the sky is the limit

Gulsan Ergul, Columnist Faces

You think you have it all: graduated with a Finance master degree, you are young, intelligent and very ambitious to make it to the top. You are told the sky is the limit. Ready? GO!

For about two years now, I’ve rolled myself in the asset management industry. It was always one of my dreams to work for a bank or a financial organization. Once I got the opportunity to start at one of the prestigious Dutch asset management organizations, via an external recruitment company, I immediately said: “yes!” It was my very first job position, right after my graduation, and in the middle of the financial crisis.

Working as a woman in the financial world is not a phenomenon of the 21st century. But I soon asked myself: why are there still so few women at the top? I made a comprehensive study for myself. Where I tried to find the answers where the most successful women entrepreneurs or executives were, what their specialization was, and how they combined their social life (such as having a husband and children) with work. I tried to conduct my study within and outside the organization I work at.

My first step was getting in contact with these people. Being in a junior position, I had the advantage of using the cliché; always ask. That’s what I actually did, I simply emailed seniors and executives stating that I was wondering how they made in to the top. I invited them to have a cup coffee. Luckily, they all accepted my invitation and I ended up drinking coffee or tea with one or two colleagues for twenty to thirty minutes every week. All the people I spoke with told me their road trip to success and gave me advices and suggestions that I could use for my own journey.

During the interviews with my colleagues I found out that their journey had their own tilts in their successformula. Some had international experience by working for several years abroad, some were teaching at universities, and some of them simply got the chance to become successful by working hard. Among the ladies I interviewed, I was astonished how they combined their work-life balance. They have a family with children and are working more than 36 hours in a top-tiered position.[1] The flexibility of working hours, having support from husband, family, and daycare have caused them to still combine their responsibilities at work with their duties at home. In general, these ladies have told me that having a good education, being proactive and good in your work and specialization has brought them to the position they now stand.

I was still wondering how, as a starter, I would find my way through the financial forest. This subject became more clear during the Zakengolfster Event of May 30th 2013. I was selected by Jolanda Holwerda (Director of Lof Media) to attend the event as Young Professional. During this event, I got advice from successful women. They told me that I should have a sparring-partner; someone I could always speak with regarding my dreams and ambitions. This could be a friend, colleague, but also my manager. Another valuable tip from a top woman was to share my successes with others; I should let people remember what I am capable of and what else I can do. Finding sponsors could enhance my journey to the top as well. I should simply ask people within or outside my organization to tell others what I am capable of and ask them if they could put in a word for me.

Finally, I was advised that I should focus on what I like the most about my job. I should scope into depth now and then and answer the simple question: do I like it? Another tip was to be patient. Yes, for a starter this word is not applicable. It is a rule of thumb: be patient and of course, once you see an opportunity – go for it! You can’t always have the answers to everything, and not everything needs to be answered.

When I asked how I should develop myself as a young professional, I got a golden tip: power of alliance. I subscribed myself to the women platform at the organization I work for. They are organizing seminars, presentations, internal gatherings, and inviting external network organizations for sharing ideas and/or best practices. Here again, I think I should make use of the advantage: showing my face in public and getting best-practices advices and tips from others’ success stories.

So far, I spread the tips from the tops. If you would ask me what my tip for you would be I would say: never compare yourself and your abilities with others. Take for example the benchmarks; they are constructed with diverse characteristics, therefore you can’t always compare them exactly with what you have in-house. Be unique, feel unique, and see you in the future!

[1] Top function is not defined homogenous to everyone