THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS A SUPERWOMAN

Ca­reer ad­vice from BBC news pre­sen­ter Mishal Hu­sain

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When I joined the BBC ex­actly 20 years ago, I couldn’t have imag­ined what I do to­day: my work in ra­dio and tele­vi­sion puts me in the priv­i­leged po­si­tion of be­ing able to ques­tion the pow­er­ful, and I’ve been for­tu­nate to travel across the world cov­er­ing break­ing news and mak­ing doc­u­men­taries. It’s a job I love, but one that also tests me in many ways – the con­tent, the scru­tiny and the work­ing hours, which in­volve a 3am alarm.

What made me want to write about women in the work­place was a de­sire to cut out some of the myths, par­tic­u­larly the idea of ‘su­per­women’ seam­lessly com­bin­ing ca­reers and fam­i­lies. I had three chil­dren in two years (my first child was fol­lowed by twins) and life was, for a time, a bit of a blur. I re­mem­ber think­ing I’d never go back to the ca­reer I’d had be­fore, espe­cially the in­ter­na­tional travel, but look­ing back now I am so glad I took it one step at a time and didn’t make any far-reach­ing de­ci­sions, be­cause that phase passed.

I also wanted to com­bat com­mon myths in our per­cep­tion of suc­cess­ful peo­ple, espe­cially when we see their at­tributes as in­nate rather than honed over time. When I was told 10 years ago that the key qual­ity needed to get to the top of my field was au­thor­ity, I had no idea how to go about de­vel­op­ing it. What I know now is that it comes from ac­quir­ing knowl­edge and be­ing pre­pared to demon­strate it, show­ing those around you the mas­tery you have of ma­te­rial, what­ever your line of work. Sim­i­larly with con­fi­dence – in my ex­pe­ri­ence, prepa­ra­tion, fa­mil­iar­ity and rou­tine are all key el­e­ments, as well as re­silience. There are ways to work at de­vel­op­ing all of th­ese qual­i­ties, and I wanted to be open and hon­est about what has helped me, rather than treat­ing it as a closely guarded se­cret.

NOT EV­ERY­ONE NEEDS TO KNOW YOUR

DOUBTS. Be­ing ap­pre­hen­sive about your ca­pa­bil­i­ties is nor­mal, at least for those with a healthy aware­ness of their strengths and weak­nesses. But guard against them be­com­ing part of your out­ward per­sona at work. Don’t do your­self down. This doesn’t mean be­ing full of bravado, but sim­ply know­ing that not every germ, worry or ap­pre­hen­sion needs to be ex­pressed.

You may end up plac­ing doubt about your ca­pa­bil­i­ties into the minds of your peers or man­agers.

MAIN­TAIN A SENSE OF PUR­POSE IN YOUR

WORK­ING LIFE. You may not love what you do, but the job may have im­por­tant ben­e­fits that keep you there: whether that be pay, use­ful ex­pe­ri­ence, CV points that will help get you some­where else or sim­ply a de­cent work-life bal­ance. Stay pos­i­tive about why you are there, or look around for other op­tions.

NERVES ARE USE­FUL. I am al­most al­ways ap­pre­hen­sive be­fore go­ing on air, and I think it helps me de­liver. Once you recog­nise that, it takes away some of the fear and turns the ex­pe­ri­ence into some­thing more man­age­able. Rou­tine helps: fig­ure out the or­der in which you tackle a to-do list or set of tasks most ef­fec­tively and fo­cus on them one af­ter an­other.

YOU CAN PRE­PARE FOR THE BIG MO­MENTS.

Take your­self through what is likely to come up, or how you want to set the agenda if it’s a meet­ing you’ve ini­ti­ated. I was deeply ap­pre­hen­sive about be­com­ing one of the Lon­don 2012 Olympics pre­sen­ters, but I set aside time to learn as much as I could about each sport and com­pe­ti­tion. It wasn’t about try­ing to pass my­self off as a sports broad­caster but about mak­ing an ef­fort and get­ting to grips with the sub­ject mat­ter. From that, the con­fi­dence and a greater ease flows.

