Career Lessons Only 30-Something Women Know

31 Dec 2012

While working life in our 20s is all about climbing the corporate ladder, by our 30s we have a better idea of who we are and more importantly – what we want. Our experts reveal the success secrets it takes a decade of hard slog to discover...

Throughout her early 20s, London-based entertainment PR Suzie Pearl never took a lunch break and rarely left the office before dark. Her high-profile job in the music industry  working with stars including Michael Jackson and Madonna –  meant she often had to work nights as well, attending industry events and award shows. It was only in her 30s, when she founded her own entertainment PR agency, that she finally recognised the importance of having a life outside the office.
“I realised that the more balance you have, the better you are at your job,” says Pearl, who has recently written a book, Instructions for Happiness and Success. “In your 30s, you have enough experience under your belt to be able to establish some boundaries at work. I would take half a day out just to go to an art gallery or to go for a walk.  When you are good at what you do, you can really feel comfortable saying ‘I have to leave early tonight’.”
Pearl also found she was able to do twice the work in half the time. “In your 30s, you can make better decisions and you don’t have to research as hard. You can be more efficient and you don’t have to spend as much time getting the results as you did in your 20s.”
Sure, there’s lots to be said for life in our 20s (remember how thin you were?), but when it comes to kicking-butt in the boardroom, 30-something women have the know-how. And with nothing left to prove, it’s the perfect time to fast-track your career.
“By the time we are in our 30s, we have progressed along the career continuum to a place where our skills are usually a given,” says Dr Lois P. Frankel, author of Nice Girls Don’t Get The Corner Office. “We enter our 30s with more self-confidence and capability, allowing us to focus on strategies for success that go beyond technical skills.” This confidence helps us overcome what Dr Frankel calls the ‘nice girl phenomenon’ – something that a lot of us are guilty of, particularly during our 20s.
“Younger women think they have to put up with unreasonable working conditions and expectations to get ahead, but if you act as if you’re less than others, then this is how you will be treated.” says Frankel. She adds, “Once you start acting as if you’re a valuable resource, you begin to be treated as if you are.”
Here, the world’s leading businesswomen reveal the career lessons they learnt in their 30s...

Volunteer Selectively
“A lot of women in their 20s will volunteer to do menial roles just to get ahead. You don’t see their male counterparts doing the same and yet their male counterparts jump ahead of them. In your 30s, you realise you have to be very careful in what you say yes to because it might actually work against you in the future. For example, if you carve out a role as someone who always takes the minutes in meetings and always gets the coffees, it creates a precedent which then limits you. It’s not about seeing yourself as above a certain task –  even the CEO of an organisation should be humble enough to make coffee but when you constantly offer to do those things, no-one recognises your value and you get labelled. When you get into your 30s, you start seeing how everything you do builds up to create your personal brand. If you are putting yourself forward for something, ask yourself ‘what is this going to say about me if I’m doing it on a regular basis?’ You start to recognise your brand and people start seeing the value in that brand, and that’s what propels you beyond your male counterparts.”
Shirley Anne Fortina, a business development coach from Australia and author of Women in Business

Finding That Balance
“During my first few years at my company, I worked very long hours. Even when I wasn’t in the office, I was always thinking about work. This lack of a work-life balance was challenging, particularly as a married woman. I’ve since learned to manage my time. I created clear boundaries in terms of when the work day finishes and family time begins. After work, I close my laptop and don’t open it again. When on holiday, I implement a ‘phase out’ period. The first three days, I respond to emails. After that, I switch off. I’m only available for emergency calls, allowing me to be there for my husband, and focus completely on him. I also allocate ‘me’ time. Every Wednesday, I have an hour slot in my calendar for tennis. I block it out in my diary and honour it in the same way I would a customer meeting. By finding a balance between work and play, I’m able to fully concentrate on each task in the moment. I’m not thinking of home at the office, or vice versa.”
Béatrice Piquer Durand, vice president of marketing at Ipanema Technologies, Paris

Don’t Be A Doormat
“As women, we are socialised to give people the benefit of the doubt. We’re told to be friendly and put a nice smile on. It is our default setting but, in our 20s, we can be taken advantage of or thought to be naïve. After 30, we learn to be a bit more circumspect –  still expecting the best, but recognising that we don’t live in an ideal world and not everyone is going to act with the same integrity as ourselves. The older you get, the more you become a better judge of character, through the mistakes you make and the knocks you have. And you learn that everyone has an agenda –    from your boss to your colleagues.”
Suzanne Doyle Morris, author of Beyond The Boys’ Club and founder of

Know the Rules
“Younger women have that wonderful naivety and enthusiasm that anything is possible, but they can get ground down when they meet resistance from more senior levels in an organisation, particularly if they are capable young women, who can be viewed as a threat to others in more senior positions. Women in their 30s tend to be more knowledgeable about how the business world operates. They have learned what it takes to negotiate their way up the career ladder, how corporate politics works, and understand how to take the initiative and deliver results to the people that matter in an organisation. They understand how the game operates and use their time and resources more wisely. They also have a more carefully targeted plan of who they should be connecting with, what skills they should be developing and what type of networking events they should be attending. So whilst they may be working longer hours in a senior position, they can more efficiently use the time they have available to develop themselves and their networks.”
Sue Stockdale, an executive coach from the UK and co-author of Cope With Change At Work

