Lesson in why women fail at power game

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WOMEN ARE being held back from the top jobs because they are worse than men at "selling themselves", according to one of the country's most successful women.

Denise Kingsmill, deputy chairman of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, and once dubbed "Britain's most feared woman", has said women will never break through the glass ceiling because unlike their male counterparts they tend to be dismissive of hype and reluctant to engage in boardroom powerplay. Men, according to Ms Kingsmill, are more adept at packaging themselves - and have the egos to match.

Ms Kingsmill made her comments on the eve of her speech yesterday to Women in Management, honouring its founder Eleanor Macdonald, the first women in Britain to be appointed to a company board.

"Personal branding" might sound like a hangover of 1980s marketing jargon but it has certainly worked for Ms Kingsmill who is highly regarded in the City as an employment lawyer.

Known in legal circles for wearing very high heels in court, which elevate her well beyond her natural 5ft 11in, Ms Kingsmill has reinvented herself from a mother of two to a senior powerbroker with a reputation for toughness and tenacity.

She said: "Young aspirant career women do not realise that it is not enough to simply have top-class qualifications and be very good at their jobs. They also have to build their brand which effectively means building up other people's understanding and appreciation of their professional quality.

"Men seem to learn at a relatively early age and seem to expect to do a fair bit of self-promotion; they learn the rules of the game. Women do very well in meritocracies where they are set a goal and move forward on that basis up a hierarchy.

"But in a male-dominated organisation too many women spend a lot of time battering their heads against a brick wall where nothing is going to change. They should get out and package themselves elsewhere."

Which is exactly what Ms Kingsmill did in 1985 when she left a male-dominated law firm to set up an all-woman practice to handle discrimination cases.

"It is difficult operating in institutions and organisations which appear to be predicated on the male model which suit male careers. This is where careers are mapped out between 30 and 40 which often coincides with the age when women are thinking about having families.

"This needn't be the case now when we have job shares, part-time work, career breaks and more flexible systems of working. Young women are often brought up to be good girls and young men are brought up to succeed. It's changing but it's still very much the norm. I want women to promote and project with more confidence and to realise that they deserve to succeed."