To have your best career, you need to know what makes you distinctive

Diana Parkes, author of ‘Understand: Dare: Thrive. How to have your best career, from today’, says to get ahead you have to understand what makes you distinctive at work.



Listening to a podcast interview with Anna Catalano (named as one of “The Most Powerful Women in International Business” by Fortune Magazine) reminded me of the most painful and pivotal moment in my career.

Anna was talking about navigating the unconscious bias in leadership and board appointments and shared the story of a leadership conversation, earlier in her career, that took place to agree who should be selected for a high-profile role expanding their business into China. Initially referred to as the obvious candidate, Anna was dismissed as a contender as she was due to have a baby. However, one voice in the room eventually spoke up and said, ‘we should ask Anna’. They did. She accepted.

The role was pivotal to her career success. She has now served on the boards of over a dozen listed companies.

In my parallel scenario, that lone voice never spoke up. The board role in question, for which I was uniquely qualified, went to a male colleague. While the impact of that gendered assumption was intensely painful, it served as my catalyst to go and find out what women need to know to dissolve the glass ceiling, and to successfully navigate gender bias and workplace cultures on their way up.

It was this mission that led me to write my book, ‘Understand: Dare: Thrive. How to have your best career, from today’ and which led to meeting Anna, who is one of the 45 female leaders I interviewed to explore to their journeys, experiences and approaches in order to find the pragmatic solutions.

What makes you distinctive

The reality is that nomination and short-listing for significant roles often takes place when you are not in the room. Beyond this anecdotal evidence, research makes it clear that gendered assumptions about capability and commitment push women down the list where roles are considered to be male or even either male or female, as opposed to female.

So, what can you do to influence the outcome?

In the podcast Anna’s advice is clear, ‘you need to make sure that you are one of the first three people they think of’, and a vital component of making that happen is communicating what makes you distinctive. The gatekeepers of opportunity need to know your standout skills.

Now, given you’re on the site, you’re more than likely to have experienced the avoid-at-all-costs challenge of writing your CV. So, you know that trying to look at yourself objectively to articulate your significant and salient achievements, and then write that three-sentence selling-summary is both hard and, for many, deeply uncomfortable.

This is why I’ve taken the time to develop, test and refine a framework to help make this much easier, and less painful. It’s called The Professional Value Proposition framework and it’s designed to take you step by step through the tasks to find and articulate the most salient and compelling information and evidence that portrays the truth about you.

Not only that, but it gently pushes you to reflect on and express what makes you distinctive and why that matters to those that are, or will be, stakeholders in your success i.e., those communities and individuals that benefit from your great work. It encourages you to consider your Professional Value Chain – the full reach of the value you deliver to those stakeholders – both within and beyond your organisation.

It’s featured in my book, which contains all the insights and strategies to have the working life you deserve, and it you can also download The Professional Value Proposition free here.

*Diana Parkes is a leading authority on women in the world of work, the challenges they face, the reasons for these challenges and the most potent and practical solutions. Diana’s reputation is built on 20 years delivering exceptional commercial performance in front-line and senior management positions in global organisations such as Mars, Coca-Cola, Carlsberg and Glendinning Management Consultants. Diana is a single mum, a psychologist, author, speaker, mentor and social entrepreneur. As Founder of The Women’s Sat Nav to Success she has delivered workshops and 1-2-1s for thousands of women and organisations seeking enduring positive change. Diana’s book, Understand: Dare: Thrive: How to have your best career, from today is published by Ariadne’s Gold Publishing.

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