Your Brilliant Career Podcast

The go-to resource for getting the most out of your career

This podcast provides an injection of energy and practical insights to women who are committed to their career. I share tactics, tools and stories that inspire capable women to think bigger and unapologetically achieve the success they deserve.

One of my early realisations was that there are many unwritten rules about career success that no one tells you. Smart women are tired of generic career tips. They want accessible, relevant and practical tips. Each episode includes content that inspires women to step up in their career and experience the energy and reward of being more.

Your Brilliant Career is a podcast that aims to help more women rise and reach new heights in their career.



Many organisations excel at providing generic leadership and management training, yet they often overlook the unwritten rules crucial for a woman's successful navigation through her career. Elements such as business, strategic and financial acumen. These are pivotal and can significantly impact career advancement.

In this episode, I am beyond thrilled to introduce you to Susan Colantuono,  someone who has dedicated an impressive scholarly career to answering the question, how do we get more women to the top of organisations?

Susan is the CEO and founder of Be Business Savvy, a career development firm, empowering women to advance through enhanced business, financial and strategic acumen. She is also the author of two incredible books.

I am certain you're going to enjoy this episode and gain tremendous value from it too.

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Your transcript

Many organisations excel at providing generic leadership and management training, yet they often overlook the unwritten rules crucial for a woman's successful navigation through her career. Elements like work-life balance, attracting the right people, navigating the political landscape, and making one's value more visible.
They are all pivotal and can significantly impact career advancement. Today, I am thrilled to introduce you to someone who has dedicated an impressive scholarly career to answering the question, how do we get more women to the top of organisations? It's genuinely hard for me to introduce you to Susan because I'm such a fan.
Susan Colantuono is famous for her TED Talk, The Career Advice You Probably Didn't Get. Such a super title. And as you can see, we have used the same name for today's podcast because it sums up so eloquently what we are talking about today and with over 4. 5 million listens, this Ted Talk has had an impact on so many women, so many executives and her message, well, it's just so beautifully articulated.
What I love most, because I recommend women listen to this Ted Talk all the time, is that when they do, it ignites a desire in them to enhance their business, strategic and financial acumen. And when women do this, it literally takes their career to new heights. It's amazing.
Now, let me tell you a little bit about Susan. She is the CEO and founder of Be Business Savvy, a career development firm, empowering women to advance through enhanced business, financial and strategic acumen. She is also the author of two incredible books; No Ceiling, No Walls, What Women Haven’t Been Told About Leadership.
And her other book is Make The Most of Mentoring, Capitalize On Mentoring and Take Your Career To The Next Level. So great. We chat about mentoring but we also delve into the themes in her TED Talk, what helps and hinders the advancement of women, how you attract more sponsors and so much more.
It is a great conversation, and you'll have to excuse me. I think it's a mixture of my enthusiasm and maybe even my nerves because I am a little bit of a fangirl. I probably chat a little bit more than normal, but who cares? It is a great conversation. I think you're going to enjoy it and gain tremendous value from it too.
So let's dive in.
Gillian: Susan, welcome to the podcast. It is such a delight to have you here today.
Susan: Oh, Gillian, it is wonderful to be with you. I am such a great admirer of everything you do.
Gillian: Oh, my goodness. That's, I'm the fangirl here. There's so much to talk about today because I have referenced you for many years in my business. Anyone that has participated in one of our programs will be familiar with your name. But I feel like we need to start from the beginning for people who, who perhaps haven't done a program and to give them the context. The thing that you're most famous for is your fabulous TED Talk with the best title ever, the career advice you probably didn't get, which is all about women, but tell us what is the advice?
Susan: So I have to tell you one quick, funny thing. I didn't come up with that title when my TED Talk moved from the TEDx platform to the platform, they came up with the title. So I am so grateful because it's a great descriptor of what I talk about, which is that most women don't get the advice. That they have to close what I call the missing 33 percent of the career success equation and what that is, is business, financial and strategic acumen. That without that we get mired in the middle, which is something that happens to so many of us in our careers.
