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A career coach can help individuals navigate their careers and achieve their ambitions.PeopleImages

Bibigi Haile thinks every woman needs a competitive edge as they ascend the corporate ladder.

“What got you here, won’t get you there,” says Ms. Haile, a Montreal-based personal branding and communications advisor who works with women in senior management roles.

“A lot of women will keep their head down, do great work and assume recognition and promotion will follow,” she adds. “But women sometimes need someone to hold up a mirror to them and help them see all that’s possible for them to achieve.”

Ms. Haile says she helps clients take charge of their stories, overcome imposter syndrome and get noticed by the right people. She also helps them dismantle any “mental barriers” that may be preventing them from reaching their potential.

She shares the story of one client who was interested in a senior leadership role at her company. The client wanted to demonstrate to the selection committee that she was a strategic thinker, when in fact the woman’s “superpower” was in implementation – the process of turning plans and ideas into action.

Ms. Haile advised her client to own her achievements and confidently emphasize her implementation prowess during her interview with the CEO.

“A lot of women – myself included – feel fear about something, and because we believe the fear, we don’t do the ‘thing,’” Ms. Haile says. “The message I want to send is – it’s OK to feel the fear but hold yourself preciously around the fear and do the thing anyway. Take the risk.”

Women’s potential is often underestimated

A career coach is a professional who helps people navigate their careers and achieve their ambitions. Some, like Ms. Haile, specialize in helping women overcome career anxieties and learn how to present themselves confidently in interviews.

While hiring a career coach won’t be a fit for everyone, it’s clear that women are often at a disadvantage when it comes to career advancement – and having external support can help bridge that gap.

Kelly Shue, a professor of finance at Yale School of Management, conducted research at a North American retail chain to study the assessment and promotion records for nearly 30,000 workers.

Dr. Shue and her co-authors found that women were four per cent less likely to snag a promotion because they were thought to have lower leadership potential than their male counterparts.

More than half of the workers in entry level positions were women, but at each progressive “rung” of the ladder, their numbers dropped. For example, 48 per cent of department managers and 35 per cent of store managers were women, but only 14 per cent made it to the district manager level. (The Globe and Mail’s 2021 Power Gap investigation found similar results, with women outnumbered by men in senior management and c-suite roles.)

Women scored consistently higher than men when assessed on performance in the Yale study, but their potential was rated lower.

“What is commonly talked about in terms of management and potential are characteristics such as assertiveness, execution skills, charisma, leadership, ambition,” noted Dr. Shue in the study. “These are, I believe, real traits. They’re also highly subjective and stereotypically associated with male leaders. And what we saw in the data is a pretty strong bias against women in assessments of potential.”

Women and other underrepresented groups are also less likely to negotiate salaries and other benefits, notes Jennifer Baytor, director, career management coaching & programming at Western University’s Ivey Business School.

Having access to a career coach or consulting another trusted advisor can help women develop the confidence to ask for what they actually deserve, she says.

“Working with a coach, you can practice and refine the skills you will need to keep moving in the direction you want to go and keep getting closer to doing the kind of work that is important to you,” Ms. Baytor says.

Creating a plan of action

Seven years ago, Toronto’s Kathryn Meisner was suffering from what she calls “career grief.” Even though she held a director-level position at a tech company with a great salary and perks, she was unhappy.

“I had internalized the typical definition of ‘success’ without examining what my personal definition was,” she says. “For me, mourning my career meant I was also grieving my identity.”

Ms. Meisner was motivated to quit her job and become a career and salary negotiation coach. Now, she helps clients find jobs that align with their strengths and values while meeting their financial goals.

Her process begins with asking people to identify what’s important to them, then helping clients with their job search, coaching them for interviews, teaching them about salary negotiations and creating a detailed plan of action.

“If you don’t prioritize what’s important to you and [if you] build your career without being intentional, you may end up in a job that looks great on the paper but makes you miserable,” Ms. Meisner says.

In Canada, coaching fees are not regulated and so costs will vary. Typical costs may range from $125 - $250 per hour, but can be higher if you are looking for someone specializing in a particular industry or service. For her part, Ms. Meisner offers several self-directed online courses that cost $197-$297.

In addition to online or in-person coaching, some service providers may charge extra for services such as resume reviewing and writing, personal branding, interview preparation or help with public speaking.

Providing a ‘push’ to explore something new

Melissa Malcolm is a human resources/recruitment specialist and founder of Malcolm HR Consulting Inc. in Pickering, Ont. Having interacted with hundreds of job applicants, she says there can be subtle clues during interviews that indicate who might have been coached by a career consultant, such as candidates being able to clearly articulate the value they will add to the organization and coming prepared with questions.

People considering a career change may benefit from having a career coach to help them identify their skills and give them the push they need to explore something new, Ms. Malcolm says.

A coach may be especially helpful for racialized women seeking leadership roles in the corporate world, she adds.

“We all know there are many challenges for women in the corporate world when it comes to career advancement, equitable pay, work-life balance, and [it’s] even harder if you are a Black or Indigenous person or a person of colour,” Ms. Malcolm says.

Lisa Isaac, owner and senior human resources consultant at Lisa Isaac Human Resources in Sarnia, Ont., agrees. People should make informed decisions when it comes to their careers, she says, and use the tools that will help them do that.

“Making right decisions often requires some self-reflection to be able to identify the skills one has and how they can be useful in a fulfilling career that is true to one’s values,” Ms. Isaac says. “A career coach is one resource to do this. It may not be the only resource nor the best option for every person, but there is value in having knowledgeable, trustworthy advisors.”

Thinking of enlisting a career coach?

Find someone who will:

  1. Help you focus on the jobs or companies you are interested in
  2. Discuss what you could potentially face in the recruitment process (especially if you have been out of the job market for a while)
  3. Help you build confidence in presenting yourself and your experience
  4. Support your authentic self while encouraging and developing your strengths
  5. Clearly articulate the services that are included in the fee and the time allotted for each session
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