The Wonder Woman Effect: practical tips on navigating the career ladder, in conjunction with WISH

The Wonder Woman Effect: practical tips on navigating the career ladder, in conjunction with WISH

Annaliese Rogers, Principal in the Housing Practice and Sue Johnson, Managing Partner, Inclusion & Diversity Consulting, Odgers Berndtson recently ran an insightful session on career progression for over 100 senior women working in the social housing sector in conjunction with WISH (Women in Social Housing).  

WISH is the only membership network for women working across every discipline of UK housing, providing career encouragement, and championing positive outcomes for its members.

Sue began the session by highlighting that the Housing sector still faces some big diversity challenges, pointing to figures from a 2019 review by National Housing Federation of housing association staff in England, which found that women were under-represented at both board and executive level at 41.1% and 39.7% respectively. This disparity reflects not only a male/female imbalance in the boardroom but also an unwelcome mismatch between the composition of senior leadership teams and the service users whose interests they are in place to represent.

What then can be done to rectify the situation? Sue shared three key tips on how as individuals we can better navigate our ascension up the career ladder.

1. The role model ‘jigsaw’

The benefits of role models are widely acknowledged. In terms of how to get the best out of the role model relationship, a slight shift in women’s usual approach is required. As women, typically we will seek a role model who displays all the characteristics and skills we admire, and put all our eggs in one basket with that person - creating a “wonder woman” effect. However, breaking down the various desired skills and attributes into distinct areas, and then thinking of people who display those individual qualities is a better route to success and gives us a broader base of experience to draw from.

From that wider pool, approach each person with that specific point in mind, tell them it is something you admire in them and have noticed they do well, and ask for guidance on how you might improve in that particular area. In effect, piece together a jigsaw of the skills and attributes you want to build on, and link it with the individuals, picking the most appropriate person for the issue or set of circumstances you face.

2. The personal advisory panel

Ask colleagues, friends, family, and anyone in your sphere of influence if they would be willing to provide support. For this to be effective, again it is necessary to be clear about what trait or expertise you admire in those you approach, so that they can be specific about the help you are requesting and there are clear expectations of what you hope to get from them.

3. Calling In/Calling Out behaviours

If people feel they are not a good fit at an organisation, they are more likely to leave. That’s one reason why identifying a selection of good role models matters. However, it’s also important to be alert to bad behaviour that can undermine morale and damage culture.

Addressing bad behaviour in the workplace can be daunting and Sue recommended that where possible, it is preferable not to react in the heat of the moment in front of colleagues by “calling out” something inappropriate unless it is necessary or particularly serious.  Instead, she advocated “calling in” using the ACIS method as a less confrontational way to address a negative situation after the event.

ACIS stands for:

Acknowledge what happened

Clarify what was intended to be said/done

Inform what effect the behaviour had

Solution – come to an agreement on how to mitigate the behaviour moving forwards

The ‘rude Q&A’ at the end of the session was interactive and engaging. There are clearly plenty of talented women in the housing sector who not only have ambitions to grow and develop but are already achieving great things in their own careers and are keen to help others follow suit.   


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