Every professional woman has ‘baggage’: What does yours say about you?

If you are a business woman who travels regularly you no doubt have a packing routine designed to save you time. But as a woman who travels to London from Scotland several times a month myself, I recognise the value of light, well-crafted luggage – and well co-ordinated items to go within them. Does your luggage enhance your image or scream ‘bag lady’. I asked Capsule Wardrobes to give me their tips – here’s what they recommend:

  • What does your luggage and travelling outfit say about your brand? Don’t forget from the moment you leave home you are representing yourself, your company and even your country. If you’ll be mixing with colleagues and clients from other countries, it’s essential think through climate (both indoor and out) and preferred dress codes. Always check before packing what your colleagues or clients wear in the office.
  • Buy a set of practical, visible and professional luggage. Business travel requires cabin-friendly cases. Opt for a wheeled case if you have a lot of walking to do either at the airport or from hotel to office. Take a coordinating bag that can hang over the top of the handle with more carrying power – without the extra weight. There are great options by Samsonite, Rimowa and Knomo that go beyond basic black. If I’ll be staying over a weekend, I’ll often take a second bag, so that I can use just one or the other.


  • Pack a capsule wardrobe. Lugging two or three suitcases for a 5 day trip just isn’t practical. Ruthlessly edit and be as decisive as you have to be at work. For example, when the Capsule Wardrobe team create light capsule wardrobes for clients they often remark that it’s the small details (read: light to carry!) that add style. For example, individual scarves and pieces of jewellery will say more about you than another pair of black trousers. Prioritise crease resistant viscose or silk jersey. You’d be surprised to see just how flexible a travel capsule wardrobe can be. Here’s one which has 12 outfits and fits into a carry-on bag.

business travel capsule wardrobe

  • Check the weather – with the horrendous weather over the last few weeks both here and in the US be prepared with boots and a warm coat that are functional but still smart in snow. Or include a smart trench coat and umbrella. Wear a pair of business appropriate flat shoes (the new pointed flat shape works well with skirts and trousers) to cope with walking long distances both at the airport and just in case there is a transport strike at your destination.

business travel capsule wardrobe

Capsule Wardrobes specialise in executive dressing for the busy professional woman.
What is unique about their service is that they focus on dressing ‘the personality’
of their clients, as well as considering their careers and lifestyles. Founders Maria and Caroline have corporate and retail backgrounds; Maria in IT project management then owning her own boutiques and Caroline with Saatchi, Harrods and House of Fraser. Together they have quite simply dressed hundreds of women and of all shapes and sizes. Find out more at www.capsule-wardrobes.co.uk


Why Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Lean In’ Culture is Killing Us

leanin_2506122bAs you can imagine, the recent article in the Washington Post :’Recline, Don’t Lean In: Why I Hate Sheryl Sandberg‘ caught our eye. As an organisation that helps women and men ‘lean in’ to workplace gender equality, we recognise that ‘leaning in’ is de rigour for any aspiring professional. However, it’s a hollow victory if we only achieve equality of exhaustion.

The article by Rosa Brooks, a foreign policy expert, explains the dangers of continuously leaning in: ‘We’ve created a world in which ubiquity is valued above all. If you’re not at your desk every night until nine, your commitment to the job is questioned. If you’re not checking email 24/7, you’re not a reliable colleague. But in a world in which leaning in at work has come to mean doing more work, more often, for longer hours, women will disproportionately drop out or be eased…Because unlike most men, women — particularly women with children — are still expected to work that “second shift” at home.’

Brooks continue: ‘Men today do more housework and childcare than men in their fathers’ generation, but ..as long as women are the ones doing more of the housework and childcare, women will be disproportionately hurt when both workplace expectations and parenting expectations require ubiquity. They’ll continue to do what too many talented women already do: Just as they’re on the verge of achieving workplace leadership positions, they’ll start dropping out.’

While ubiquity hurts women, men are not escaping the ill effects either. I spoke at a corporate event last week where the main topic became how the ‘Always On’ culture is a key reason for the departure of both women and men. I think the difference is that women have to be more honest and prioritise their families, whereas men are more reluctant to publicly admit to their exhaustion. But this comes with a heavy cost for us all.

