Career Advice: The Founder and Director of Generation Women, an organisation created to help women achieve career success, has revealed how the right advice and coaching can help her clients reach their professional goals.

In our Business Leaders interview, Sinead Sharkey-Steenson explains how her studies and experience in the fields of psychology, HR and personal development are used for the benefit of clients who want to unlock their potential.

Hear more of what Sinead had to say about how women can be empowered to boost their careers by watching the video below or reading on for the highlights.

The professional world is a dynamic canvas, and for women navigating its terrain, the brushstrokes paint a picture brimming with both opportunity and challenge. Today’s landscape whispers tales of glass ceilings shattering, yet still echoes with the need for empowered voices and strategic moves. Whether you’re a seasoned pro scaling the corporate ladder or a new graduate taking your first steps, the journey demands clear vision, unwavering resilience, and a toolkit stocked with insightful advice.

So, dear woman, embark with us on this exploration of “Career Advice for Women.” Let’s delve into strategies that illuminate your path, unveil hidden opportunities, and equip you with the knowledge to forge your own definition of success. In this tapestry of experiences and insights, you’ll find pearls of wisdom for every stage of your professional voyage, from mastering the nuances of hybrid work to unearthing hidden biases and cultivating the network that will propel you forward.

Women's Advancement with Sinead Sharkey-Steenson

Ready to rewrite your career narrative? Then, let’s begin…

Sinead Sharkey-Steenson: Career Advice for Women

Sinead began our interview by outlining her own path to becoming a company director and leadership specialist.

“I started out my career in HR. I came out of my psychology degree at Queen’s and didn’t know what I wanted to do.

“I played about with a few things and went into HR, but discovered that wasn’t for me as I didn’t like saying no to things that people wanted to do!

“It was around the time of the IT boom, so I went back and did a conversion Masters in IT. I ended up being a total square peg in a round hole – it wasn’t for me and I was kind of drifting in my career for a while.

“Even though I had a really good job with a really good company and people I loved – I was really miserable with what I was doing and lost a lot of confidence as a result.”

After “feeling stuck” for a time, Sinead told herself to “either do something differently or stay miserable”.

“I ended up doing a lot of work on myself, I looked at a lot of courses that were out there and got coaching and different things.

“I started to discover a passion for improving things and helping other people succeed.”

Sinead took charge of employee engagement in her then-workplace. From this, she found a talent for – and a deep interest in – career and personal development.

“I worked on my confidence, changed my career around and then started looking at how I can do the same for other people.”

After having two children, Sinead “began to see the world in a different way” as she “became passionate about equality because of them”.
From here, Generation Women was born.

“It was launched off the back of Lean In, a movement of peer support with women helping each other to achieve their career ambitions. A woman in Belfast, Nuala Murphy, started it here and I went to meet her.

“She asked me to do a talk on confidence, it had a real impact with the people who came to it and I thought ‘I’m onto something here’.”

Sinead Sharkey photo - women Career advice
Sinead Sharkey believes in the tangible benefits of improving your confidence. Image credit: Women in Enterprise

What Does Generation Women Do?

Generation Women is an online community for women, by women. The platform is used to motivate, inspire, encourage and empower women to be the best possible versions of themselves.

Sinead explained that her work with women, using various coaching services and programmes, is carried out individually or in small groups “to help them understand what their career direction is, to help them build their confidence and help then accelerate their careers”.

Her expertise can also help businesses to make the most of their female talent.

“We can do a lot for ourselves but it’s not about fixing women – it’s about fixing the society we live in and supporting women to be more equal in the workplace.”
Sinead says that there are still huge education and equality gaps that need to be filled regarding women in the workplace.

“There is a problem in a lot of industries – definitely some more than others. There’s data out there saying we’re maybe 200 years away from equality at the pace we’re moving.

“So there’s a lot that needs to change, and then you have industries such as the tech industry, where things are really far behind and getting worse.

“The number of women going into STEM subjects is not getting any better.”

According to The Guardian, around 80% of tech investment in the UK is in fast-growing businesses, creating new jobs, revolutionary products and innovative services. Yet, women are missing out on this entrepreneurial success, making up just 17% of this industry.

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Generation Women focuses on helping women glide up the career ladder. Image credit: GenWomen.Global

What Challenges Are Impacting Women?

For as long as we can remember, women have always had hardships when it comes to launching careers. But in today’s society, what are the main challenges that women are facing?

“Everybody has their struggles but there are definitely things that impact women.

“Recruitment-wise, it has been shown that there’s bias in the whole recruitment process. Whether that’s the language that you use in your advertising or the images that you use, if they’re very male-centric then that’s going to attract more of what you’ve got.