Gillian: It’s a very powerful TED Talk. I feel like what you achieve in that 15 minutes ignites an appetite in women to go far out, I feel that. Put all the research aside, I feel that I get that and if I want to make my value a lot more visible in this organisation, I need to build those skills. It’s amazing.
Susan: I was thinking about the concept of inspiration this morning on my morning walk, and I frequently get DMs on LinkedIn and emails saying, oh, you've inspired me to look at my career differently and take different actions for my success and I think that the power of the TED Talk is that the concept of, what I now call business savvy, the power of business, financial and strategic acumen, when women are exposed to that in the context of leadership and career development, it kind of clicks in place with their aspirations and their goals. And it's like, Oh my God, I can actually do something different or complimentary to what I've already been doing.
Gillian: And what I love about it as well, it's very easy. I don't know if this is the case in your part of the world system, but in Australia, it’s very easy for women to get caught up in that conversation around, well, I can't advance the boys club. They cycle together. They do this together. I haven't got a chance. But when you hear that, it's this moment of realisation that maybe I do have a chance. It's just that my approach hasn't been on point and if I do contribute to the business and make that visible in a really smart way, and I can do that. As you say, it's that moment of accessibility, there's just an inner confidence and inspiration that sort of propels you along in your career. And I feel like that's the impact that your TED Talk has for a lot of the women, in our program. And it's so powerful in that sense, because if you believe, you know what I mean? You lean into the process.
Susan: Yes, yeah, I hadn't thought about the fact that it’s an antidote to the feeling that there's nothing I can do because of the boys’ club. That's a brilliant insight that I hadn't really thought about before. And boys’ clubs are a challenge, I think, for women in every part of the world. For decades, women have been getting to the top of organisations and the way they've done it is by doing exactly what you said, shown up differently with an enhanced skill set around business, financial and strategic acumen.
I think about Carly Fiorina, who was in my lifetime, the first Fortune 500 woman CEO. And she got there because she had a system for turning situations around and every single one of the Fortune 500 women CEOs have a track record behind them of proven business success, financial acumen and varying degrees, which is interesting, and strategic acumen.
The one funny story about the financial acumen is Anne Mulcahy. She ran successful businesses inside of Xerox. Her story is just fascinating. When she first became CEO Xerox, they called her the accidental CEO, but she had a track record that supported that. The things she needed was enhanced financial acumen, and she actually worked with someone under her inside of Xerox in the finance department to bring her to where she needed to be, now that she was talking to the board and to analysts and shareholders.
Gillian: I love that. I think that's brilliant. Yeah. You think when someone gets to that level that they have it all, but she reacted to that need and supported herself and was successful, which is great for any step-up opportunity, right?
Susan: Yeah. Yeah. And your point is, I want to emphasize your point. Nobody ever has it all when you're going to the next level. You never have it all. But a lot of women feel like we have to, and it holds us back from trying.
Gillian: It sure does. All that research, it was actually the catalyst for taking a big job in my corporate career. I remember being so indecisive. This wonderful job opportunity had been presented and it was that little piece of data that said, women need such a high percentage of assurity before they step up for the role whereas men don't. And my thought process. Susan, was if a bloke gets this role, I'm going to be 100 percent miffed. So I took the role.
Susan: Oh, good for you. I think that's brilliant motivation. It was a lesser man to get the job. Take it yourself when it's offered. Bravo. Bravo. Well done, Gillian.
Gillian: Now, this is an interesting one, because conventional wisdom about leadership, you say can lead women astray and the message is that if you have interpersonal skills, which we women are pretty good at, and I think that's widely acknowledged. That if you have a strength like that, it will lead you to rise within an organisation. But statistically, we know that's not the case. So are we overvaluing these interpersonal skills that are deemed as a strength or do we need to build our business strategic and financial acumen? What's the piece we should be honing in on there?
