Nine secrets ambitious women need to know

I'm thinking of starting a version of the anonymous 'secret-sharing' website Whisper just for female business owners. A place where CEOs without a Y chromosome can post all the school-of-life tricks that you'll never read in a business manual.

I don't like to segregate the genders when it comes to business; but let's face it, there are unique challenges we face on a daily basis, yet we can all be a little bit too closed off about sharing them.

In the interest of 'ceiling crashing', here are the secrets I've learnt over 14 years running my own businesses. I really believe when it comes to business secrets, loose lips sail ships.

1. Join a (digital) girl's club

I don't think about my gender when I'm in a meeting or striking a deal. However, there is a lot to be said for surrounding yourself with other strong women, which is why I make an effort to Tweet, post on Facebook or meet other business-savvy women who reach out to me. Social media has become the new golf course when it comes to business networking. Pick up a club.

2. Confidence takes practice

I read that the British singer Adele gets so nervous before a performance she once escaped out of a theatre's fire escape before a show. I get it. I used to have terrible stage fright before public speaking, but I forced myself to keep doing it – again and again. Now, I think "what's the worst that can happen?". Remember that everyone will have felt intimidated at some point – probably someone else is intimidated by you right now.

3. Don't give in to parental pressure

My wonderful mama is the wisest woman I know, but if I had listened to my parents I'd still be working as a secretary in an estate agent (which is great for some people, but I had zero passion for it). Our parents want us to have stable jobs, but generational differences mean their idea of the ideal role might not match ours. Now, my mum is my biggest fan.

4. Protect your energy

On two occasions I've walked out of business meetings before they were due to end because the "energy" didn't feel right. Call it whoo-whoo, but I believe in protecting myself from negativity and naysayers. So I politely excuse myself and walk away – I've never yet regretted it.

5. Knock business down the hierarchy

It seems to surprise people when I tell them how my priorities go: health, then my family, then my business. But it has to be that way. I've been to burnout and back and learnt the hard way I can't lead a team if I'm so exhausted I have to conduct meetings flat on my back on the couch in my office (things were that bad at some point). Now I schedule blank hours into my diary, and my three-times-a-week workouts and meditation sessions are non-negotiable.

6. Have a female-friendly work space

I used to think that to prove that I was a tough, formidable businesswoman I needed a tough, formidable office – stained wood, metal accessories and a leather chair Donald Trump would be proud of. But that's not me. I am far more productive, creative and innovative in a well-lit office with walls covered in images of the ocean, beach and my family, with my dog Benny running around the office and a sun-drenched balcony to hold meetings on. Create a sacred space that works for you.


7. Don't race into the office

For years, I was the first to arrive and the last to leave the office. But now I really I don't always need to be present to prove my importance. Actually, when I give my amazing team space (physically and emotionally) to do their thing, they often come up with their greatest ideas. Meanwhile I might be in bed until 8am, still checking my email but semi-relaxing.

8. Dress how you want

My team will tell you I often fall into the "mono dresser" category of Steve Jobs in his turtleneck and Mark Zuckerberg in his hoodie. By this, I mean I am seen to wear the same outfit (black leggings or jeans) day after day, week after week. We wouldn't think anything of it if a male CEO wore the same suit over and over, so why are women often expected to be a style carousel of different outfits? I'm here to inspire a team and run a business, not be a style icon.

9. Let your gender drive you, not describe you

This is the most important secret of all. Whilst it is true that I am a woman and I am in business, I don't want to focus my energy on this statement. All of the advice I've given above is relevant no matter what gender you are. Whilst I am grateful to be a woman, I never let it define me. In business, or in my personal life.

What do you think are the key points for women to succeed in business?

To encourage constructive debate, this blog will be carefully moderated. Please stay on topic.

Lisa Messenger has joined Executive Style to write Ceiling Crashers, a fortnightly look at executive topics from a woman's point of view. She is a leading authority on the business world who has authored or co-authored over a dozen books and has been a finalist in the Telstra Businesswoman of the Year awards three times. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Collective, a monthly business and lifestyle magazine.