Future proof your career – some tips for women

Spoke at a women in technology conference recently on the topic of how to future proof your career. It might seem strange that I hardly mentioned technology at all in this talk. But the essentials for a long career are mostly outside of technology. Any intelligent person can pick up technology skills, but other essential skills include:

  • Self analysis and self understanding
  • NO to office housework
  • Support networks
  • Power of sponsorship
  • Impostor syndrome
  • And lastly, actual technology

Self analysis and self understanding

Self analysis and self understanding are the first thing to consider. If you can get a clear eyed understanding of your strengths and weaknesses this provides a good foundation for managing your career. This will also help with the development of the ability to take rejection, to ignore it, and to move on regardless. You will be rejected – sometimes because you are a woman, sometimes for other reasons. But if you have clear idea of your skills and the value that you provide then you can pick yourself up, regroup and get on with things.

Resilience counts – a career is a marathon not a sprint!

Another key skill to develop is not to take things personally at work. I always imagine that they are talking to the chair when someone appears to be having a go at me. Many times I have found out later that the person who was giving me a hard time was upset about something completely different. Of course there can be the case where someone really is out to get you – I’ve suffered from bullying at work before – the best thing to do in that case is to engineer an exit as soon as possible.

‘Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all your getting get understanding.’ Proverbs 4:7

Take every opportunity to obtain a 360 degree understanding of yourself. And ensure that you seek feedback from diverse and reliable sources. Take time out to reflect on your work and assess it dispassionately. Learn to recognise your strengths and weaknesses, so that you can use your strengths and improve on your weaknesses. I often say that it’s not a weakness if you know about it and can compensate.

Say ‘NO’ to office housework


Office housework consists of the myriad of little tasks around  the office that folks just assume that women will do. These range from filling the dishwasher, to tidying the bench tops, buying the birthday cakes and opening the mail. People will unconsciously expect women to do it.

  • Stop doing it immediately (unless, of course, you really really want to do it)
  • It takes time for which you are not remunerated
  • It distracts you from your mission

If you consider how much of this you’ve probably done over your career it really adds up over the years. And our male colleagues have been blissfully ignoring all of this unremunerated labour and coasting past us.

Find your support network

Find a work support network. Often social friends will not understand your work context and you do need someone who understands. I’ve had conversions with family members as I try to explain some work thing and watch their eyes glaze over, or they simply do not have the mental map for my work. The main thing is that you need a cheer squad of folks who understand your work context and who can also provide contextually relevant advice.

Another sad fact is that sometimes colleagues at work will diverge as you progress in your career. This is especially true if you have risen up the ranks within a single organisation. In that case there might be envy or resentment, so you might need to socialise with different folks.

Discover the power of sponsorship

Sponsorship not mentorship. As noted in this article:

‘Mentors advise. Sponsors act.’

A sponsor is someone who will advocate on your behalf. Mentors are helpful when you need advice, but to really get ahead a sponsor can be more useful. It is helpful to have mentoring throughout your career, but a sponsor can help to make things happen and be real change agent for your career.

Nobody knows you feel like an impostor

Impostor syndrome is real, and almost everyone experiences it at some time. But the important thing to remember is that nobody knows how you feel so heed the advice to ‘fake it until you make it’ or rather ‘fake it until you become it’ as Amy Cuddy argues.

The crucial thing about imposter syndrome is that there is clear evidence that you are not an imposter, that is, someone has given you a particular role. You have the feeling that you are an imposter but there is evidence that you are not.

The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias wherein persons of low ability suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their cognitive ability as greater than it is. Therefore by having imposter syndrome at least you know you’re not suffering from the Dunning-Kruger effect.

New jobs will emerge as technology changes

The 21st century offers us great challenges and opportunities. Things like the  digital revolution, AI, machine learning, Internet of Things, big data and data science, and Quantum computing – among others – are all going to change things beyond recognition. Always be looking to generalise your current skillset into the next big thing, and keep in mind Amara’s law:

‘We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.’

As Paul Roehrig, chief strategy officer for Cognizant Digital Business, notes:

‘People skills are more and more important in an era where we have powerful and pervasive technology,’ he says. ‘It sounds counterintuitive, but to beat the bot, you need to be more human.’

21st Century skills include:

  • Problem solving
  • Creativity
  • Analytic thinking
  • Collaboration
  • Communication
  • Ethics, action, and accountability

Above all…

You can have multiple careers

Don’t panic!

Remember to breathe