Talent leader urges women to invest in their careers

Diversity champion Maxine Benson MBE talks to Connected Places Catapult about the importance of women having confidence in their professional abilities and developing their careers, ahead of International Women’s Day on Wednesday.

Female entrepreneurs and business owners busy making a living or developing exciting new products and ideas may overlook their own career development needs or the benefits of building networks with other likeminded professionals.

“It will often be so far down their list, with other people and caring responsibilities taking priority,” points out Maxine Benson , co-founder of Everywoman, a company that supports women in business. “But it is so important for women to consider how they can progress their own careers.” 

Earlier this month, her company provided an online training session to a group of Connected Places Catapult colleagues and associates titled ‘Presence and impact’ designed to inspire confidence among women keen to make their mark in business. 

Next week, a second session will cover the topic of ‘Building credibility’ to help females exert influence to achieve their professional objectives.

“We want to ensure that women working for, or with, organisations such as the Catapult are able to identify and address any challenges they face. Each industry sector has its own issues, but there is a need to help female talent right across the piece to better navigate their own career paths.”
Maxine Benson, co-founder of Everywoman

Much progress has been made in recent years to reduce the real and perceived barriers to career development for women. But while there has been a positive upward trend in the number of females in the workplace and in senior positions, “the statistics do not always reflect the lived experiences for everybody”. 

Maxine also highlights that the number of director roles held by women is still relatively small in the UK, “so it doesn’t take too many women to leave for the statistics to change”. 

Attracting female talent 

Encouraging more young women and girls to pursue rewarding careers in business requires having strategies in place “right from the get-go”, she explains. “If you want to be attracting female talent, they need to be able to see they can achieve whatever they want and see women working in all different functions and at different levels.” 

Maxine encourages organisations to provide forums to help women in positions of power to tell their stories and become positive role models for others. “Women don’t often consider that their stories are inspiring, so we need to encourage more of them to enter for awards ceremonies because their achievements will resonate with other individuals.” 

Later this month Connected Places Catapult will be celebrating female talent by sponsoring an ‘Inclusive Innovation’ category at the Northern Power Women Awards in Manchester. 

Maxine adds that organisations such as the Catapult not only help offer advice to women looking to further their careers – especially those from small and medium-sized companies – but can give women a “framework, provide connections and show they have their backs”.  

Sharing her experience 

Reflecting on her own career journey, Maxine Benson says she was fortunate to have been spotted by a senior colleague who gave her the chance to accelerate her ambitions at a young age. But her story is not typical of all women. 

“I left school at 17 not knowing what I wanted to do but found myself working for entrepreneurs in small businesses which I enjoyed, as well as for corporate firms. I also spent time in the airline industry, but my big break came when I worked for a female casting director on the set of feature films. She was an inspiration; she saw qualities in me I had no idea I had and gave me opportunities to grow.  

“When people start to give you more responsibility, that helps you on your way. It is so important to have role models and to continue to learn, and that is especially true of women in business,” Maxine adds. 

“There is a strong business case for why we want diversity and a greater pipeline of female talent: research shows that companies with more women make better decisions and enjoy more financial reward. 

“There are so many things we can do to help achieve greater equality,” she continues, adding that providing support to women during the menopause is an important priority area which could help stem the flow of the estimated one million women who will leave the workforce as a result of its impact.  

“It is all about women investing in themselves and their career development, realising their ambitions, building networks and finding their tribe.”