all. Too many women still think that “it is possible to be the CEO of a large public company / a brilliant brain surgeon / concert violinist and achieve this while securing and maintaining a husband, having an amazing sex life, conceiving and raising perfectly balanced children” as well as keeping up Pilates and having good nails.

This is “severely deluded”. So commit. Work full-time – never part-time. And get help at home even if it uses up all your salary. Then remember that while you can’t have it all, you will still have to do it all. Working mothers still take on most of the domestic responsibilities in a household. That is just the way it is.

• Be financially literate. Control your own finances and make sure you understand every page of MoneyWeek and the FT. Know the language people at the top already use.

• Be interested. Be interesting. And have a third dimension outside family and work to your life. Make it a hobby or make it a charity, but either way, have more to you than ordinary people have.