As director of Women 1st, an initiative that aims to increase the number of women working in senior roles, I have come into contact plenty of high-achievers, from CEOs to editors, all of whom have valuable advice to share for women looking to reach the top. Here are a few top tips I've gained from some of the UK's smartest women.
1. Say yes, and work out how to do it later
As women, we're often guilty of holding back and talking ourselves down. There's plenty of research that shows that men will apply for jobs when they only meet some of the criteria, but women will wait until they have it all. As easyJet CEO Carolyn McCall says, self-doubt can be a good thing (it stops us from being arrogant or overconfident) but a lack of confidence can lead to others lacking confidence in you too.
Carolyn is really passionate about encouraging women to believe in their abilities and start saying "I can" instead of "I can't". Say yes to opportunities when they arise, even if they seem scary, and you'll often surprise yourself with what you achieve as a result.
Taking risks has definitely worked for Carolyn: she made a huge career change from working at the Guardian Media Group to leading a major airline, despite having no experience of the travel industry. The result? She transformed easyJet from a company that wasn't in great shape to one of the most successful budget airlines in the UK.
2. Be tenacious (and don't be afraid to be a bit cheeky too)
If there's one person who knows about tenacity, it's Ann Summers boss Jacqueline Gold. After joining the company at just 21, when it was run by her father, she came up with the now-famous "Ann Summers party" concept. Despite having no formal training, she presented the idea to an all-male board. Initially, she got a "no", but Jacqueline wasn't put off and eventually got the go ahead to launch the concept. The rest is history.
Thirty years on, Jacqueline is heading up a company that turns over £150m with 143 stores, 7,000 party planners and a thriving online business.
I've always found Jacqueline an inspiration and truly believe that being tenacious and not being afraid to ask for things is one of the biggest keys to networking and career success. If you don't ask, you don't get, and you'd be surprised how much time and support people will give you if you keep asking. If I want to connect with someone, I find a way. I tweet at them or I contact them on LinkedIn. In fact, I did this with Jacqueline ... and now she's speaking at our conference next week - a win for tenacity!
3. Manage your relationships
Relationship-building is typically seen as a female strength in business. But no matter how good we are at it naturally, we still need to make sure that we manage those relationships to get the most out of them. This is something that Carla Buzasi, global editorial director of HuffPost Lifestyle and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post UK, taught me, and she's brilliant at it.
I met Carla a few years ago and we've kept in touch ever since. With a team of 27 editors and more than 8,000 bloggers under her wing, she's a pretty busy woman and you would easily forgive her for not having time to stay in touch with all her contacts. But Carla makes time, whether it's an email every now and then, meeting up for a coffee or a quick phone chat, and has a seriously impressive network as a result.
As the old adage goes: "It's not what you know, but who you know." Make sure you invest as much into maintaining your network as you do into making sure you have the skills to do your job! Trust me, there will be many occasions when you come to rely on it.
4. Collaborate, and pay it forward
If there's one person who embodies this idea, it's Vanessa Vallely, who I met through her We Are the City business network. We clicked instantly, as we're both huge believers in the importance of collaborating. While women are often brilliant at creating relationships, we're sometimes prone to trying to persevere alone when we could achieve greater things together. That's exactly what Vanessa has done in setting up her network, and it now serves over 200,000 women a month.
With a background in banking and finance, Vanessa has plenty of experience working in male-dominated industries and is the master of "paying it forward". She believes women must support one another in business and lives that philosophy. She has put me in contact with some wonderful people and as a result, I've put her in contact with some great people too.
Think of it as good business karma, just like maintaining your relationships, helping others out means you'll have plenty of grateful people to call on in future (and you'll feel good too).
5. Don't stop looking for opportunities to grow
As a leader, you need to keep your eye on the bigger picture. One such big-picture thinker is Lara Morgan, founder of Company Shortcuts. She started her first company, Pacific Direct, at just 23, and 17 years later, sold it for £20million ... so she knows what it takes to grow a business.
In the early days of Pacific Direct, Lara set herself personal rewards: she says waxing her legs was her treat! Your rewards can as big or small as you want, just choose something that's significant to you. It's a great way to make sure you keep pushing yourself.
Standing still is the easy option, but one thing Lara has taught me is how important it is to continuously look at what you are doing and think about how you can grow and build, think bigger and reach more people. Change isn't easy, but Lara suggests picking three things that you're going to do differently and trying it for 21 days, setting yourself reminders so you don't forget. You might be surprised at the results. And what better time to start than now?
Simone Roche is director of Women 1st, an initiative that aims to increase the number of women working in senior roles in the tourism and visitor economy sector. Simone will be speaking at the Women 1st Conference on Thursday 3 July 2014.