How to be an executive director in your thirties

Women Leaders

Taking on a senior position as a young woman can be a daunting experience, especially when you are in a male dominated industry. To be successful, young executives need to be confident in their abilities, not worry if they say the wrong thing and learn from mistakes along the way.

Speaking from experience, I wouldn’t be the executive director of three companies at age 36 without having jumped in head first and not worrying about my age or gender as a barrier.

Below’s what I’ve learnt about being a young female executive.

Speak up when you know the answer

Often younger women don’t have the confidence to speak up in a meeting and voice their opinions. I remember all too well being in my early twenties, sitting in meetings too scared to take a sip of my coffee, let alone contribute to a conversation! So many times I would listen to observations made by the senior executives in the room that matched my own thinking, yet I was too scared to speak up and have a role.

All you need is two ears and one mouth

What holds most women back is confidence. When you’re young, you can fall into the trap of feeling like you need to prove yourself all the time. You don’t. You’ve been put into the position you’re in because you have talent and experience – people believe you can fulfil the requirements of the position. While you make your thoughts and perspective known, always remember to take on board advice from those around you. A famous quote from the Dalai Lama is: “To only talk and not listen means you’ll only ever know what you already know”.

When forging a career, it’s important to stick to your own path, not take things personally and find someone you trust in your workplace. That someone can help when you’re frustrated and need to vent without having to gossip. One of the worst things, male or female, is to get caught up in gossip. It destroys your confidence, ideas and opportunities.

Knowledge grows confidence

It’s certainly not easy wearing multiple hats and working in different organisations. However, I enjoy the diversity within each of my roles and recommend all young women review where they can take their knowledge and enthusiasm, and apply it to multiple professional opportunities.

This may sound obvious, but knowledge grows confidence. By building your knowledge, expertise and experience, confidence naturally follows. Don’t let a knowledge gap hold you back. Identify what the knowledge gap is and work on it.

Another way to grow your professional career is to enlist the help of a mentor. I have been very privileged to work with some amazing people in my life and I have had several mentors throughout my career. Some have been clients, line managers, CEOs, COOs and suppliers but all have been inspiring and taught me many useful things. I see myself as a sponge and when I see someone I respect; I watch and learn as much as I can while I have the chance to work with them.

As for famous mentors, people I have read and learnt from include Ita Buttrose – a lady in every sense of the word with a determination to succeed that is inspiring – and Sydney Poitier, whose journey before he got into film is incredible and whose calm, considered approach to adversity is admirable.

Having mentors and learning from them really helped me throughout my career. I urge every woman to have a mentor, regardless of their life stage because they can give you that confidence boost to get to the next level.

By: Kellie Northwood

4 April 2014

Source: Women’s Agenda

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