Careers Advice for Ambitious Women

February 21st, 2012

mrs_money_penny_careers_advice_for_ambitious_women‘Guilt, like regret, is a waste of emotional energy’
Mrs Moneypenny likes a one-liner. Her high-energy highly enjoyable new book about success and getting it, is part stand-up comedy, part sweat and swot. This is the natural balance for a woman who runs her own company by day, writes her FT-alias Moneypenny column by night, and uses her holidays to learn to shoot, to learn to fly, or to put on her one-woman show. Now she has expanded into TV with Superscrimpers on Channel Four. ‘The best way to help the poor is not to become one of them.’
Mrs Moneypenny’s focus is women; she is one, and she is loyal to the brand. She has noticed, and who couldn’t, that women do less well in the workplace, and are less likely to start or succeed at our own businesses. We are rarely appointed to Board positions or non-executive directorships. We earn less.
In no-nonsense Moneypenny style, she examines the reasons for this but does not anguish over them – her book is about how to succeed, not how to change the world. She is frank about what she calls ‘asymmetrical judgements’, sexism by a plainer name, where a woman is bossy, but a man is boss, or a man shows leadership but a woman is domineering. She is pitiless about the division of labour at home and at work: A woman will have to do more.
Her central chapters, You Can’t Have it All/ But You Have To Do it All, are painfully true. Feminist icon Gloria Steinem said ‘Having it all never meant doing it all’ but Mrs Moneypenny is nearer the mark. It makes me thankful that I am not heterosexual.
But most women are – and Mrs Moneypenny has quizzed Alpha females everywhere about how they manage their men at home and their bosses and subordinates at work. Spousenomics needs good humour, plenty of outsourcing (he is never going to iron the sheets and you don’t have time) and a realistic approach to children – Mrs M calls hers Cost Centres 1 2 and 3. She is also certain that child-rearing should not be a full-contact sport.
At work her advice is to dress for success but not to have office affairs. How you look is important; look don’t touch is even more important.
Refreshingly, Mrs M does not believe in thinness or blondeness. Yes, women will always be judged on appearance, but her style tip is to take time to get a wardrobe that keeps you well-groomed, whatever your size and shape, and to carry a spare pair of tights in your handbag. Men can get away with looking a bit sloppy; women never.
Age though, should not be an obstacle for women, any more than children or the menopause. Work towards what you want, regardless of whether you are 21 or 65. If you need qualifications, study for them. If you need to take time off to have children, be strongly focused about your return to work and plan it with both your boss and your partner.
Planning is the key. Men plan their careers more strategically than women and are less downcast by setbacks. Men will apply for a job whether or not they have the right experience. Women worry too much about the work-life balance. ‘But work is life and work is where you will spend long hours of your life.’ Every year, she advises, re-asses your position and re-set your goals.
Women are naturally good at making friends, being interested in other people and showing loyalty. Moneypenny wisdom is to build on these strengths. Her chapter You Can’t Do It Alone reinforces what we know – that people matter – and emphasises that for a woman a strong team of supporters inside and outside the workplace is essential to success. Thatcher got it wrong the moment she decided she didn’t need anyone.
And as Mrs M reminds us ‘Be careful whose heads you tread on your way to the top because they will be attached to the backsides you need to kiss on your way back down.’
Should you read this book even if you don’t want to be a corporate player or run your own business? Yes. Every woman on the planet has trouble saying ‘No’. We are raised to please others and that kind of brainwashing doesn’t go away. Rip out the ‘Just Say No’ chapter and paste it in the loo where you can study it when you are threatened with too much good nature.
I don’t know if she is right about money – she takes Lady Gaga to task over her don’t care attitude to money – but that is where art separates from career. I don’t care either, not because I can’t manage my own pension fund – I do – but because money confuses ends with means, and the most important thing in life is…
Well, what is it? Mrs M would say quite so: What is your priority? When we order our priorities, what does that list tell us about ourselves?
Ambitious or not, career or not, this book will amuse you, provoke you, challenge you, help you, and cheer you up.
Her last words are the best advice of all. ‘When you get to the top … remember to turn round and reach back to help the generation of women behind you. As Madeleine Albright said “There is a special place in Hell for women who don’t help other women”’.

Careers Advice for Ambitious Women was published in The Times January 28th