Stop Playing The Game. Start Writing The Rules.

Dr Karen Wilson
Managing Partner
Automatic Summary

How to Progress Your Career: Stop Playing the Games, Start Writing the Rules

Hello, everyone! I'm Karen Wilson, reaching out to all of you from London. Today, we're going to look at some practical steps to progress your career and stand out. It's important to note that this advice is applicable to everyone. Why? Because strength rests in diversity. And through allyship, we can change the game for everyone. Let's delve into what allyship can mean for you.

The Evolution of the Workplace

Change is slow but it’s certain. We've come a long way since the days when workplaces were predominantly male territories. Women stepped up to fill traditionally male roles and over time, broke barriers across various sectors. Yet, we're still playing a sport we did not design. Thus, many a time, the rules and conventions of competition, especially of career progression, feel unfamiliar or difficult.

This conflict is more glaringly evident in situations where women deliver brilliant results, display impressive leadership, and yet are asked to "wait" to progress. The goalposts are moved time and again, limiting women from rising to senior positions. One reason for this gap is the lack of support for mid-career women, who might feel compelled to switch careers or leave the workforce entirely. Therefore, it's crucial we address this issue.

The Power of Allyship

Readjusting our approach and partnering with others can pave the way toward equality and equity in the workplace. By forming alliances with men and promoting a collective fight for progression, we can combat exclusion and move forward together.

According to a report from King's College London and Ipsos, it's apparent that many people believe gender equality initiatives have gone too far and men are now being discriminated against. In order to mitigate such perceptions, we need to ensure everyone is part of the conversation, and everyone is working together toward the same goal.

Unlocking the Door to Progression

In my opinion, here's what we can do to progress and evolve in our careers:

  • Believe in our potential: Remember that results follow belief and action. Your growth and accomplishments reinforce your self-confidence.
  • Engage our inner CEO: Becoming conscious of our inner chatter and transforming it into positive action can significantly impact our success.
  • Embrace various leadership styles: Leading from within, aligning each relationship as an alliance, championing others to shine, and strategic leadership can add immense value to workplace relations and dynamics.
  • Create human-centric rules: By forming a system that supports everyone to shine, we can move together towards a diverse and inclusive workplace.


To wrap up, true diversity and inclusion start with standing up for each other and creating a safe environment for everyone to excel and thrive. We need to shift from complaining to making space for everyone at the table. Together, we can redefine leadership, break down barriers and pave our own road to success. All it takes is a readiness to believe in ourselves and make powerful alliances.

If you're seeking further insights into building a robust career, tune into our weekly podcast, Unleashed, Unchained and Unapologetic, where we discuss a variety of leadership challenges and offer practical solutions.

Your career progression is in your hands. Acknowledge your potential, and you'll witness the magic unfold.

Video Transcription

Hi, everybody. Um, it's Karen Wilson here. I'm online from London. I bring to you my session today on how to progress your career. Uh Stop playing the games, start writing the rules. And I'd just like to start off by saying a couple of things.First of all, um I'm gonna be showing some practical how tos to progress your career and stand out. Um But upfront, I'd like to say that whilst I'm gonna be referring to men and women in this webinar, um the content is for absolutely everybody. So, um I'm all about diversity and inclusion and that kind of stuff and I'll be saying more about that as I speak. Um I believe that the differences make us stronger. Um And today I want to talk about allyship as a tool to change the game for everybody. So, first of all, uh I'd like to talk about the old game that we've been playing and the fact that it's kind of a losing strategy. And when I say we, I'm referring to all the women online today, um the playing fields still at Unlevel. And as you can see, it's a beautiful photograph from last century taken by one of my great grandfathers that shows that women used to have to climb mountains in dresses and hobnail boots and usually with men leading them. So in the workplace, it's very similar. Not much has changed except for the hobnail boots. Back in the day in the UK, um, women stepped into roles and areas which were traditionally males such as playing football.

And in 1921 were banned from playing football in the UK because it was seen as an unsuitable sport for women. When we take this into the work workplace, I wanna talk about the fact that when we think about work almost as a game, it's still an exclusive space. We still refer to things like the boys boys club. We still see, um, a majority in many cases of men in senior levels. Although I have seen organizations in the UK that are predominantly female boards and executives, but they're few and far between. We're not really playing a sport that we designed though. Um, traditionally the workplace was a place for men to go and do jobs and women were generally at home supporting them, raising families, um, in the UK, baking cakes and looking attractive if they could possibly pull it off during the day after spending most of it in the kitchen and doing the washing the rules in the workplace today though are quite unfamiliar.

