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Forget looking smart, time to BE smart

This season's must haves? Nothing to do with what to wear, everything to do with what to do

Fashion weeks in New York, London, Milan & Paris saw magazines filled with endless advice for women on what to wear: trends to follow; wardrobe “must haves”; why tartan is this year’s black & the rest of it. This week, though, as we #PressforProgress, it’s time to think less about looking smart & more about being smart. Here’s our view on the real must haves for 2018 & beyond …

  1. A grip on your finances

Until we are financially equal with men, we are not equal with men.” Sallie Krawcheck, CEO and Co-Founder Ellevest.

We’re all living longer. There’s a gender pay gap, and an even bigger pension pay gap. Gender pay gap reporting proves the scale of the problem. We can’t wait for others to sort it out. The smart woman knows what she’s worth and is prepared to negotiate for it. Wise up women. Take control of your finances (they boys in charge make it sound a lot more complicated than it really is – don’t let them blind you with science).

2. Ambition. Have it. Not just for your kids, for YOU. It’s OK for part of that to be a great mother, wife, colleague, friend, daughter. But that can only be PART of it. Lives are long and complex. Your children, if you have them, will flee the nest. Have ambitions for the whole of your life. Play the long game. Don’t let motherhood derail your career completely.

“I believe ambition is not a dirty word. Ambition is simply a drive inside of you – it’s having a curiosity or a new idea and the desire to pursue it”. Reese Witherspoon

3. A pitch. A value statement, a personal brand, whatever you call it, a snappy summary of exactly why you’re fabulous and how you can add value.

“Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room” Jeff Bezos

People will help you if you can articulate who you are and where you can play. It’s tough to create but one of the most valuable items in your wardrobe. Take some time, ask friends what they would say about you, talk to old colleagues, use a coach – invest in yourself.

4. A tribe of women (and men) who have your back

Sharon Horgan, Ava DuVernay, Greta Gerwhig, Elizabeth Moss, Reese Witherspoon, all those women who are transforming the way women are portrayed on screens large and small. None of them are doing it alone. They have worked out who is prepared to support and by working together they are creating forces for good on screen

It’s the same in life. Our research, outlined in our book She’s Back: Your guide to returning to work found that you are 5 times more likely to find a job through your network as you are by going through a recruitment consultancy. The good news is that it’s never been easier to build a powerful network, online as well as in real life. LinkedIn, with its unparalleled professional reach, groups, access to thought leaders and open connections to people who are hiring is a brilliant place to start.

5. Negotiation skills. Be prepared to ask. Don’t ask, don’t get. Want a pay rise? A promotion? Flexibility at work? Play the game. Build the business case, make it obvious that “yes” is the right answer. Learn how to negotiate. It’s a skill and it takes practise. so practise.

Get smart this season. Wise up, take ownership, take action. Take a hint from Jennifer Lawrence:

“When the Sony hack happened & I found out how much less I was being paid than the lucky people with dicks, I didn’t get mad at Sony. I got mad at myself. I failed as a negotiator because I gave up early.”

Government legislation, on the ground marches, social media campaigns – all these can effect change. Eventually. In the meantime, let’s all take more action to create that progress we all know we deserve.

Lisa Unwin is the author of “She’s Back: Your Guide to Returning to Work” 

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