Harnessing the wisdom of women

The second edition of Diana Parkes’ book, Understand: Dare: Thrive, how to have your best career from today, is out and aims to give women practical advice on how to be successful on their own terms.

empowering women


Diana Parkes set up the Women’s Sat Nav to Success after 20 years in frontline and senior management positions in global organisations such as Mars, Coca-Cola, Carlsberg and Glendinning Management Consultants. The organisation delivers workshops and 1-2-1s for thousands of women and employers and undertakes regular surveys on the barriers that hold women back.

As part of her work on women’s career progression Diana has spent years conducting in-depth research on the structural issues and stereotypes that hold women back and investigating women’s experiences of what makes it possible to thrive in any position, whether entry level or leadership.  The result of that research is her book, Understand: Dare: Thrive, how to have your best career from today. The second edition is just out, published by a company Diana herself set up to generate more books that counter gendered stereotypes.

Diana says her book, which draws on extensive research and interviews with a whole range of ordinary women, is “the wisdom and answers from so many experts packaged together” – the experts being successful women and successful being defined according to each individual woman rather than being about status, money and power. It’s not so much a commercial prospect as a work of passion – Diana just wants to give women access to the wisdom of the women who went before them. “They deserve not to have to wait until the end of their careers to know how to make it,” she says.

Facing gendered reality

Diana says that what has surprised her the most since she started working on the book in 2011 is “the number of young women who have the most pressing, burning questions and deepest concerns about how they get the opportunities and recognition they deserve at work”. She adds: “These are women who grew up thinking their career progression would be fair and straightforward if they got the right qualifications and were able to use their expertise. And they were coming up against gendered reality and hadn’t necessarily done the thinking that our generation did because we knew what was coming and so we braced for it.”

Some of the women she has met during the course of her work have been City workers who asked her how they could pursue opportunities without appearing “pushy”. “It seemed so ironic to be with people in one of the most stereotypically pushy and assertive sectors and yet these high-flying graduates were worried about being too pushy,” says Diana.

She adds that she thinks there is a pressing need for more support for women to develop a commercial argument – a professional value proposition –  when it comes to their career progression and their rewards rather than relying on a purely personal argument about what it might bring them. Diana states: “We need to train women in how to develop that commercial perspective – what their career progression and rewards will bring to the organisation – and how to pitch that so they feel comfortable doing it. They need to see it as a business process so they can practise and hone it.”


Diana says there is an assumption that we are moving forwards on equality and that everything is okay, when young girls are besieged by all sorts of conflicting messages, particularly with regard to their value being related to how they look, which often serve to undermine them. She believes women need to do very deliberate work on what the truth is about them to counter gendered myths.

Picture of Diana ParkesShe sees a disconnect between what women project outwardly – the idea of being a strong, successful woman – versus the inner voice of self-doubt.  “This generation is much more confident overtly, but not on the inside,” says Diana, who is a single mum of a daughter.

What is more, she says that women, especially mothers, have to feel confident about what they define as success rather than feeling the weight of history on their backs to achieve in traditional ways and not to admit that they might be struggling, exhausted and stressed. “There is a sense that women feel they have to shut up and get on with it. That is so damaging for their mental health,” says Diana.

She adds that her book invites women to focus on the things they want to do well. Typically, she says, women set themselves high standards all round – whether in different aspects of their jobs or at home – whereas men focus on three or four areas. “It’s vital to define what success means to you and what matters most to you at whichever stage of life you are at,” she states.

Diana says men can help women’s career progression by promoting equality both at home and at work.  “Until they are equal partners at home men don’t have permission to call themselves male allies,” she states, pointing to research showing the perception gap about who takes care of most of the domestic responsibilities between men and women. Diana says equality at home includes distinguishing between ad hoc and continuous tasks and emotional labour, such as ensuring family members’ emotional wellbeing. She feels those who don’t do these tasks are sometimes not even aware that they are being done and how much brain space they occupy. She adds that women may also need to try to be less perfect and to delegate better.

A new publishing company

For the second edition of the book, Diana has set up her own publishing company, Ariadne’s Gold, which will publish works aimed at broadening the landscape of work possibilities for women. “We really need to publish books where girls can see themselves in many different future scenarios,” she says, adding that even now few books in school libraries have positive female role models. “We are looking for any type of book which changes the landscape of possibilities for girls and women,” she states.

The company has a proof reader/editorial and business director and a designer as well as Diana. She has found it interesting to try and get her head around a different industry and the changes technology has brought, including print on demand. She says retailers see the value in supporting smaller publishers, but that there is a challenge in getting the financial model right. She states: “I hope we can find backing from organisations that recognise the need for addressing gender stereotypes, for the young in particular, as a strategic part of filling the talent pipeline with the best talent.”

*To order Understand: Dare: Thrive, how to have your best career from today, click here.



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