Um, I think women in general, we think differently about things we, we tend to be more collaborative in the way we work naturally. Um And I'm generalizing here. Um and some of the rules by which the competitive environment of work um plays out are not so familiar to us. Similarly, I've seen a lot of clients, female clients particularly do everything right. They pro they, they deliver incredible results, they show up, they're impressive leaders, they bring their teams along only to be told that they need to wait longer to progress. And the goalposts seem to have moved between the goal setting and the progression conversation. And I'm going to talk a little bit more about the data we're showing us. But one of the reasons that we don't have so many women in senior positions is because we have problems in our midfield. That means mid career women not progressing or leaving the workforce or changing direction. And the saddest part about the situation today and what I really want to address is I believe that we're going about this in the wrong way. And actually what we're tending to create at this point is a sense of exclusion as we fragment into different, you know, groups who are all fighting to, to get progression. And that is creating somewhat of a backlash and the data's in on this, I'll share it with you.

How do we get to it? Well, back in the UK um in order to be seen and heard and get the vote we started chaining ourselves to railings. Um And then post COVID, uh women left the workplace in record numbers. Um So really so far we've employed a fight approach or a flight approach to effectively say it's not working for us and we've had 100 and 37 years of progress that should have taken us forwards. Um But when we look at what's actually happened, um it's only in 2019 that employer equal pay statistics were required to be published in the UK. So that's 2019 a few years ago. So we can pretty safely say things are moving slowly. What's really going on is we keep talking about this as a problem. We keep reporting the data, talking about broken rungs, wobbly ladders and all of this stuff on the right hand side that basically tells the story that women aren't progressing and step up in the same numbers as, as men. And one of the big problems is that not as many women make it to manage it as men do and those stats go down as we get more seniors. So the fewer that are at each stage, the fewer are there to promote.

So the other thing we do which doesn't help us is share or buy into negative chatter and soundbites. These phrases are constantly being used as a differentiator between how people progress in the workplace. We don't talk about working fathers. We talk about working mothers, we talk about unlevel playing fields, the great rethink, which was how a lot of women approach their career post COVID. And then we talk about things like glass escalators, ceilings, cliffs and broken rungs. So overall, it's, it's bad news and then we have the whole thing of diversity inclusion. Um and just a subtext on that. There was a report that came out from mckinsey not long ago that talked about diversity inclusion programs being mostly run by women championed by women. So we've actually also stepped into an area of trying to get more equality and most or many of those programs being run by us, not by men. And that's why I want to talk about allyship. We're also playing by the old rules. Many people will be familiar with this notion of leadership. There's a boss who points the direction a whole bunch of people make it happen. This kind of hierarchical approach isolates the leader. We know that it changes the power dynamics and organizations and cultures. It increases the use of ego as a weapon to get people to do things. And the approach is very much on where are we going, the goal rather than the people who are taking us there in the workplace. This can cause a lot of unhealthy stress and burnout.

And the bottom line is there is a very different way of going about it, which is becoming much more mainstream, which is that the leader gets down and shoulders the burden with the workforce. And that's really what I'm gonna talk about today, um, while we're doing it the old way and this is a great example. We are behaving as if there's a right way to progress up an organization. You do the right things you need to deliver, you know, on your targets, you need to behave in a particular way. And there are models that support that not developed by women, um or people who are disadvantaged or not at the same level in terms of the numbers. The first one is having hierarchies where somebody is in charge apprenticeship models, which effectively says you have to learn a whole bunch of stuff before you're allowed to progress. We believe in things called the career ladder. You can't jump up a career ladder, you can't jump up a ladder. It's very hard to miss a run unless you've got a good stride and a lot of balance. Um But this notion of there being a ladder ie a number of steps you have to go to, to progress means that some people who are highly skilled and I use the word people who are highly skilled, really good at what they do can get quite frustrated, waiting to take the next step.

And similarly, when you get to the top, then there's this whole notion of waiting for a seat at the table. And there is a bit of a sense of somebody has to leave the table to make space for someone to step in. So, while we're using the old rules, we're also using our own biology. And part of the reason these rules exist is from the fact that we develop a biological response to authority. Um experience of how we grow up from babyhood to adulthood, gives us information about what it's safe to do. What will get us support, love, belonging, rewarded. And we develop um a very sensitized approach to figuring out how to behave, to get what we want. Um rules about what's safe come from our parents. We start to develop habits based on shortcuts that mean we can do things more quickly to survive. Um When we have feedback messages at work, we take the sound bite, beat ourselves with it and p promise ourselves, we're never going to do something again. That doesn't feel good. And all of these are survival, primal reactions. The bottom line is how you look at these reactions is very important. These are messages that were designed to help you survive as a child through school, through work.