“Without realising it, we do go for the same as us. So if there are two men on the interview panel it’s going to be a much harder battle for a woman to get through.”
How do we combat this? Sinead says it is all about changing mindsets.

You are so used to the way things are, but you have to go in with a fresh pair of eyes.

Pay attention to meetings, who is going? Who is getting airtime? Who is being made more visible? It is about all minorities, so thinking in those ways to embrace all diversities and inclusions.”
Sinead added that she will not stop until she has reached her main goal.

“My goal is that 50% of businesses be run by women, and 50% of homes be run by men. I think when we’ve done that – we’ve cracked it.”

Generation Women is a sisterhood for helping women regain career focus. Whether it be getting back into the boardroom after maternity leave – or strategising your own business from scratch.

It all comes down to empowerment.

Latest Stats on Challenges Facing Women’s Career Advancement (2023):

Leadership Representation Lag:

  • Only 8.7% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women, a historic low since 2019. (Catalyst, 2023)
  • Women hold just 28.1% of senior leadership positions globally, stagnating at pre-pandemic levels. (McKinsey & Company, 2023)
  • The “broken rung” phenomenon persists, with for every 100 men promoted to manager, only 87 women are promoted. (Lean In & McKinsey & Company, 2023)

Compensation Gaps:

  • Globally, the gender pay gap stands at 16%, meaning women earn 16% less than men for doing the same work. (World Economic Forum, 2023)
  • This gap widens in certain industries, reaching 28% in financial services and 23% in tech. (World Economic Forum, 2023)
  • Women of color face even greater disparities, with Black women earning 73 cents for every dollar earned by white men. (National Women’s Law Center, 2023)

Balancing Priorities:

  • 58% of working mothers report struggling to achieve work-life balance, compared to 36% of working fathers. (Pew Research Center, 2023)
  • Lack of access to affordable childcare and eldercare remains a significant barrier for women’s career advancement. (Center for American Progress, 2023)
  • Unconscious bias and gender stereotypes in the workplace contribute to challenges in managing career and family responsibilities. (Lean In & McKinsey & Company, 2023)

Additional Challenges:

  • Harassment and discrimination in the workplace remain prevalent, hindering women’s career progression. (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 2023)
  • Lack of flexible work arrangements and remote work options can limit women’s participation in the workforce. (McKinsey & Company, 2023)
  • Stereotypes about women’s leadership capabilities and skills need to be actively challenged and overcome. (Harvard Business Review, 2023)

Advice tailored to different career stages for women:

Navigating Early-Career Stage (1-3 Years)

  • Actively seek out a trusted mentor with experience to provide guidance around skill gaps and sponsor access to stretch opportunities for visibility
  • Gain technical mastery in your domain and volunteer for cross-functional projects to expand network
  • Schedule recurring check-ins with managers to discuss strengths, development areas and long-term career visions
  • Attend networking events proactively start meeting peers beyond immediate team and subject matter experts in function

Excelling at Mid-Career Stage (5-10 Years)

  • Vocalize any desire for leadership trajectories to index yourself for advancement potential
  • Seek highly visible assignments to demonstrate competencies around people management, budget oversight, strategic planning etc
  • Establish your personal brand both internally and externally via professional accreditations, speaking engagements, media publications
  • Expand soft skills sharpness especially around executive presence, communication, relationship building – invest in coaching

Reaching Upper Management (15-20+ Years)

  • Actively lobby for board appointments at industry groups, nonprofit causes etc. to signal strategic insight
  • Enroll in advanced leadership programs specializing in CXO grooming – hone executive mindsets

Conquering Modern Obstacles: Tactics for Your Career Journey

The professional landscape is ever-evolving, and today’s workforce faces unique challenges. Let’s dive into three obstacles resonating in the current hybrid work environment and equip you with actionable tactics to overcome them:

1. Mastering the Hybrid Maze:

  • Visibility in a Virtual World: Schedule regular one-on-ones with your manager, actively participate in virtual meetings, and contribute in online spaces like team chats and collaboration platforms. Showcase your work through concise reports and presentations.
  • Collaboration Across the Distance: Utilize project management tools, set clear expectations and timelines, and schedule regular brainstorming sessions or virtual “watercooler” moments to foster team cohesion.
  • Maintaining Boundaries and Wellbeing: Establish defined work hours, communicate your availability clearly, and create a dedicated workspace at home to minimize distractions. Utilize flexible work arrangements to prioritize mental health and personal time.

