How women can thrive in today’s workplace

Diana Parkes’ new book, out today, is based on years of research into the practical strategies women can use to find fulfilling work.


team of women working


How can women be successful at any level of their career? Diana Parkes’ new book, Understand: Dare: Thrive, out today, is based on interviews with over 45 women who have ‘made it’ and share their experience. It provides pragmatic strategies for negotiating a workplace that continues to be biased against women.

The book doesn’t focus only on what women need to do to get ahead. It acknowledges from the start the social constraints that hold women back which, as Parkes says, we all – men and women – have grown up with, the assumptions and myths that affect how we view what we can achieve.

Parkes questions what success means, saying that this can range from doing work you love to being recognised and supported in your career. What is fulfilling to one person is very individual, she states. It is about knowing what success means to you. Parkes states: “What I have come to understand most clearly through the years of developing this book – the interviews and conversations and my own personal challenges – is that the most important thing is to do what is right for you. No one else but you can determine what that is.”

Understanding and knowledge of what you want, of yourself, the workplace culture where you are and so forth are vital to successfully managing your career and getting to where you want to go, says Parkes.

Parkes, who is the founder of Women’s Sat Nav for Success, knows only too well the cultural and social barriers to women’s progress at work. She conducts an annual survey which has consistently shown that women feel less valued than men when it comes to their contributions. That can lead to women valuing themselves less, says Parkes, whose book also challenges opposition to quotas on the grounds that there is no level playing field currently.

Challenging myths

A sizeable part of the book is given over to psychological studies that show how bias works and how this affects women fulfilling their potential. The book tackles myths such as that women are not ‘natural’ leaders, showing how these originated and talking about the leadership skills needed now, such as listening and engagement. Other myths include the idea of women as natural nurturers and the notion that women are not as ambitious as men.

Parkes writes: “I’ve spent time talking to you about the psychology behind the challenges that women face in achieving fulfilment in their working lives. I’ve done that so that you can separate the truth about who you are and what you are capable of, from the influence of the gendered expectations and limitations that exist in our society.”

Knowing this can help ensure women can, for instance, be more aware of how microinequalities, such as being talked over, wear them down.

Parkes shows how, despite these inequalities, women can try to negotiate the world of work that exists now to get ahead so they can change things, with each section of the book punctuated by exercises and questions which allow the reader to reflect  and move forward. To do so means being aware of and challenging limiting beliefs, not apologising for everything, understanding your motivations, faking confidence, working on pinch points, anticipating and preparing for particular scenarios, asking for feedback and reframing situations, for instance, if the idea of selling doesn’t appeal, you could think about it as being about finding solutions, says Parkes.

She states:  “The more you test and learn about what works best for you in the environments you work in, the more you can fine-tune your approach and the more continuously you’ll achieve positive outcomes, and the positive energy and momentum that will flow from them.”

Working mums

Parkes and her interviewees also provide advice on how to develop resilience by picking your battles, asking for help, looking for learning and mapping your way forward. There is a lovely section on developing a support network outside work where she talks of how support can come from sources you don’t always anticipate, in her case from her daughter Gracie. Often we don’t consider our children as both motivators and cheerleaders, but they are, of course, observing our every action and reaction.

Parkes, a single mother, also addresses the issue of childcare and equality in the home, outlining the need to talk about sharing from early on in a relationship and the importance of avoiding reinforcing stereotypes at home as well as talking about the different demands that parents can face at different times in their careers – not just the early years. She writes too about the need to prioritise and to look after your health.

There is an important section on work culture and the need to think strategically about the big picture and about what is valued in your organisation, about how to prepare for pay negotiations and managing your own ongoing PR. Parkes says pay rises won’t happen unless you ask for them so you need to learn how to ask, taking baby steps first. Using a mentor or coach can help.

The latter chapters address reputation, managing your stakeholders, networking and building social capital – particularly if you are a time-limited working parent. There is advice on the benefits of mentors and sponsors and how to address the huge issue of not being heard.

The book is built on years of work, interviews and study and a passion to provide a practical guide for women operating in today’s workplace.

As the book’s title suggests, it is about understanding what might hold you back and daring to take action to overcome this. Parkes says having the courage to take action can become “a virtuous cycle taking you onward and upward”. She writes: “You will have greater self-belief and therefore greater confidence because you will have evidence of what you can do and what it will bring. This will raise your sense of self-worth and increase your resilience to fuel momentum towards what you really want and deserve.”

* and Diana Parkes will be holding a free panel event in the autumn to share insights from her book. More details to follow. To sign up click here. Understand: Dare: Thrive: How to have your best career from today is published by Arkbound, price £9.99. Read the introduction to the book here.

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