And back in the day of the Serengeti, they provide us protection from known threats, efficient reactions so that we survive and define a set of rules or sound about bys that we believe will allow us to succeed. The bottom line is that whenever we come into contact with not very positive messages or spaces that don't feel safe, we go into a stress state and our reactions tend to be led by a fight or flight response. And this is why we have many, many issues with mental health in the workplace. I'm here to say to every woman on this call that we have the solution within our grasp. But we need to do one very important thing and that is we have to learn from the past mistakes or we will repeat them, men have set up. And I'm gonna say men at this point, a hierarchy and a workplace which has suited them for a very long time. And it has resulted in exclusion of diverse people, of women at senior levels. We have an opportunity to break this notion of exclusion in the way we behave. But the data that we're starting to see is showing that we're doing a pretty poor job of it. I sat in a conference today uh this year in inter on International Women's Day.

Um It's a leadership conference about female leadership and there were maybe a handful of men in the room. This is a problem because we all need to be working together in the interests of everybody and in the interests of organization in service of everybody getting a fair go.

So when we set up meetings involving only women, we are by their very nature, not including men in the dialogue. And it's absolutely crucial that we form powerful alliances with men. The data from the report. That came out this year from King's College London and Ipsos said that around 50% of people agree that men are doing too much to support equality and nearly 50% agree that it's gone too far in terms of promoting women preferentially and that men are now being discriminated against.

We can't afford to have these sound bites out in the world. We can't afford for it to look like this because that is what will create a backlash and slow progress down even further. And frankly, it's already been slow enough. So I'm gonna talk about what the answer is. The first thing is that every single person listening to this has a choice and has power. It starts and ends with you and every single relationship you choose to form at work. It depends on what you believe is true. Do you believe you're disadvantaged or you, do you believe that you have the opportunity to move forwards? How do you show up? Do you show up with this notion of I'm going to be disadvantaged and complain about it or talk about it or recount the data or the soundbites or do you stand up and say let's move forwards together. How do you take charge? Do you pass on the experiences you've had that haven't been positive to maybe the women below you if it's been hard for you, do you make it hard for other people or do you take charge and make it easy through alliance for everyone to move forwards. It comes down to how you partner with people and how you relate in every single 1 to 1 relationship you have at work and frankly outside in the world.

And the bottom line here is that it's these things that really fuel your progression, how you show up, how you choose to behave. And the great news is that, that is 100% your choice and under your control. So what's the new way or the new set of rules that I want to talk about? The first one is stay on a 1 to 1 focus. Yes, we need to change cultures. Yes, we want to change systems. But the way to do it is to start by changing every single relationship that we can change in our own spheres. This is the game of allyship. It's the game of forming alliances with other people. It's based on having the same set of rules, the same set of opportunities for everybody. It's a team sport which means that we include people. We don't section ourselves often to groups of women or groups of men or diverse groups and support each other without bringing others in from outside. I have a client, very senior um hedge fund manager in New York who wants to get involved with incarcerated women in New York as part of her philanthropy. And she said to me, I don't feel included or comfortable because most of the women that are incarcerated are black.

And the organization I want to join is run by black women. I don't feel like I'm welcome. That's really scary stuff. Ok. And the last thing is that we need to stand up for anyone. There was a report that came out yesterday from the Harvest Business review that talked about safe spaces. We make our places safe by standing up regardless of whether we think it's safe or not and having the courage to stand up for anybody. This is, this is what I think. Real D and E and I is and it's real leadership. So the first rule is make sure that your beliefs align with the result that you want. If you believe that you have the opportunity to be in the C suite to do a great job, you need to take matching actions, you need to form great relationships. Yes, you need to deliver on your job. You learn, need to um be a supportive leader that encourages others to step up and not just take the limelight for yourself. And as you demonstrate that you're a safe pair of hands and a good bet, you will start to see the results through your progression and this will reinforce the belief that you can progress.

If you believe that you're disadvantaged, you're much more likely to behave as if it's true. You may be hyper vigilant and look for negative messages from people. Your performance or worry about whether you're, you're doing the right thing or are good enough. This will come through as a lack of confidence and a lack of certainty. If you're not sure about what's going on, don't act on a bunch of feelings and guesses and assumptions, go and ask for the facts. Ask what you need to do differently, ask how you need to step up, show willing to shift your perspectives and you'll find that the results follow. But if you are in a state of complaining, blaming shaming or colluding in silence, when an organization isn't treating people properly, you are going to reinforce the belief that you don't have an opportunity in that organization. So belief, action result is a really important way to think about how you're getting your mindset for progression. The second thing is to really short up what I call your inner ceo just gonna move myself out of the way of this slide. Here we go, put myself over here this time, the bottom line is, we've all got self talk and thinking habits inside us. These are there to keep us safe.