As Brooks explains: ‘Henry Ford didn’t advocate the eight-hour day for his auto assembly line workers because he was a nice guy. He advocated the eight-hour day because research demonstrated that worker productivity cratered after more than eight hours. As Brigid Schulte documents in her forthcoming book, “Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time,” humans can only take so much for so long. When a workplace is full of employees who always lean in and never lean back, it’s full of employees who are exhausted, brittle and incapable of showing much creativity or making good decisions.’

The MBA Myth: Are women better off without?


291Women pursuing careers in management often approach me with the  question – will an MBA advance my career? While, at Female Breadwinners we do encourage many women to study further, it’s not the easy fix towards equality many assume. Most management skills are learnt on the job, rather than in school. Besides, in the long run, most women simply can’t afford to put their careers behind by at least 2 years and the hefty financial investment. For example, at Harvard an M.B.A. costs more than a hundred and eighty thousand dollars before lost wages. Arguably, it’s the qualities that get a candidate admitted to Harvard, rather than her degree itself, that insure her success after graduation. Even when they get there, there will be few role models in the coursework as only eight percent case studies feature female protagonists.

The uncomfortable truth is women in business are more likely to have their careers interrupted because of family considerations. A Harvard Study on the dynamics of gender gap for young professionals in the corporate sector mapped the careers of business school graduates from 1990 to 2006. They found that a decade after earning their M.B.A.s, women were 22% more likely than men to have experienced at least one career interruption. Just over 13% of women weren’t working, compared to 1% of their male colleagues. The study also found that “M.B.A. mothers seem to actively choose jobs that are family friendly and avoid jobs with long hours and greater career advancement possibilities.”

Laura Hemphill of the New Yorker wisely points out – “Given this possibility, isn’t the most important thing for a woman to work as hard as she can and advance as far as possible while she’s still in her twenties and her life is as uncomplicated as it’s going to get? That way, by the time she’s a decade or so along, she’ll have more savings, more job experience, and more bargaining power—all of which translate into more options.” An M.B.A degree is certainly not the obvious or even smart choice for all.

3 Killer Ideas for Recruiting Professional Women

recruiting professional womanFor some of our clients, retaining professional women is less of a struggle than attracting them in the first place. This is particularly true in fields that recruit from the academic disciplines in which women are under-represented; like the physical sciences and engineering. That’s not to excuse those who use the all-too convenient excuse: ‘women just aren’t’ interested in our field’. There’s still plenty of help for them.

Here’s three ideas of how to recruit professional women. 

1. Set a realistic job specification: In discussion with a recruiter friend of mine, he expressed frustration at calling prospective female candidates. He said they explain away their qualifications for a role based on the over-optimistic person specification. He explained: ‘Women don’t seem to understand it’s just a wish-list. So I get inundated with men who have 6 of the 10 qualities, but are pretty sure they could do the other 4 if pushed. What I don’t get is women applying until they can prove they fit all 10 requirements; and that they can claim full credit for those 10! So my clients end up picking over-confident men who have some relevant experience over under-confident women who could do it all.’ His suggestion? Simplify the job description so only the bare essentials are seen as requirements. Don’t list the ‘desirable’ elements, as they are currently still perceived by too many women as requirements. What extra experience or insights people bring, above and beyond the essential, can then help them secure the actual job.

2. Go where the women are: Consistent corporate sponsors of external women’s networks, like Girl Geeks or Women in Banking and Finance, are better able to position themselves as employers who value women. Perhaps not surprisingly, research shows an organisation’s reputation for diversity is considered more important to women and candidates from diverse backgrounds, than it is to white male candidates. It’s the unofficial ‘word on the street’ that affects who applies and who doesn’t. Discrimination cases, bad press and the lack of diverse Board members all send a far louder message than a perfectly written diversity policy or any stock-photo images of women and ethnic minorities on the website. Candidates want to see evidence for how you walk your talk.

3. Play the long game: In our experience, women are less likely to pick up the phone to enquiring recruiters, particularly if they are satisfied where they are. They see speaking to recruiters as a waste of precious time unless they’d leave. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to speak to recruiters to get a sense of their external market value and then use that intelligence to negotiate pay raises at their current companies. Employers aiming to increase the number of senior female employees should view attracting the right women as a long game. One global technology firm with whom we’ve worked used recruiters to identify women from across the UK with the right core competencies they would eventually need in senior roles. The recruiters approached them, not to offer them roles, but to invite them to a series of events tailored to this group of women and hosted by the company. They were clear no jobs were on offer, but the series has been very successful in getting women to engage with a brand many previously doubted. The women expressed interest in future events, and the company has improved it’s image with this highly skilled and in-demand group, which is leading to a greater willingness to consider roles when they eventually become available.

