Liz Bingham OBE
Maisie Goodson (Psychology final year) shares some key advice given by Liz Bingham OBE, our special guest speaker on the Sprint Professional Development programme for female undergraduates. Liz talks about her career journey, the advice she would pass on to her younger self and what companies these days are looking for in their hires. Liz began working in 1981 and went on to become a senior partner at Ernst & Young, advising clients in relation to Diversity & Inclusion, Inclusive Leadership training and Unconscious Bias.
At the beginning of her career, Liz says she definitely suffered from imposter syndrome, as her short term strategy at work was to do her best but only look to the very next career step, never feeling like she could achieve big strides. Yet Liz’s career journey is one of overcoming these feelings, as she became the first ever female director at EY and went onto become partner within a few years. In 2011 the Chairman of EY appointed her to restructure gender equality for the entire UK business, and in this role Liz was responsible for increasing representation at all levels of the business. She worked to break down boundaries, encourage better conversations in the workplace about diversity and to change people’s mindsets. As a result of her work, Liz was awarded an OBE for services to equality in the workplace in 2015 and in 2016 received an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws from the University of Bath.
So what does such an inspirational woman with such a prestigious career pass on as advice to students?
See your career as a climbing wall and not a ladder
Firstly, Liz advised us not to think of our careers as a ladder but as a climbing wall. In this way you will perhaps have to let go of metaphorical ‘footholds’ and it may not be obvious where you need to go to propel. To find the best route, it may be that going sideways or backwards is what you need to do.
Use your network
Secondly, be prepared to ask for help and use your network. People in your network can help at different times, and it is not a bad thing if you feel you have slipped off the climbing wall to ask for help from your network. But in the same sense, we must always be prepared to give back to our network.
Understanding how meetings work and office politics
Another important point Liz made was to be aware that the business of a meeting tends to begin before the meeting itself! The meeting then occurs, the business is discussed and continues outside of the meeting. By recognising this construct, Liz suggests we will be able to have maximum impact in meetings. Furthermore, if you are nervous about a meeting practising your contribution beforehand, preparation and asking beforehand to present at the meeting are all things which may enable you to make better contributions. Here, Liz noted the importance of asking for things. Whilst asking nicely is crucial, asking for things (as a woman) in the first place needs to happen more. Being demanding in the workplace is key as things don’t just happen. Her final tip was that office politics happen everywhere and they are not necessarily bad. It is important that as women we learn how to engage with power, instead of being ambivalent to it. Successfully navigating the hierarchies at work can be a very good thing, but avoid unnecessary office politics/drama.
What employers value
Lastly, Liz gave us some valuable insights into what employers actually value in their employees these days. Intelligence is useful but only to a certain point. Your IQ may get you an interview for a job but at the interview stage you will just be one of many with a high IQ. Instead, showing a passion for life-long learning is important. Conceding that you cannot know it all but that you want to continue to learn to be effective in your role is extremely valuable. EQ (emotional intelligence) is also vital for success. This is how you engage/connect with the world and people around you, and your self-awareness of this. If you are authentic with a high level of EQ you can learn how to modify your authenticity/behaviour or approach when dealing with different people/groups, making you more effective in different situations. Another intelligence employers are looking for is practical intelligence i.e. how you problem solve, and whether you have a pragmatic approach to a problem. Practical intelligence involves unpicking a problem and practically solving it using your EQ. The final intelligence Liz taught us about was SQ/CQ (social/cultural intelligence). This intelligence is outwards facing, it is about how to be a more inclusive leader when there are, for example, only women in the team. It is about becoming attuned to the social and cultural differences among people and how to get the best results from them. Developing and displaying these different intelligences is synonymous with success in the workplace.
As a final tip regarding dealing with imposter syndrome, it is important to recognise that everybody has it, even men. It is crucial to go forward with confidence, ask for help, be demanding, and be highly attuned to what is going on around you. The importance of networks is not to be underestimated and having a mentor is a key part of this.
A massive thank you to Liz for such an inspiring talk with so many practical tips for students!