In today’s fast-paced and rapidly changing work environment, it is more important than ever for individuals to take control of their own careers. And if you want to advance in your career and get to the top you first need to learn how to lead yourself , before you lead others.

This is especially true for women, who often face unique challenges and obstacles in the workplace. By taking ownership of their careers, collaborating with others, and navigating the complex landscape of work, women can achieve greater success and fulfilment in their professional lives.

Career Ownership

The first step in being the leader of your own career is to take ownership of it. And the first step is to work out the difference between your job and your career. 

Your job is what you do day to day, the thing you are contracted to do with your employer. It’s transactional – you have roles to perform and when you perform them you get paid in return. Your career is something different. It transcends your particular job at any time and it’s developmental. You take it with you throughout the various jobs that you might do throughout your lifetime and when you think about it like this your career is the sum of your jobs. But unlike a particular job that you are asked to do, your career has no contract tied to it, no rules and regulations. It’s up to you what you make it.

So it’s down to you to set clear goals and objectives, identify your strengths and weaknesses, and develop a plan for achieving your desired outcomes. It also means being proactive in seeking out opportunities for growth and advancement, rather than waiting for them to come to you.

One way to take ownership of your career is to engage in regular self-reflection and assessment. So many of us don’t do this though as it can feel like time wasted when there’s so much to do as it is, but I can assure you that this is massively valuable. Taking time to actually stop and think about what’s working for you, what’s not, and what you’d actually like to be spending your time doing is so fundamental to our happiness and well-being, but it’s often ignored. But it doesn’t have to take tons of time to incorporate.

Just a few minutes a day can really help, and a really easy way to do this is to reflect at the end of your day on what went well, and what didn’t. From this simple start you can then carve out more time to think about some of those bigger questions that you may want to tackle further along the line. This might involve asking yourself questions like: What am I passionate about? What are my long-term career goals? What skills do I need to develop to achieve those goals? By regularly checking in with yourself and assessing your skills, interests, and career aspirations, you can better identify opportunities for growth and take steps to pursue them.

Another important aspect of career ownership is building a strong professional network. This might involve attending industry events, joining professional organisations, or simply reaching out to colleagues and mentors for advice and support. It doesn’t have to be massively time consuming or involve doing things that you really don’t want to do. But by building a strong network of contacts, you can access new opportunities, gain valuable insights and perspectives, and build meaningful relationships that can help you achieve your career goals.

Career Collaboration

While taking ownership of your career is important, it is also essential to collaborate with others along the way. If you look at any great leader, they never do it on their own. The more senior you get the bigger the team underneath you, holding you up and guiding you. Whatever level you’re at, career collaboration might just involve seeking out mentors and sponsors who can offer guidance and support, or working with colleagues on projects and initiatives that align with your career goals. 

Collaboration is particularly important for women, who often face unique challenges and obstacles in the workplace, and they also often happen to be particularly strong in this skillset. Women, however, don’t often have the capacity they would like to have to collaborate more with others as they also often have increased mental loads brought about by additional caring responsibilities as mothers, caring for elderly relatives or taking on the bulk of household responsibilities. 

They tend to have less space and time for networking opportunities outside of working hours and while working may be time pressured due to part-time hours or lack of flexibility to extend the working day. So carving out even the smallest amount of time to build supportive relationships with other people who can help you can be challenging but if it can be done, invaluable. Additionally, seeking out opportunities to engage with other like- minded women at work or outside of it, such as support groups or women’s circles, can be so beneficial to share insights and perspectives, offer each other support and encouragement, and work together to overcome common challenges and barriers.

A great way to do this professionally is to start to build your own personal board of directors as early as you can in your career, but it’s never too late to start if this is a new concept for you. Your board of directors is a group of around 5-10 individuals that you assemble along your career path to offer you personal support and professional development advice and guidance, to help you navigate your career. Your board should be made up of people who know you well, have your best interests at heart, and give you terrific advice, feedback, and input regarding your career and can be made up of people in your personal and professional networks, so family members, friends and team mates can all go into the mix.

Another important aspect of career collaboration is seeking out feedback and constructive criticism, which can be another particularly challenging area for women. Fears over negative feedback and criticism can play into women’s fears of not being seen to be capable of standing their ground against men, especially in more competitive working environments. We have often been brought up to strive for perfection or are grappling good girl mentalities which can prevent us from putting ourselves in potentially vulnerable positions. But feedback is so valuable as it enables us to grow and do better, and it can be just a case of asking colleagues for input on your work, seeking out mentors who can offer guidance and support, or even working with a professional coach or counsellor to identify areas for improvement and growth.

Career Navigation

Finally, being the leader of your own career involves navigating the complex landscape of work. This might involve identifying emerging trends and opportunities in your field, staying up-to-date on the latest technologies and tools, or even pursuing additional education and training to enhance your skills and knowledge.

Again for women, navigating the workplace can be particularly challenging. This might involve advocating for yourself and your ideas, negotiating for fair compensation and benefits, or even pushing back against gender-based biases and discrimination. When it comes to women raising their voices and speaking out there is a whole heap of factors which make this a challenge, and for many of the reasons raised above, being heard and having the courage to speak up in the workplace, can be fraught with anxiety, lack of self-belief and having to work hard to develop the confidence needed.

Doing the work to overcome these issues though is massively beneficial and it’s the area that I see as one of the most important for women if they want to move forward in their careers and truly thrive. If women can get past these blockers then the next level for career navigation is developing a strong personal brand. This might involve building a strong online presence, creating a portfolio of your work, or even developing a signature style or approach that sets you apart from others in your field. It’s next level stuff and it’s well within our reach as women once we take the time to work out who we truly are, what we really want and find the confidence and self-belief to say it out loud to the world around us.

Ultimately, being the leader of your own career requires a combination of self-awareness, collaboration, and navigation all of which are well within our grasp as women. By taking ownership of your career, building supportive relationships with others, and staying attuned to the changing landscape of work, women can begin to lift their heads out of the day job and into the upper echelons of the organisational structures that need their input. Once we begin to see ourselves as leaders, first of ourselves, then we can begin to lead the others and shape the working landscape we work in.



Jo Oogarah

Career Empowerment Coach

To start building your own collaborative network with like-minded women join me in the Career Collaborative online group to learn, share and get the support you need from other professional women like you. Find out more information here.

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