Susan: Yeah, so, the foundation study that led me to the missing 33 percent was a compilation of research where it showed that managers rate women as outperforming men in interpersonal and team skills, engaging the greatness in others. Managers rate women and men as roughly equal in terms of being good people, smart, driven, talented, ethical, but managers rated men as outperforming women on every single skill that had to do with business, financial and strategic acumen. So that was the original research. And then someone on LinkedIn kind of challenged me, oh, you know, it's been 20 years. Things certainly have changed. So I did follow up research and no, nothing has changed.
Gillian: Of course you did, Susan.
Susan: So do we have to develop business financial and strategic acumen? Yes. I talk about this use. I try to use, I hate sports and war metaphors. So I talk about this using the metaphor of a diamond ring. So when we can always be better at our skills at engaging the greatness in others. Always, there's just no end to the skill set we can develop and one of the things that I love about your programs is the breadth of approach you take to all the skills that relate to interpersonal and team skills. I mean, your program is chock full of goodness in those respects, but for women who do all those things good enough, to continue to do that, I call that polishing the diamond instead of strengthening the setting. The setting is the business, financial and strategic acumen.
So, yes, spend time on your interpersonal team skills, vitally important, for your effectiveness. But managers expect you to have, expect us to have those. They don't expect us to have these. So it's important to spend time developing business, financial and strategic acumen and demonstrating it because we aren't expected to, they aren't looking for us to have those skill sets. So when we demonstrate them, really is impressive, which also relates to what we were talking about in terms of your sponsorship program. Some of the folks who sign up to be sponsors might not necessarily expect the level of business savvy that your women demonstrate in the program.
So, it's brilliant, it's what you're doing with that is just brilliant.
Gillian: I think what the thing is with sponsorship, you and I are very aligned that you have to earn the right to get a sponsor. It shouldn't be given to you in a programmatic format or anything, because that's the reality of the business environment, because they are risking their reputation to recommend you or to do something, so you have to earn that right.
And going back to the point of the boys’ club, one of the reasons that I love your work and all of this advice, is it just puts you focused in the right way. It's very easy to make excuses, but don't make excuses. Some stuff from an organisational point of view is out of our control. Does it mean that we're happy about it? Does it mean we accept it? But as an individual, as a woman who really wants to progress her career, what is in my power to do differently, to progress? And that’s why I love it. Don't get obsessed with that put your time and energy into something that’s really going to give you an ROI in your career and doing this is going to take a real investment, which brings me to my next question is, and I'm sure so many people ask you this when they watch the TED Talk, I'm assuming the big question is Susan, how do I do this effectively? How do I showcase these skills? Do people ask you that?
Susan: Yes, I applaud them because that's really the first step toward taking them and I applaud them because no matter where you are in your career, it's never too early to start developing business, financial and strategic acumen because not only does leadership manifest at every level and so we need business, financial and strategic acumen to round out or leadership capabilities, but also, and this is something I feel stupid saying this. I've only recently blindingly come to understand business, financial and strategic acumen make our work lives easier in the context of every single piece of career advice that comes at us.
So, business, financial, and strategic acumen give us a stronger and enduring platform for confidence, for being able to self-promote, which we can talk about later for making the most of mentoring relationships, for earning sponsorship. Of course. So, yes, they asked me how to do it. And I'm going to be a little self-serving here and say, take my courses because, most internal programming and organisations won't address business financial strategic acumen. There’s a long history of why that's the case. I did quite a bit of research this year about, if I wanted to enhance my business acumen, what would the advice coming at me be? And it was so confusing. It confused business acumen with financial acumen with strategic acumen. It said that emotional intelligence was business acumen. It said that networking was business acumen. So, there's not an easy, easy path, which is why I developed the courses that I did.
That said, if you aren't interested, if someone weren't interested in taking my courses, the thing that I would most recommend is, if you work for a publicly traded company to listen to your quarterly, the company's quarterly earnings calls, pay attention to the themes and tie what you do every day to what your executives are telling to the world. And that's a way that you yourself can begin to develop business, financial and strategic acumen because those quarterly earning calls, they talk about the overall functioning of the company. They talk about financial performance. They talk about strategic goals. So, right there is the nugget that I give people who ask.