How Comfortable are You with 80% Perfect?

perfectionism‘Get comfortable with 80% perfect.’ That was the advice given by a male head of HR at a Microsoft event at which I spoke several years ago. His advice to the largely female audience resonated with me, particularly since so many of our coaching clients at Female Breadwinners are ‘recovering perfectionists’.

Perfectionism is a hard trait to give up, as it largely serves us early in our career. Being known as the woman who dots the i’s and crosses the t’s makes many rely on us. However, after a certain point, smart women recognise they have to delegate more and trust others to do elements of their job.

The truth is that no matter where you are in your career at this moment, you will not get to the next level without more delegation and getting comfortable with being 80% perfect. As a recovering perfectionist myself, I know how stressful it can be to relinquish control. But I also know how many people I’ve discovered can do large elements of what I perceived to be my job, far better than me. Very humbling, trust me. In fact, the more I give up, the more my business grows. And better yet, most people don’t even notice the 20% I think I’m missing.

Research by CNN recently showed that wasting time and energy trying to be “perfect” only leads to unhappiness. The article stated “We get sucked into perfection for one very simple reason: We believe perfection will protect us. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimise or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame.”

Holding yourself to an unattainable perfect ideal will only create bottlenecks and distrust at work and dampen your your mental health.

If you are a recovering perfectionist, what 20% did you give up?

Is Golf Worth the Effort for Professional Women?

‘To find a man’s true character, play golf with him”PG Wodehouse.

professional women, female breadwinners, women golferWill taking up golf help me build business?’ is a question I’ve heard from a few professional women recently. All eyes over the past few months have been on various clubs, many of whom are still male-only preserves.  The Women’s Open was recently held in my hometown of St. Andrew’s, Scotland and it was great to see the faces of female celebrity on banners across the entrance to the city. But will golf get you ahead in the workplace? No doubt, golf has long been synonymous with the world of business. Deals are born and shook on between tees and it has ever been thus. As women attempt to climb the ranks of business, are they held back by not picking up a nine iron?

Take for example the case of Virginia Rometty who took the helm as first female CEO of IBM in 2012. She was named one of the Top 100 Most Influential People in the World by Time. But unlike her male predecessors, Rometty was not given an honorary membership to Augusta, which is close to IBM headquarters in Atlanta. Rometty actually plays, but women were not allowed to become members at Augusta. To add insult to injury, IBM has traditionally been a main sponsor of the Master’s the annual tournament at Augusta. However, Augusta has started to buckle under the pressure, this past season it gave membership to Darla Moore a South Carolina financier and philanthropist Condoleeza Rice.

This kind of an attitude towards women in golf only compounds the connection between the sport and big business. Catalyst, a research firm dedicated to expanding opportunities for women in business, found that 46% of professional women claimed that “exclusion of informal networks” was one of the biggest impediments to reaching their career goals. Golf was the top of the list of these networks.

According to London Loves Business bosses who play golf can earn up to 17% more. “The reasons which make golf such a good networking tool are certainly plentiful. The handicap system means that people of all levels of skill can play against each other competitively… Golf is a great way to build relationships with clients, prospective clients, and people within your company. If you can talk about golf, all of a sudden, you have a reason to talk to the CEO or your boss two levels above you.” As someone who lives in a golfing community, I know golf allows you to see the good, bad and the ugly of the people you are playing with. It’s a great way to ‘suss out’ the other person. Professional women who want to try golf would be well advised to check out Leslie Andrew’s book ‘Even Par’, encouraging women to boost their business careers through golf. You don’t have to be a pro to make golf part of your life. Golf is not a leisure activity, taking away time from other ‘important things’. As Leslie Andrews points out in an article in Forbes: “It’s really not the golf that matters, truth be told. It’s the secret club. It’s the secret language. It’s being in the game, being where decisions are made. And that means being on the golf course,”

Women don’t control the whole equation.  The Virginia Rometty episode provided a stark reminder of that.  But we do control part of the equation, and if you work with senior people who play, and you have the time yourself to learn, you could seize the networking opportunity that golf affords.

What shared passions do you have with colleagues or clients? How have you used that to build the relationship?

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