Stop People Pleasing
“Younger women spend too much time trying to please people, instead of being themselves. There is a sense of duty, family pressures and peer pressures which influence how you behave, meaning you don’t always follow your own beliefs. What I’ve learned is that you have got to look in the mirror and like what you see. It’s about having confidence in yourself, in your ability and in your skills. When I was younger, I did things to please other people and that has a negative impact. I am at the time in my life now where it is immaterial to me what people think. Every time you stand up for yourself, you gain a little bit more confidence. When you have confidence and self-belief in what you are doing, you are much happier in your own skin.”
Etta Cohen, founder of Forward Ladies Business Network in the UK (

Go With Your Gut
“In your 30s, experience teaches you to quickly assess what is right for you and not to be sold a concept you don’t want. You are far more in touch with what suits you, you trust your gut instinct and you have the confidence of self-belief. In our 30s, we won’t put up with doing a job we don’t enjoy or working in an environment which doesn’t meet out standards, which is why we started PURE Fitness. We choose the best possible people to work with and interact with respect and the highest standard of professionalism. It’s the best job in the world.”
Catherine Williams and Elaine Luck, co-founders of PURE Fitness UAE (

Act With Elegance
“With experience come purpose, poise and presence, which give you confidence and self belief. That’s a huge help when dealing with people and managing the tricky situations that might arise in the course of a working day. By this stage in life, you should be able to concentrate on job satisfaction and career growth rather than just gaining experience for your CV, so have the confidence to hand tasks that you have outgrown to fresh talent and focus on developing new skills.”
Kelly Lundberg, Dubai-based stylist and writer

Value Your Colleagues
“Experience teaches you that building a good team around you is the best way to influence others and get things done in your organisation. You learn that a lot of opportunities in business happen informally, so it’s good to develop a personal network in your company. Look for a mentor; someone who is more senior in the organisation who can help you to develop your career. They can help you find key opportunities, and will act like an agent, putting your name forward in career or business meetings they are involved with.”
Viki Holton, Ashridge Business School, author of Women in Business: Navigating Career Success

Stop Competing, Start Living Your Life
“Career women in their 30s are in a great position. We know what we want and we’re not afraid to go out and get it. Even if we want to make a big change, go it alone or in fact stay at home, in our 30s, we’re more confident that we know what's best for ourselves. In our 20s, we’re too easily influenced by what we think we should be doing and tend to compete with our friends for the biggest pay packet. But in our 30s, we are looking for fulfilment and know that earning lots of money does not necessarily make you happy.”
Nadia Finer, co-author of More To Life Than Shoes: How To Kick-Start Your Career and Change Your Life

The Art of Networking
“Prior to setting up my own public relations firm, I was head of PR for Max Clifford for  eight years. I learned to treat every interaction as a potential business opportunity. I’m constantly amazed at the places I manage to pick up new business: on a plane or train, in a restaurant, even at the gym! I would say 99 per cent of my business comes from this type of informal networking, and my clients include Mel B and Jean Christophe Novelli. I’ve learned never to be afraid to approach someone, introduce yourself and, crucially, find out more about them. Have your own personal ‘elevator pitch’ prepared in your head, go to parties on your own, take a deep breath and go and talk to people.”
Lucy Heather, an entertainment PR from the UK

Ask For Help
“I was brought up to be very self-sufficient but I’ve learned to ask for help. Some people can do in three minutes what it takes me three days to do. When you ask for help, you open up the opportunity of allowing other people to serve you. When you want to learn something, pay the extra money and go to the person who is the expert. I have been to the USA three times already this year to meet with people who are the absolute best at what they do. Good people are generous with their time and their knowledge. That lesson caused my business to take off.”
Liz Cassidy, an executive coach from Australia ( )

Don’t Limit Yourself
“When you are young, it is so easy to pigeonhole yourself. I had rejected the idea of being a salesperson in my 20s and it was only as I got older that I had the confidence to see myself in that sort of role. To be too set in your ideas about what you want to be can be very limiting but my career really sprang to life when I opened myself up to possibilities I’d always rejected as ‘not for me’. In my 30s, I had a lot more confidence to ask for what I wanted at work and I was more able to say no! I also think I put up with a certain degree of sexism in my 20s that I simply did not put up with in my 30s.”
Stevi Lowmass, CEO of Essential Soaps and manager of Heels & Deals, Dubai

Do What You Love
“By the time you hit 30, your priorities change. You know what you want and what your passion in life is. When we are young, we aspire towards materialistic things like a good salary and a prestigious title. After that, it becomes about whether the job is satisfying you personally; if it is fulfilling your passion, and making you a better person. When you are clear about what you want, your ambitions are then aimed in the right direction and you start spending your time wisely.”
Hanan Wehbi, personal trainer and nutritionist at

Learn to Negotiate
“The greatest career lesson I’ve learned is to negotiate for what you want – whether it be a higher salary, a promotion or different task assignments. Men do this much more than women and, as a result, move up the organisational ladder faster than women.”
Linda Babcock, co-author of Women Don’t Ask

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