Now many coaches will talk about judges and critics, the inner judge, the inner critic that tells you you're doing a bad job. I wanna reframe that your inner judge and critic are there to keep you safe and are there to help you if you make a mistake? Your judge might say we got that wrong didn't you? Your inner CEO would say yes, I did. And now I know what the right answer is not just wallow in the mistakes that you've made. So understanding the members, members of your inner boardroom and letting your CEO take the information, the inner chatter and make sense of it in a positive way so that you can take positive actions is a winning strategy for a leader. The bottom line is you can't shut the uh judging critic up because you've had them since you were a child, very strong neural pathways in your brain and you need to learn to work with those neural pathways and shift your habits towards positive actions and away from things like imposter syndrome.

That's another sound bite. I don't really don't really enjoy. You need to move your thought processes away from what you're doing wrong to what you are learning and how you're moving forwards. And again, the great news about this 100% control. OK. Um The third tip is to use all five types of leadership. Often we talk about leadership from the front. I mentioned earlier, that's the boss model. Um But I want to talk about the order in which I put leadership skills for leaders. The first one is to lead from inside. I've talked about the inner ceo this is your seat of self belief and confidence. It's you knowing where you stand, what you're great at, where you need to work and supporting yourself to do those things. The second one I spoke about is fellowship. This means that every relationship is a 1 to 1 shoulder to shoulder relationship with everybody equally. So you're all looking at problems from the same perspective, not fighting about whose perspective should win. And the third one is to use the other types of leadership whenever you need to leader in front is the decision maker is the person who may point the vision a very valuable role, but not the only flavor leading from behind. Again, extraordinarily powerful. This is championing other people in your team or around you to step up and succeed and look great. You get an enormous amount of reflected glory from supporting others to shine rather than just taking the limelight for yourself.

And finally, strategic leadership is what I call the sea level leadership skill. This is where you get to run multiple teams or an organization. And your job is to look across the entire landscape and know what levers to pull to unstick problems and to bring people together and align them around a common goal or a common outcome. I always say to my clients, we don't need to agree in every meeting. We need to align about where we're all going in service of doing something better in future. So my final four tips are unleashing your inner ceo This is figuring out what helpful rules you have internally that you want to stand up for leading from the inside first. So that you're seen as a safe pair of hands standing on a firm foundation, not bowing around trying to figure out what everybody else wants and meet everybody else's needs with floppy boundaries, making sure each relationship is an alliance, an alliance between you and one other person shoulder to shoulder, looking at any problems and coming up with innovative solutions together.

And when I say shoulder to shoulder, it doesn't matter who we're talking about. This is about people. It is not about gender, ok? And finally working to create human centric rules that support people to shine. That mean we're not working in silos, but we get to work together.

And I believe this is how we change cultures. I believe this is how we change systems and I believe that we need to stop talking about difference and start embracing it as a strength rather than using it as a way to divide us. Finally, if you've enjoyed this talk today, I'd like to introduce you to um a weekly podcast that we run called Unleashed, Unchained and unapologetic. We do a session every week where we talk about a different element of leadership or challenge that leaders in general have. Again, it's for men, women, dogs, cats, anybody that wants to get involved, it's completely um diversity, neutral and aimed to change the game and offer solutions, practical solutions each week to help leaders thrive. So I'm done for today. Um I hope you've enjoyed today's webinar.

And if anybody has any questions, please feel free to reach out. Ok, so I've got some um I've got some questions coming through, so I'm just going to quickly um handle them. So, Karina, thank you very much for your question. She says tech is a male dominated environment with few women in power positions. How can a junior woman start creating the new way you're talking about? Do you have a couple of actionable ideas and who can be my ally? Absolutely. I'd like to give you an example. Um When I joined mckinsey, I was a young, young person and uh I was in the Melbourne office, the entire leadership was white and male. I don't, I, I never behaved as if my brain was any less valuable than theirs. So when I had questions to ask or problems that I was trying to solve or why I wanted a perspective, I used to go into the organization and um, talk to the people that I wanted to talk to. So I didn't see position as a barrier to having a technical or a, a business conversation about how to problem solve about how to move things forward. And I think this is part of the confidence I'm talking about. I think there are a lot of assumptions here that if, if it's a senior person and there's not many women that you can't stand up and that you can have conversations and I think it's when we have those feelings that we actually disable ourselves from building the 1 to 1 relationships.

I'm talking about mentorship is all about building those relationships. So if you wait for somebody to reach out to you, you may be waiting a long time if you're proactive and stand up and have good questions to ask and you can approach anybody with a good question. Um It's one of the most powerful ways to build a relationship. So in answer to your question, two things, questions are your friend and assume every door is open for a conversation. Ok? If you're going with a question, people love to help. It's a really good um a good way to approach people. So Corina, thanks for that. If there are no other questions, then I am going to um end the session and hope that everybody has. Oh, thank you, Karina, love the reply. Um If everybody's done, then I am going to end the session and thank you so much for listening. If anybody wants to get in touch, uh you can track me down through the conference and more than happy to answer any questions that you might have. Thanks so much.