Do You Have To Act Like A Man To Succeed At Work?

21 November 2013 by

This week businesswoman Liv Garfield hit the headlines for becoming the youngest woman at 38 years old to lead a FTSE 100 company saying that she never encountered the ‘glass ceiling’ that prevents many women rising to the top. She said ‘For any female to do well in business you have to ignore the fact that you are female.’ But do you agree with her comments that to climb to the top of the career ladder you have to act like man? Read what Eleanor Mills, Editorial Director of The Sunday Times has to say below, and sign up to our discussion How To Succeed In A Male Dominated Business, taking place next Monday evening. For more details and to book visit

‘I fervently believe that you do not have to be a man to succeed at work. But  Liv Garfield, 38 – newly anointed CEO of Trent Water, making her one of only 4 FTSE 100 female bosses – did not exactly help the womanly cause when she announced last week: “For any female to do well in business you have to ignore the fact that you are female.”

That strikes me as a deeply backward-looking sentiment and it makes my blood boil. Surely, a hundred years after women got the vote and getting on for forty years since women entered the work force in serious numbers, we’ve got beyond this ‘having to be one of the boys’ nonsense? Why should a woman be a bloke in a skirt in order to prosper? Given that more than 50% of university graduates are now women and in their twenties women now out-earn and out-perform their male colleagues what we need from women at the top is a clear signal of how to succeed as a woman. Not the hackneyed old cliché that you need to behave like a man.

Of course there are some aspects of how men behave which are worth modelling if we want to climb the ladder at work and which make a bid for the top more likely to succeed. These include self-confidence – men tend to over-estimate their skills and competencies while women under value their’s.  A headhunter last week told me that when she rings men in their 40s about a possible promotion, 100% of them get back to her, while only around 20% of women do. 

Another key trick is not to over-share – your boss really doesn’t need to know the ins and outs of your kid’s illness, or your doctor’s appointment. Just say you are off to a meeting and look mysterious. Another key tip is to be strategic: look upwards for a sponsor who can move the dial on your career rather than sitting Cinderella-like waiting to be tapped with a magic wand and invited to the ball or boardroom. Sylvia Hewlett – if you want a guru and role model on all this I urge you to look her up – advises, “Always lead with a ‘yes’ and be positive” – you can refine and negotiate the details later.”

Crucial though, is role models: you can’t be what you can’t see, which is why Garfield’s comments make me so angry. When I talk to groups of women about how to get ahead I hear the same refrain: when I look up I don’t see any women who I would want to be. One told me about a female boss who read her children bedtime stories on the phone from her office, another of a woman whose kids waved goodnight to mummy in the Canary Wharf tower because she was always at work. The new generation of women coming through don’t want to be those kind of mothers – they want to be successful and see their children. And younger men feel the same.  Those women who are at the top need to model for women coming through how that is possible – otherwise the haemorrhaging of women from the talent pipline to management will continue.  Saying you need to act like a bloke, is exactly the kind of advice younger women don’t need.’


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