2. Securing a Sponsor for Your Rise:

  • Identify Potential Champions: Seek mentors within your network who share your values and career aspirations. Research senior leaders in your organization known for supporting and promoting talent.
  • Demonstrate Your Value: Showcase your accomplishments through measurable results, proactive projects, and exceeding expectations. Actively seek feedback and demonstrate a thirst for learning and growth.
  • Build a Strategic Relationship: Network strategically, engage in meaningful conversations with your potential sponsor, and offer assistance on mutually beneficial projects. Communicate your career goals and seek guidance and mentorship.

3. Escaping the Toxic Trap:

  • Red Flags on the Horizon: Be mindful of warning signs like micromanagement, unfair treatment, lack of transparency, and constant negativity. Pay attention to your gut feeling and how interactions make you feel.
  • Document and Communicate: If possible, discreetly document specific instances of negativity or toxicity. Speak to a trusted colleague or mentor for advice and support. Consider formally communicating concerns to HR or higher management.
  • Prioritize your Wellbeing: Don’t let a toxic environment drain your energy. Utilize available resources like employee assistance programs or mental health counselors. Explore options like internal transfers or seeking new opportunities outside the organization.

Tying it to the Landscape:

Remember, hybrid work, seeking sponsorships, and navigating toxic environments are challenges faced by many today. By being proactive, developing your skills, and building strong relationships, you can confidently overcome these obstacles and carve your path to success in the ever-shifting professional landscape.

Bonus Tip: Consider including real-life examples or case studies of individuals who have successfully navigated these challenges. This will provide your readers with practical insights and inspiration for their own journeys.

Conquer Your Career Climb: Key Takeaways for Today’s Landscape

  1. Master the Hybrid Maze: Don’t get lost in the virtual void. Be visible, actively collaborate, and prioritize your well-being in this new work model. Remember, boundaries are your allies, not enemies.
  2. Find Your Champions: Seek supportive mentors and sponsors who can elevate your trajectory. Showcase your value, build strategic relationships, and don’t shy away from asking for guidance. Remember, champions believe in your potential even before you see it fully.
  3. Escape the Toxic Trap: Don’t tolerate negativity that drains your energy. Recognize red flags early, document concerns if necessary, and prioritize your mental health. Remember, you deserve a supportive environment that fuels your growth, not hinders it.

Beyond these tactics, remember to cultivate continuous learning, build a strong network, and stay adaptable. The professional landscape is dynamic, but with these lessons as your compass, you can navigate its twists and turns with confidence and carve your path to success, wherever your career journey may lead.

Career Advice for Women FAQs:

1. How can I ensure I’m visible in a hybrid work environment?

  • Schedule regular one-on-ones with your manager and actively participate in virtual meetings.
  • Contribute in online spaces like team chats and collaboration platforms.
  • Showcase your work through concise reports and presentations.
  • Utilize technology effectively to connect and collaborate with colleagues across locations.

2. What qualities should I look for in a potential sponsor?

  • Seek mentors who align with your values and career aspirations.
  • Look for senior leaders known for supporting and promoting talent.
  • Choose someone approachable and available for guidance and advice.

3. What are some early signs of a toxic work environment?

  • Micromanagement and lack of trust.
  • Unfair treatment and lack of transparency.
  • Constant negativity and a blame culture.
  • Unappealing work-life balance and disregard for employee wellbeing.

4. How can I prioritize my wellbeing in a hybrid work environment?

  • Establish clear work hours and create a dedicated workspace at home.
  • Communicate your availability clearly and avoid working extended hours unnecessarily.
  • Take breaks throughout the day and utilize flexible work arrangements for personal time.
  • Prioritize activities that nurture your mental and physical health.

5. What steps can I take if I feel trapped in a toxic workplace?

  • Discreetly document specific instances of negativity or concerns.
  • Speak to a trusted colleague or mentor for advice and support.
  • Consider formally communicating your concerns to HR or higher management.
  • Explore options like internal transfers or seeking new opportunities outside the organization.
  • Prioritize your wellbeing and don’t hesitate to seek professional help if needed.

Career Advice for Women Conclusion:

Navigating the modern professional landscape presents unique challenges, but with the right strategies and mindset, you can conquer them and climb to new heights. Remember, mastering the hybrid maze, finding supportive champions, and maintaining a healthy work-life balance are key to thriving in today’s environment.

Embrace continuous learning, nurture your network, and stay adaptable. By applying the lessons here and staying true to your values, you can carve your successful path, regardless of your career journey.

Become a Part of Our Business Leaders Series

To discover more insights from Sinead, covering women in business, leadership, career development and much more – check out our full interview.

To find out how Generation Women can help you, or your business, you can contact the community or Sinead via the website.

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