Gillian: I love that and I know that your program would be the best and I, I can remember to your point of jumping onto the internet when I first discovered you and I did lots of research around it and it was a dog's breakfast finding really good quality, like articles and things that I thought might add to the resources. And I just thought this is just going to confuse the women coming on program. Like we need to be very clear on what business and strategic acumen means and I love that you've got a program that breaks down the three of them, financial, business and strategic. And I think it would add a huge amount of value to any woman who's taking her career seriously in wanting to advance. How long is the program, Susan? How does it work?
Susan: I wanted to back up and say one thing before I dive in there. We define each component separately, but the magic is in the overlap of the Venn Diagram’s 3 circles.
Business savvy rests where the three circles of business, financial and strategic acumen overlap. I read a mentoring program it was structured business acumen, then financial acumen and then strategic acumen. And now the women who were taking the mentoring series, they were busy, they had great careers, they had a lot on their plates. Somehow, they managed to do all the work for business acumen. And they managed to do some of the work for strategic acumen, but they didn't do the work on financial acumen. And what was regrettable about that was, I think I didn't at the time know how to teach it well, so I've remedied that, so women want to go from business to strategic acumen. You can't skip financial because the conventional wisdom about strategy is that it's mission, vision and values. It's not, financial targets are a huge component of strategy, and if we can't recognise where the financial targets are coming from, then we can't truly be strategic. If we can't analyse financials, we can't truly make strategic recommendations. So yes, we need all three and it's that overlap, which is what I call business savvy.
Gillian: Yeah. It's such an important message though, to it all. So I'm glad you said that. Yeah. Do you think this ties into women's ability to attract good sponsors in their career? There's a lot of confusion between mentors and sponsors. We often say, you know, mentors will skill you up. They'll give you perspective, advice, but sponsors will move you up. They're the ones that will say she's great for that role and enable that next opportunity.
But there's a lot of research that says that men attract a lot more sponsors. Sylvia Ann Hewlett says men have twice as many sponsors as women. So we want to attract more influential sponsors into our career because we know it will help us progress. Do you think what you're talking about helps women attract more sponsors?
Susan: Oh, 100%. Going back to what you said earlier about sponsorship is earned. If I could boil down into one sentence what I've heard from executives all around the world about sponsorship, it would be, I won't spend social capital on someone I don't see as a partner in the business. So if you aren't displaying your business, financial and strategic acumen, you won't be seen as a partner in the business.
So yes, sponsorship has to be earned and how do you earn it? Yes, being a powerful motivator of your team and getting results, it’s like the door opener for sponsorship. No one who doesn't get results will ever gain a sponsor, but it takes much more for someone to be willing to risk, as you said, their reputation advocating on your behalf. And that's being seen as having business savvy and being seen as being committed to the success of the organisation.
Gillian: These are such wonderful messages, Susan. I think it's just so helpful to them all.
One of the challenges I see with the women that we work with, is they might be doing some great work where they're using their business, strategic and financial acumen, but they're not good at demonstrating it. And there's a problem there. Like one thing that's super-duper fantastic accomplishment, but unless they've got a terrific boss that gives those achievements visibility in the organisation, it can be overlooked. What advice would you give to women, to be able to showcase those skills?
Susan: Well, let me back up when I have taught live programs, women identify themselves in one of three categories. They don't have a business savvy therefore they can't demonstrate it. They have it and demonstrate it. And those are always the highest women in the room. They're there as guests. They're there as sponsors. They're there as speakers, or as you're describing, they have business savvy, but they aren't demonstrating it. So, one of the keys to demonstrating it is how you talk about your successes.
There's a difference between saying, my team is so strong, and they, they work together really well, and I'm very proud of my team and oh, by the way, boss, you know what my team's produced. And saying this year, the team I led my team, my team, increased revenue by 20%, which was 5 percent above target. We added 50 million dollars to the top line.
