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Women in business - new perspectives

05 December 2013

Clare Barrins For Naked Ambition

Clare Barrins' (above) career includes working in banking, IT, project management and recruitment. She has managed teams of up to 100 people. Here she provides a few career tips. 

What is your experience with mentoring and who is your greatest mentor?

I think the quality of a mentor depends a lot on what stage you are at in your career and life. Two mentors that really stand out to me are one I had when I was a grad and another later when I was working in London.  As a graduate, I was wasn’t strong in analytical ability and my mentor at this time taught me how important it was to understand the numbers. He took me under his wing and he was really demanding, which meant I had to lift my game. I was working in the sales team but had aspirations to one day be the General Manager. I shared this with him and he spent a lot of time teaching me how to analyse data, read a profit & loss statements, that sort thing.

He also had me running presentations, which I was really nervous about, though in the long run it was great to get this presenting experience early.

The second stand out was a female mentor I had when I was at JP Morgan. She was based in Chicago and when I initially approached her she turned me down because she had too many mentees. But I was keen and eventually wore her down! She was brilliant at short term pieces of advice. She helped me tackle difficult conversations like pay rises and promotions - conversations I was really nervous to initiate. She coached me on this and gave me the confidence to frame these conversations.

What was her advice on asking for a pay rise?

Her advice then is my advice now – just have the conversation. You have to ask. Be appropriate and be prepared to justify it and have a number in mind, but the bottom line, in my experience is if you don’t ask you don’t get!  (Also don’t wait until you are drunk at Friday night drinks to corner your boss on the subject!)

I was 29 the first time I asked for a pay rise. I’d built it up to be such a big deal. I was incredibly nervous and had my whole speech prepared, complete with a PowerPoint presentation of what I had achieved in the last year!  As soon as I said the words “I think I am entitled to an additional ‘x’ per day” my manager said “OK, can you get the paperwork?”

Of course this is fairly unusual – but I definitely think we can over-think these conversations.

I also think there should be more transparency with pay rates. You should know what wage ‘band’ you are in. What your pay is based on and how you can advance.

Also, if people were more open about it with their girlfriends, it might give others more confidence to ask.  I’m not talking about shouting it from the roof tops but just more honest conversations that could help each of us.

A friend of NA told us their boss once asked them to bring ‘less of their personality’ to the office. What are your thoughts on this – both as an employee and as a manager?

Too many employers do not use their staff’s skills. You have to utilise their skills – don’t knock their confidence!  You can benefit from all kinds of personalities in the workplace.  I think if you can harness the best of people, you will get the most out of them. We have all been in that situation when you think – “Is this it? I am capable of so much more this!” Or worse, “I feel brain dead in this role”.

I am a big believer that you have to take control of your own development. Whenever I have one- to-one meetings with my boss, I very much set the agenda.  This isn’t something I have always done. I learnt it over the years and it works. I also ask my team to do the same; to come to meetings with me with their agenda. When it comes to meetings with your boss it’s about YOUR development.   You need to come in with a list of what you want to talk about – tell me about the status of your projects, how are you feeling about your work and how can I help you?

On the topic of development, you’ve told us you respect people who invest in their own development and learning…

Yes absolutely.  But I don’t think you necessarily need an MBA to do well in business. Great if you have one though. But I think Australia has a little bit of a snobby attitude when it comes to education.

Some of that starts in schools everywhere though.  In Year 12, the most highly valued subjects are maths and science. But then the successful alumni that the school invites back are always the famous actresses and artists! They don’t get the credit at school – but after school if you become famous – we will claim you.

How do you deal with micro-managers?

I won't put up with it. If you think it is happening you need to bring it up. Call a meeting and ask your micro-manager questions such as - Is there something I haven’t delivered on? Can you put little more trust in me? You have to start the conversation.  More often than not you will find it’s happening because they have pressure on them.  

What would you tell your 25-year-old self?

When I was in my mid-twenties I was really preoccupied with success as the be-all-and-end-all. To be seen as successful. To have material wealth as a sign of success.  I also had to have a certain title. I had to feel like I was climbing the ranks. I put so much pressure on myself to be earning a certain wage, so I could buy the right things.

If I look back I would say – it’s OK to work hard – but don’t do it for other people! Do it for yourself. And don’t get lost in what’s important. Because I think I did at times. (In my mid-twenties) it was a lot about image and status and getting to a certain level in the business. The next role or title. But I wasn’t necessarily happy.

I would also say to myself back then, put more of that cash away, so you have flexibility in your career choices. Whether it’s to start your own business or to move into a role you know you would love that may pay less, if you’ve put away some money you give yourself room to move. I was in such a rush to ‘go places’ in my career, I didn’t always think of the bigger picture financially.

Also, I would say it is OK if you don’t have it all together at 30!

And now I am about to have a daughter of my own, I would say to my daughter - I don’t care what you do – just don’t make it all about wealth. Do what makes you happy. Find what challenges you and do that.

At Naked Ambition we are passionate about helping young women enhance their sense of wellbeing and increase their opportunities for success in the workplace. We provide resources and materials including our 'Make Your Mark' Workshop Series for professional women and university students. Get in touch with us here at the Ruby Connection for more information or visit our website

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