On the road to somewhere: How women can succeed in male-dominated fields.

Female talent


Suzanne Doyle-Morris has written a book on how women can succeed in male-dominated fields. She tells Workingmums about her research and conclusions.

We all know the score – women tend to be perfectionists, we are meritocrats and expect to be rewarded for our hard work rather than our Machiavellian skills and we tend to be good at promoting other people, but not ourselves. What is more, says top executive coach Suzanne Doyle-Morris, although we tend to be brilliant at networking on the home front, we are not so hot at doing it in the workplace and it is holding us back.

Doyle-Morris, a specialist in helping companies retain and develop their female talent, has written a book which sets out how to unlearn these habits, despite the fact that some of them make women excellent management material – for instance, the ability to promote and encourage others makes for fantastic team leaders. But it is no good being excellent senior management material if you never get promoted to a senior managerial position. Doyle-Morris’ book, Beyond the Boys’ Club, is a step-by-step guide to the reasons women don’t get promoted and how to get around these. It includes case studies of successful women giving tips on how they got to where they are. She says that women have to play the male game to a certain extent so that they can get into the positions of power where they can change its parameters.

Traditional models

“Most organisations were never set up to be female friendly,” she says. “They have traditionally been set up for the male model of work. Women are competing for ‘equal access’ to a system that was never meant to serve them, whose rules were never meant to benefit them.” Promotion, she says, is a case in point – the rise to senior management tends to occur just at the age women are thinking of starting a family.

The system needs to change, she says, and companies need to be aware of the obstacles that hold women back, including an inbuilt reluctance to sing their own praises and a tendency to focus more on building relationships than on being strategic about their career rise. She says that men, for instance, tend to be more likely to think of business relationships in terms of who it might be a good idea to get closer to to further their career. Women need to think about building relationships that can help them progress and looking outside their own departments to develop their social network. They also need to think more about themselves. For instance, Doyle-Morris attributes women’s success at networking outside work and their failure at work to the fact that they see the latter as being purely for their own benefit. Similarly, they tend to be very good at raising the profile of their team, rather than their own profile.

Unless they start realising that their manager doesn’t know what they have achieved unless they tell them, they will not progress, says Doyle-Morris. “Women need to ask just how far being the unsung hero has got them,” she says. “It’s not about doing something you don’t feel comfortable with and losing your integrity, but about stretching what you are prepared to do to get ahead.”

She gives another example. Women often wait to be asked to make a presentation when men will jump right in there even if they are not 100% sure about what they are talking about. Women, she says, lack that kind of confidence and are also afraid of looking too ambitious as being an ambitious woman is not viewed favourably, particularly by other women. “If you have a group of women on the same level and one starts to take opportunities to speak or write in the internal newsletter to get more recognition, there tends to be a fear of what the repercussions will be from the other women,” she says. “You have to get past that to get to the next level.”


Women need to take more strategic risks to get to the top. While men may be overly prone to taking risks and this may have contributed to our current economic woes, women, says Doyle-Morris, need to be encouraged to take more long-term ones. “it’s about looking before you jump, but not letting looking put you off jumping,” she states. Mentoring can help women to feel confident enough to take the next step and she counsels women to approach successful women in their industry, perhaps outside their own office or even sector, and ask if they can bounce ideas off them.

While she says that a lot of the problems women have can be confronted on an individual basis and says women need to be aware they are working “in a foreign land” and need to be on their guard with regard, for instance, to showing their emotions too much, she is clear that employers need to do a lot more to address the lack of senior women in the boardroom. Women can learn to negotiate harder for higher pay, as men do, from the early stages of their career so that small pay gaps don’t become massive ones by their mid-30s when women may go part time or work more flexibly. However, employers should be doing a lot more to address persistent gender pay gaps, says Doyle-Morris. She welcomes, for instance, deputy prime minister Harriet Harman’s proposals for an equal pay audit. “I am sure it will expose a huge number of inequalities and embarrass a lot of companies,” she says. She also believes companies need to do more to identify talented women in their ranks and realise that they may have to dig to find them because they don’t identify themselves like men do. “In Norway,” she says, “they call it pearl diving. Companies need to look for the women two or three layers down from board level and give them intensive help. They may not appear to be interested in promotion, for instance, but that may be because of the way the system works currently.” She mentions, for instance, the lack of flexible jobs at senior level.


She adds that women’s motivations tend to differ from men’s and cites an anecdote from a woman she coached. She wasn’t getting along with her boss, but eventually he gave her a five-figure bonus. “The woman said she would have preferred a thank-you every week. Women don’t tend to work simply for the money and we are used to a system that sees money as a measure of success,” says Doyle-Morris. Those motivations particularly change after women have children, she adds, and if they leave work because they can’t get the flexibility they need that sends a powerful message to all the women beneath them. “It’s a huge loss,” she says.

She adds that women are not necessarily asking for a huge degree of flexibility. They may just want to work one day at home or leave early and log on in the evening to catch up on their hours. “Presenteeism is a huge problem,” she says, “and the problem is that most professional women are married to professional men and someone has to be there to pick up the children.” As for comments about women’s lack of commitment to work after they have children, Doyle-Morris says simply: “When women come back from maternity leave they have to really love their job more than before to make it worth leaving the kids for.”

Beyond The Boys’ Club: Achieving Career Success As A Woman by Suzanne Doyle-Morris is published by Wit and Wisdom Press, price £13.99.

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