So I talk about the latter as speaking the language of power. It's speaking the language of the business, but in the example you've given, the women probably can, because if they have business, financial, strategic acumen business savvy, they know these numbers, but if they aren't putting them forth, they aren't visible, because bosses are busy. They have their own numbers to be managing.
Gillian: I think it’s very easy for women with the head down, tail up to get, you know, very just caught up in the doing, you know what I mean? And to get to be very good at articulating what their contribution is. And one of the things we do, one of our programs, it's kind of funny and it came from another podcast interview, we have what's called the “TA DA” method as in, and the idea is for women to capture their “TA DA” moments as the year trickles by. And then we have a little business format to go and put some crunchy numbers around that.
Like, you know, I mean, so you may have achieved this with the project, but how did that contribute to the business? Just scribble it down. Just scribble it down. You've, you've captured it. And then when it comes to performance review, or even if you bump heads with someone in the business, you're more likely to be able to draw on that and say something that showcases your contribution to the business.
And I feel like it educates them a little bit because the more they bring the measurable stuff into the conversation, in some ways it makes them help, I'm not talking about myself, I'm not being this big braggart. This is the data, and this is the contribution. And it almost allows them to step into the space a little bit more and speak more frequently about their results.
Susan: Oh, 100%. I love that for several reasons. One is that self-promotion comes hard to many, many women, and I think it's because we're often on the receiving end of people telling us how great they are. But when we're talking about our contributions to moving the business forward, that's always met with grace and appreciation. So talk about self-promoting with grace, ease and authenticity, you're teaching the women in your cohorts the capacity to begin to track the numbers so that they can give voice to the numbers, goes a long way in helping them self-promote, which goes a long way in helping them become more visible as having business savvy, which helps shift the mindset and earn more sponsorship.
So it's a beautiful chain that you're creating for them.
Gillian: Yeah, well, thanks to you.
Susan: There are a couple of other examples that popped into my head about using the “TA DAs” and putting crunchy numbers to them. One of the stories I write about in my book, No Ceiling, No Walls is about a team that was trying to improve the time between when a paediatric patient came into the emergency department and when they saw a doctor, and the team did a great job at coming up with a possible change to the process and they piloted it.
So, when they came back to report on the results of the pilot, all of a sudden, it became contentious about which function liked the new process and which function didn't like the new process. Until someone raised the question, what was the outcome we're after here And did the process drive us toward that outcome?
So imagine you're the team leader, and you've got , this “TA DA’ and crunchy number thing in your head and you raise that question to a team, you can then go and report to your manager or whoever the stakeholder is for the project. Hey, we had a great meeting this week, we discovered that our pilot reduced door-to-dock time by an hour. That's huge. That's a beautiful self-promotion. It's about you as the leader. You know, my team did this, but it's not about I'm such a great facilitator. I'm such a great manager. I'm such a wonderful human being. It's about the contribution to the business.
Gillian: Absolutely and it's a powerful drop of influence, isn't it? That impacts your reputation, the way people experience you within the business it's a great example.
Susan: Sometimes people get upset when I talk about self-promoting like that, you know, my team did this and it always makes me think about a woman I mentored whose boss said to her one day and she kind of let it slip by until I said, whoa, come back. I want you to focus on this. Her boss said to her when I talk up the organisation, I talk numbers first and then people. So it'd be, we reduce store-to-dock time by an hour and the team worked really brilliantly together.
But when I talk to my team, it's people first and then numbers. So it would be like, you all have such an incredible capacity. You bring so many skills to the table. You are inspiring to work with. And as a result of that, we reduce door-to-dock time because of your work. By an hour. Yeah. When I talk up, I talk numbers first and then people.
When I talk to my team, it's people first and then numbers. Both are always important, and we women sometimes forget to talk about the numbers. Or we don't know how.
Gillian: I love that. I think that is the tip of tips because it's so simple, right? You know, I think if you can take a formula like that, it gives you that right to kick off there and it just makes so much sense because it's like, executives want the executive summary. And the executive summary for them is all about the numbers. The people is second, even though the people are driving the result, they want the end outcome. So leading with that, when you're talking upward and you're at a meeting with more senior people, it just makes so much sense to tackle your points in that format.
