With a host of events aimed at enabling and empowering the next generation of female leaders taking place in the UAE this month, there’s never been a better time for women who want to lean in. But what if you don’t know how to take your career to the next level? Co-founder of women’s employment firm Hopscotch, Helen McGuire, can help…

As we enter the final quarter of 2017, if there’s one thing from that old New Year’s resolution list that just hasn’t quite come to fruition, it’s often related to work. Whether you’ve not managed to sort your CV, have been too distracted by life to start job hunting or, perhaps, have been too intimidated by the task at hand to set about making a fresh start, career ‘stuff’ is now looking like a job for next year. Right?

Rest assured, you’re not alone in this line of thinking. With one in ten women citing a lack of confidence as their main barrier to tackling career challenges, and a huge 78 per cent mistakenly believing a lack of flexible options is the issue, we know what you’re up against. Here are our top tips to help get things moving in the right direction.

Tip #01 Change your game

Take this dialogue from Alice In Wonderland as an example:

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” said Alice.

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where–” said Alice.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

We all lack an idea of exactly where it is we want to get to sometimes. But if you have felt for some time that you’re simply not in the ‘right’ place, then it’s essential to try to decide what a ‘better place’ would look like. It might seem like the tiniest of steps, but any action is better than none at all. “I advise my clients to use all their intelligences – academic, emotional and social – to work out what or where they want to head next,” explains my colleague, Hopscotch’s key skills coach Archana Bhatia. “Don’t let the enormity of the situation overwhelm you and start small – being in a good place allows us to navigate critical career discussions objectively and weigh the pros and cons without the nervous edge that urgency can bring with it.”

Tip #02 Be adaptable

All too often we believe that what made us succeed in the past will continue to contribute to our success. But business plans, bosses, colleagues and even power equations go through changes. Since Hopscotch began, awareness of the benefits of flexible work has increased among both businesses and women, and as a result, we have placed and trained more than 450 women in the last year. Initiatives like mentorships, returnships, trainings and flexible hours have really taken off this year and opportunities have increased. Keep your ear to the ground to anticipate these changes and make adjustments to your plans, goals and networks accordingly.

Tip #03 Don’t be shy

So what’s stopping you from applying for that job?  According to many of our clients, for women it’s not being able to tick every single box on the application form, leaving the path open for male counterparts who really don’t see that as an issue.

“The New York Times recently published a brilliant article headlined Why women aren’t C.E.O.s, according to women who almost were,” says Archana, “in which one real life example was of a meeting where a group of men and women were asked whether they had any expertise in breastfeeding. A man raised his hand. He had watched his wife for three months, he explained. The women in the crowd, however, mothers among them, didn’t come forward as experts.”

While women are very good at getting things done, they often end up simply hoping that they will be rewarded for it. Alas, that is not always the case, Archana explains. “While I would never encourage anyone to cover up their ignorance or gaps in expertise, I certainly believe we can do a better job of showcasing the skills, knowledge and achievements we have to our name. Don’t expect others, including other women, to do it for you.”

Tip #04 Get out of that comfort zone

We all have one – but whether it’s a relationship, a regular routine, an exercise regime or a diet, you can bet your bottom dollar sticking staunchly within its boundaries is likely doing you few favours in the long run. Your career is no different. The familiar is comfortable and helps maintain the status quo in our lives, which is a tempting state to be in, especially if you’re taking care of young children or ageing parents. But let’s look at it from another perspective – organisations seek and reward employees who are willing to go the extra mile and if you don’t, the woman right behind you in the queue for that job or promotion probably will. We’re not talking about working crazy hours or over-committing yourself, but simply working smarter. When was the last time you shared knowledge with other teams or offices, participated in group events or represented yourself or your firm at external gatherings? You have to put yourself out there to be noticed.

Tip #05 A hand up, a hand down

Wherever you are in your career, remember there are always people above and below you, and in your work lifetime, you’ll have been supported by both.

Networking upwards, downwards and sideways is a hugely valuable exercise, as is investing some time in a mentor/mentee relationship that can really open doors for your career and perspective. “I’ve benefitted tremendously from being a mentor and a mentee,” explains Archana. “While it is not the role of the mentor to create career opportunities for you, it certainly helps if they are well connected, know market practices and trends, or are quick to spot opportunities and point you in the right direction. Also, the primary motivation for becoming a mentor is important to know. I have encountered people who are mentors because it looks good on their CV and boosts their prestige. Such a person is more likely to be focused on positioning themselves and less likely to be thinking of how to rev up your career. So be wise and do your homework when you sign up to be mentored.”

Finally, do not underestimate the value of your attitude.  Being positive, open-minded, outgoing and grateful for what’s around you is a hugely undervalued ‘weapon’ in your armoury and can lead to unlikely situations with welcome consequences.  Look out for opportunities in our region set up by companies like Meltwater, women’s networks like Ellevate or, of course, Hopscotch’s own initiatives and get involved. Dubai is a city of like-minded, ambitious, outgoing people, so who knows where those conversations may lead you…


Ask the experts

These female-focused October events will help you on the path to promotion

Hopscotch Talent Round Tables

Talent teams from Mastercard, Growth Partners, Zurich and Nestlé will be looking to meet women with a procurement, finance, marketing or sales background this month. It’s a first for the region and an opportunity to hand over that all important CV – just make sure you register in advance to be in with a chance of attending.

October 10

Jumeirah Creekside Hotel, Al Garhoud, Dubai, 8.30am to 1pm, free, registration essential. Tel: (04) 2757600. Taxi: Jumeirah Creekside. hopscotch.ae/events

Hopscotch Career Clinic

Hosted with PRCA, the second in this Hopscotch event series is entitled Build Your Personal Brand in Nine Minutes, and promises to get you networking with confidence, whether you are in work already or looking to return to the career track. Keep your eye on the team’s website for registration opportunities.

October 15

Gaucho, Gate Village 05, DIFC, Dubai, 6.30pm to 9pm, Dhs90. Tel: (04) 2757600. Taxi: Gate Village DIFC. hopscotch.ae/events

The Global Women in leadership Economic Forum

Endorsed by the UAE Ministry of Economy, the 19th Women In Leadership event will bring together more than 500 global business leaders, policy-makers, entrepreneurs, NGOs, artists and youth to champion diversity as the cornerstone of sustainable economic development.

October 25 & 26

The Ritz-Carlton, DIFC, Dubai, from Dhs2,185. Tel: (04) 3671376. Taxi: Ritz-Carlton DIFC. wilforum.com