Woman's world

Woman's world

Young, ambitious and female? Mrs Moneypenny urges you to join gender pioneers crashing through the glass ceiling

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Photo: Heather Mcgregor and ShutterStock
There is no shortage of women sitting at the top table in positions of power and influence worldwide: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, International Monetary Fund head Christine Lagarde, Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu-kyi and World Health Organisation director general Margaret Chan, to name a few.

If young women are aiming for the stars and aspire to join them the key is to take control of your own fate, says high-flying businesswoman Heather McGregor, aka Financial Times columnist Mrs Moneypenny.

McGregor's latest book is titled Careers Advice for Ambitious Women. Speaking at the Hong Kong International Literary Festival on October 12, she revealed the secrets of success she said every girl should know at 17.

When McGregor was that age, she aspired to become Britain's first female prime minister. Margaret Thatcher beat her to it, so she had to learn to be flexible about her ambitions.

Now 50, she says if she had known at 17 everything she knows now, she would already have been able to retire to a tropical paradise.

McGregor, who holds an MBA from London Business School and a University of Hong Kong PhD, says it's not enough to be intelligent and well-equipped.

"It's impossible to achieve your ambition on your own," she says.

You need to build a strong community of people who can re-energise you and help you fulfil your potential, adds McGregor. When jobs are being handed out, personal recommendation goes a long way. That's why former teachers and mentors matter. She sent her own teachers updates once a year about her studies and interesting articles she thought they might like.

It is also good idea to find a charity to support and ways to assist them, she advises. "If you help other people, chances are they'll end up helping you one day. You never know when you'll need them for reference."

McGregor stresses the idea that it's never too late to change the direction of your life, or learn valuable new skills. McGregor learned to fly an aeroplane three years ago, aged 47.

She regretted not studying for a qualification in accountancy, a subject she enjoyed, when she was younger - something that would have boosted her career. But, again, it's never too late: "My challenge for the remainder of 2012 is to set out on the road to obtaining a CIMA [Chartered Institute of Management Accountants] qualification," she says. "Is 50 too old to become a qualified management accountant? I don't think so.

"At 17, you should do everything you can. If you hear yourself say 'it's too late', always challenge yourself and see if it's an excuse." McGregor thinks young women today are raised to believe that the sky is the limit. But she thinks it is impossible to try to be at the top of your game in every aspect of life.

"I think that if you try and excel at everything, all that will happen is that you'll be average at everything."

There are only 168 hours in a week and it is important to set priorities, she says, even when it means missing out on something that seems crucial. "It's a case of short-term pain for long-term gain."

McGregor knows her finances intimately, down to a cent: from how much she spends every day to how much she needs to retire. This is an important skill, especially for women. "It gives you career freedom," she explains, and the ability to make good choices.

McGregor also stresses the importance of a "third dimension" in life. She enjoys flying jets and founded a charity to help ethnic minorities. This makes you more interesting, and helps build social capital, skills and confidence, she says.

"Everything for me has to count not once, not twice, but thrice!"

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2 Comments

YP Team

16:45pm

Hi Jessie, we're sorry that you found the article to be boring. We felt that it was useful to give students who might be thinking about their future careers some additional advice from a successful businesswoman and columnist, like Heather McGregor.