At the Women of Silicon Roundabout event in London last week, supermarket giant Tesco revealed details of its new Own Your Career program, aimed at giving women a blueprint for progressing their career. Although aimed at internal staff, the advice shared should be useful to any woman wanting to move up the ladder (and many men, I’m sure).
Tesco has just finished its first run of the program, which saw 80 women from the firm’s UK development community attending a series of one-day career development workshops. The scheme was built around four areas Tesco identified as having a disproportionate impact on someone’s career, and aims to help women identify the skills and opportunities available to them to reach their potential.
At a standing-room-only session, Tesco Learning Manager Esther Basra outlined the four themes – see below - the retailer focused on and the top takeaways from the workshops. These offer a useful framework for other companies wanting to build their own career development schemes, but also for women working at organisations not currently offering this kind of support, who can follow the advice and take control of their own job progression.
Effective career development
The first aspect Tesco focused on was understanding your own career goals and having a plan to make them happen.
Step one is to identify your career drivers, the things that motivate you and give you energy at work, and also your non-negotiables. Basra advised the importance of being crystal clear on your strengths, interests and values to try and get the right balance:
You might be known for doing something brilliantly but you might absolutely hate doing that particular thing. For me, it’s complicated analysis with Excel. I can do it, but it causes me some real pain.
“That was one of the key things from our sessions. Some things that people have received feedback on as strengths were the things that take their energy. And if a big part of your job contains activities that you’re not enjoying, even if you’re good at them, that can lead to burnout.
Another takeaway was how difficult it can be for women to say they’re great at something, and actually celebrate and believe in their own strengths:
We had a lot of ‘I think I’m quite good at this’ so be aware of that as well when you are talking about your strengths.
Reflecting back on career highs and lows is another aid to moving forwards. The workshop attendees mapped key points of change in their careers, whether a new role, manager, company or project, and then drew a line up or down to show how motivated and happy they were at those times. The idea was to spot any consistency among the highs or lows, and help identify any non-negotiables in their future career.
Reverse engineering your CV is another useful activity. The Tesco team were asked where they wanted to be in five years, along with their ideal job title, and then worked to reverse plan their career. This involved looking at skills they have already or would need to build along the way, development opportunities, their job legacy, and the experiences they would need on and off the job to reach that goal in five years.
Building active relationships
Next on the agenda for the Tesco program was network building. Basra said the workshop helped to shatter a few long-held myths, including the fact that introverts have just as much ability to build good networks as extroverts, and that it’s not always the closest relationships in your network that are the most beneficial:
Close relationships are important but weak ties are often the ones that give us the next job or provide important opportunities. If you only rely on relationships that emerge naturally there's a real risk that you'll end up only building relationships with people just like you.
Once you have your goals in place, you can reach out and recruit the right people for your network - and chances are, you already have a pretty good network. Basra also noted the importance of viewing networks as a two-way thing:
Someone asking for help can feel quite inauthentic and fake. But if you're really clear on the value that you can bring to them, that helps to overcome some of that. So remember when you're thinking about networks, think about the help you need from your network, but also think about what you can offer to others, your expertise, the people you know, the people you can connect them to.
The next stage in the Tesco program is recognising your brilliance, which focuses on the biggest barrier or enabler to any career - basically yourself. Basra herself got a case of the imposter syndrome often felt by women in technology in the lead-up to her session:
When I was asked to come along today, straightaway I had negative mind talk. I’ve never done a conference like this before, I’ve sat there, I’ve never been here. I’ve done events at work but this is a different audience, they don’t know me, I don’t know them. What if I say something I shouldn’t and it reflects badly on me and my company.
That negative mind talk is something that we all have, no-one’s immune to it, we all have moments of self-doubt. But that’s ok if it’s in small amounts and we know how to manage it.
Imposter syndrome isn’t restricted to women. Basra noted that many men and successful people still have those moments of self-doubt, but this can lead to some helpful behaviours:
I made sure I prepped enough, I put in the work to try and ensure I give you a great presentation. It’s those little bits of self-doubt that mean I won’t be complacent.
Where this attitude can become a negative is if it tips, and this is where a little bit of knowledge about the brain can be a powerful aid, according to Basra. At the workshop, attendees were shown scientific studies, which made them all believe thinking is the same as doing:
I practised this presentation in my head a few times over the last few days. I felt like I’ve already done the presentation a few times – that’s really helpful. Coming here and doing it for the first time today, I felt like I did it last night and this morning.
Basra added that if you’re the kind of person who goes over what could have gone better in different work situations, your brain will have become very good at doing that – so try to flip it:
What [Facebook COO] Sheryl Sandberg does is the opposite. At the end of every day, she recalls things that have gone brilliantly that day – she does three, you can do five, as many as you wish.
The last stage of the careers program is developing your authentic brand, which Basra defined as what people say about you when you’re not in the room based on what you do and who you are as a personL
I'm sure we've all worked with people that have relied completely on the what - they’re absolutely fantastic at doing their job, always deliver. But actually working alongside them is not a pleasant experience. You’ve probably all worked with the flip of that, the people that are absolutely lovely, really friendly, a great laugh to be in the team with but don’t do a very good job in the day job. When you start building your brand, you need to consider both because other people will be seeing both.
It's also important to remember that not everyone will buy your brand. Think about the different brands that we have, the different corporate brands where you have big marketing teams and massive budgets putting together these brand identities. There's not a single brand in the world that everyone loves and it's the same as personal brands.”
Basra advised flexing your brand as appropriate, not to be a completely different person but to fit various situations. So if you’re a strong personality with a gregarious presenting style, you might dial it up and put on a performance when dealing with a large audience, but dial down your language and style a little if working with a small group who are more introverted.
She said the program has been a success for Tesco, based on the feedback from the first batch of attendees, some of whom are now working towards promotions at Tesco into larger roles, but most importantly all are taking ownership and looking to drive their career. And for others who like the idea of the scheme but are concerned about the time required, she added:
Think about it as a cost benefit analysis because yes it will take time to do it and to do it well, but actually the benefits you can get through it make that time really worthwhile.
You are the most important enabler or barrier to your career.
So often the focus on ‘women in tech’ is debate and discussion around the challenges and opportunities for companies trying to redress the gender balance. These certainly have their place, especially when it’s moving the conversation on to explore fresher ideas like the importance of men in the equation.
At the Women of Silicon Roundabout event however, it was evident from the conversations I had around the show floor that what women really want is practical support to get on with progressing their own careers, and opportunities to network and get tips from others in a similar position.
So it was no surprise that the Tesco session was so popular, and hopefully it’s something that other women will be able to follow the advice from to get that next great promotion or job opportunity.