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Take more risks, don’t over-plan your career and don’t know it all but know who to call – career tips from Ascend speaker and company director, Lynn Ralph

Meek and mild is not how I’d describe Lynn Ralph, board performance specialist with Cameron Ralph and non-executive director of the Sydney Swans and The Sydney Institute.  In past lives she was also a successful investment manager and ran the Sydney Dance Company.  And those in attendance at Ascend in Sydney on Friday would agree: this is a woman who pulls no punches, makes no apologies for her successful career and yet doesn’t take herself too seriously.

Her advice to all women to wise up to what’s really holding you back in your career rang some bells around the room, including an interesting perspective that perhaps it’s time to stop measuring the “business case” and benefits for advancing women in leadership and on boards; because no one has measured the business case of having men run our companies (including the all-men boards that went belly-up in the GFC).

For those of you who couldn’t be there, here some of Lynn’s career tips and highlights from the Q&A:

  1. Take risks.  Focus on the positives in the situation and what you have to gain, rather than what you have to lose.  Read the signs and trust yourself to make the right decisions for you.  What you’ll probably find is that things aren’t as risky as they seem, and that in most cases the universe will provide.
  2. Don’t over-plan your career: at best you’ll be disappointed and at worst you’ll limit the opportunities available to you.  Understand the qualities you like in work and colleagues and work towards achieving that.  Read “What Colour is My Parachute” – it’s an oldy but a goody on how to get the most from your career.
  3. Take responsibility.  Stop worrying about what could go wrong: it usually doesn’t!  So be prepared to go out on a limb and own your actions.  That’s what leadership is all about.
  4. Know what you don’t know and know who to ask.  Lynn says the best company directors are those who “don’t know it all but they know who to call”. So focus on building relationships, creating a good team, and holding onto good people.
  5. Be yourself: it may be the only thing you can really do well and it’s the only sustainable option for career management.  It’s better to be yourself at work or in a job interview and let others decide if that’s what they’re looking for; if you try to be something else then in the long run you’ll probably please no-one (including yourself).
  6. Learn from the past, and don’t live there.  Things may go wrong and if they do, learn from your mistakes and then let go and move on… quickly!
  7. Whatever you do, you must stick to your values and ethics – which may take courage, but it’s the only way you’ll sleep well at night.
  8. Be kind to yourself.  Women can be their own worst enemy, and there are enough obstacles you’ll encounter without beating yourself up.  Recognise your achievements and what you’re capable of and be as kind to yourself as you are to all the people around you.
  9. Say thank you often. It doesn’t cost anything and yet it delivers big payback.
  10. If all of the above fails, get a poodle! (which I would substitute for a beagle!)

And Lynn’s call to action? That every woman take responsibility for asking the question at their next performance review meeting: Am I being paid the same as my male counterparts?

Sounds like a plan to address that 18% gender pay gap… anyone out there willing to give it a shot?


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