Sunday 19 January 2020

Comment: 'Women are losing the numbers game. Let’s win the politics game'

Six key strategies to increase influence in the workplace

(Stock image)
(Stock image)

Natasha Fennell, Director of Stillwater Communications

In the last few weeks we have watched political battles play out both here in Ireland and in the UK.

Politicians scrambling for power by proclaiming their manifestos, debating their policies and strategically securing support in order to achieve victory. 

It goes without saying that having political savviness is an essential trait for any politician who has ambitions to lead, or indeed survive. Leo Varadkar’s recent win is testament to this.

Although Simon Coveney got two thirds of the Fine Gael membership vote, Leo got the most influential voters - his parliamentary colleagues and the councillors. He went to where the power was. It looked like the leadership contest was over before it even began. 

During the campaign, commentators remarked on how it was going to be a ‘style over substance’ win for Leo. He had also been plotting and strategically gathering support in the months leading up to the contest. He may have lost the membership support - but he won the political game.  

But it’s not just in the political arena that that we need to be strategic. Getting ahead at work also requires a great deal of political savviness, or political intelligence, as I prefer to call it. 

Natasha Fennell, Director of Stillwater Communications
Natasha Fennell, Director of Stillwater Communications

Where there are people, there are politics, and we have never been under so much pressure to perform at work. Increased expectations from our employers to deliver results and to 'always be on' are now the norm. Climbing the career ladder and landing the top job is lauded. 

For women, there can be an added layer of pressure. We are constantly being reminded that too few of us have made it to the very top. As a result, we we don't have enough collective power to influence and shape the workplace. We know this only too well. 

There's an entire industry built around this fact. An endless supply of books, conferences and seminars are devoted to discovering and explaining why we are not better represented in the corporate world.

We gather to discuss and analyse all the reasons why this is and learn how we can be more influential; dare I say it, more testosterone-driven. Notes are taken from female industry leaders on their advice and strategies. We go back to our desks all fired up with great intentions promising ourselves we will try harder. 

With all our talking and great intentions the working landscape hasn’t changed a great deal for women. The most startling statistic to me is that in 2017, women still earn 14pc less than their male counterparts in Ireland. To put it mildly, this is deeply depressing and very frustrating. 

Let’s face it; we are losing the numbers game. We need to win the political game.

If women really want more influence at work, we need to adopt The Leo Strategy, which is, we need to develop and act on our political intelligence.  

Political intelligence is about understanding how power and politics really work in an organisation. It's about knowing who the key decision makers are and understanding how to influence them. 

The majority of our male colleagues are experts at it. While it is widely accepted that we women are more emotionally intelligent than men, we could take a lesson or two from them on acting more politically. 

How many times have you made a suggestion at a meeting that goes unheard or pitched an idea that doesn't make it through? A week later the same idea is suggested by another colleague and somehow it gets over the line. Have they somehow honed their political intelligence? What can we do to hone our political intelligence and increase our power and influence at work? 


Here are my 6 key strategies:

1. Decide what you want from your career. 

What are your short and long term goals? 

2. Do a power analysis of your company. 

Figure out who the real decision makers are. It may be the person who is in charge of the biggest budget or it might be the HR manager. Observe the behaviours of leaders and other, perhaps less obvious, influencers. 

3. Become a strategic communicator. 

Understand how the people you want to influence receive information. What influences their decision making? What matters to them and what most concerns them? Tailor your communication style for the people you want to influence. 

4. Note what motivates the colleagues you work most closely with. 

That will help you get their support when you need it. 

5. Build allies.

Listen to your colleagues when they ask for your support. If you believe in their idea help them get it over the line. Hopefully they’ll do the same for you. 

6. Become famous for something.

One of the best ways to get noticed at work is to be the go-to person for a skill that few others have, but your organisation needs. This allows you to meet with colleagues you might not otherwise have crossed paths with. It also makes you somewhat indispensible. 

Acting on your political intelligence is not about being Machiavellian or standing on people heads to get what you want no matter what. It's about being more strategic.  

In how to get what you want from work and, for women, how we can shape our organisations to reflect the kind of workplace that we can be proud of. 


Natasha Fennell is Director of Stillwater Communications and a communications coach. She is also the co-author of the internationally-acclaimed book, The Daughterhood, which she wrote with Róisín Ingle. Natasha will be hosting a masterclass on how to acquire political intelligence at work on Tuesday June 27, 6pm at The Westbury, Dublin. To book tickets, visit 

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