WHEN YOU’RE MAK­ING A SPEECH, KEEP IT TIGHT. Many peo­ple go on for longer than they need to or should, while oth­ers are tongue-tied at cru­cial mo­ments. A good rule of thumb is to di­vide what you want to say into three ar­eas or three points. Th­ese should be the ab­so­lutely cru­cial ones that you want to make sure you de­liver, and keep­ing them to a num­ber that is easy to re­mem­ber will also help them stay at the fore­front of your mind. You don’t want to walk out of a meet­ing, ap­praisal or in­ter­view and only then re­mem­ber what you wanted to say – and you also don’t want to make a pre­pared speech so long that your au­di­ence drifts off.

IF IN DOUBT, ASK A QUES­TION. It’s not only a very use­ful way to keep any kind of con­ver­sa­tion go­ing, but fram­ing a con­tri­bu­tion as a ques­tion can also mask any un­cer­tainty you might have at work. Those who are pre­pared to ques­tion the sta­tus quo are also vi­tal for any or­gan­i­sa­tion’s plans or projects to suc­ceed – you need peo­ple who can think through where any gaps might be, point out the is­sues, an­tic­i­pate the prob­lems and ul­ti­mately make the ideas bet­ter, stronger and more likely to come to fruition.

SEARCH FOR COM­MON GROUND WITH YOUR COL­LEAGUES, WOMEN OR MEN. Th­ese are the peo­ple ex­pe­ri­enc­ing your work­place along­side you. Build bonds where you can, look­ing out for what might be help­ful or where you can go the ex­tra mile and of­fer sup­port. A cir­cle of trust at work where you can share in­for­ma­tion and ad­vice, as well as rely on each other, is a great boon. And if one day things get par­tic­u­larly tough for you, the bonds you have in­vested in and the re­la­tion­ships you have de­vel­oped could pay div­i­dends.

BE CARE­FUL ON SO­CIAL ME­DIA. In nor­mal con­ver­sa­tion, we vary tone and con­tent de­pend­ing on who we are talk­ing to, but th­ese sub­tleties are not pos­si­ble on so­cial me­dia. Err on the side of cau­tion – there are too many ex­am­ples of those whose feeds came back to haunt them. Nev­er­the­less, th­ese plat­forms can be an ex­cel­lent pos­i­tive out­let – you can use them to bur­nish your pro­fes­sional im­age, com­ment­ing on or analysing is­sues rel­e­vant to your work. Equally, if you have a pas­sion, par­tic­u­lar abil­ity, an eye for the beau­ti­ful or a dream of start­ing a busi­ness, that can also be the cor­ner­stone of your so­cial me­dia iden­tity. Your ideas then have an on­line home – and you never know where that might lead.

KEEP A FIRM GRIP ON YOUR

DI­ARY. Ef­fec­tive peo­ple will al­ways be in de­mand, and the re­quests and com­mit­ments can pile up. Work out your own check­list of pri­or­i­ties and ap­ply it to what­ever comes your way – whether the time frame is next week or next year. It’s all too easy to put some­thing into the di­ary un­think­ingly be­cause it’s far in the dis­tance, only to re­alise as it draws nearer that it should have been a ‘no’.

TOUGH MO­MENTS ARE THE ONES YOU

LEARN FROM. My job is in­tense and re­ward­ing but also one that in­volves of­ten-un­com­fort­able scru­tiny: some­times even a word or two ut­tered in a live in­ter­view can spark com­ment on so­cial me­dia or in the news­pa­pers. It’s im­por­tant to find a way to note what is true and will help you hone your skills, but not get de­railed by it, so try to re­main san­guine. The trick­ier as­sign­ments and more chal­leng­ing projects are the ones where you de­velop the most.

‘A CIR­CLE OF TRUST IS A GREAT BOON’

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