Yeah. That's a great tip. A quick question about mentoring, because I know you've written a great book on mentoring. What makes a good mentoring relationship?
Susan: I have an incredible bias about my answer. I will say straight out that for women to make the most of mentoring, they have to go after what I call pie mentoring and they have to look for mentors who will teach them about the performance of the business, so that's the whole business savvy thing we've been talking about.
P in pie for performance of the business. Their image as a leader, and I know this is something that you work on in your programs, by image as a leader, I don't only mean how you present yourself non-verbally and verbally. I mean, the content of what you're saying. So going back to what we've covered quite a bit, being able to present a business savvy message. Because if, if I can't deliver a business savvy message, no one will ever think I have executive presence.
So that's the ‘I’ in pie and will give exposure to how decisions are made at higher levels and in other functions. And of course, to potential career decision makers. It's one thing to have an idea about how decisions are made above me, it’s another thing to see the process or to debrief with a manager, what happened in that meeting that manager had with his or her manager.
So, performance of the business image as a leader and exposure to decision making at higher levels and in different functions.
Gillian: I love that because one of the things I say when we're talking about mentoring, I don't talk about mentoring that much. In my day, Susan, going way back in my career, I can remember having mentors and it was such a formal relationship. I, do you know what I mean? It was the quarterly catch up. It was the cup of tea in the office. There was bullet-pointed agendas, and I really don't know if we got to that much really juicy stuff to be quite honest with you.
Do you know what I mean? It was very top line, polite style of organisation. I definitely got something from it, but nothing to what you're talking about here. You know, this is really hands on career progression stuff. But what I often say to women these days is, because I feel like they put a lot of pressure on themselves at finding the right mentor and it almost becomes this all-encompassing difficult thing, is that you have different people around you with different areas of expertise and you dip in and out, which means you don't terrorise one person too much at any one time.
Susan: I couldn't agree more. the advice I give these days is, first of all, never ask someone to be your mentor. When people ask me that it's like pedal backpedalling, you know. Fascinating. Do ask somebody, you know, as part of my career development, I want to better understand the financials of our business. Could you run me through the last three quarters of our financials over three or four meetings, so I get a better understanding of how you interpret them?
Very specific question targeted at what I need to develop. Or, I've gotten some feedback that I need more executive presence. I would like you to watch one or two of the meetings that I deliver or one or two of the briefings with an eye toward am I drawing and holding attention? Am I clear in what I'm saying? And am I delivering a business savvy message? And then after I would like you to give me honest feedback because I really want to get better. Is that mentoring? Yes, but you haven't asked someone… Well, will you be my mentor so we can meet quarterly with a bullet-point agenda?
Gillian: Yes. Yeah. I, I love that. I love that because it does. I think that it's very different today and it can make people cringe a little bit because it's almost like, will you answer all my problems? Big long list. And if I sit down and catch up with you every month, you can help me solve all my problems. And it just doesn't allow them to pitch themselves at a level where they can cultivate a relationship where they're trusted and maybe even evolve into a sponsor.
Susan: A sponsor. Yeah, which is a really important point because mentorship behaviors and sponsorship behaviors are a Venn diagram, they overlap. As you just said, mentors can become sponsors. Sponsors can choose to mentor us on skill sets they think we need. So I fundamentally disagree with the advice… Forget a mentor, get a sponsor. First of all, you can't get sponsors. As you've said, we have to earn them. And second of all, mentors can be very helpful in helping us earn sponsorship.
Gillian: Yeah, that's it. We need both. Yeah, we need both. Yeah. Fantastic. Now, Susan, where do people find you because they need to go to this program of yours and I'm sure they're going to want to know more about you. Where can they find you?
Susan: Oh, thank you. I'm very happy to tell your listeners if they have any questions or concerns that they can find me at And there are ample free resources there as well as the course that we've talked about a little bit.
Gillian: We’ll put all of that in the show notes because I'm sure people will want to click in and you write so beautifully as well. So when you talk about free resources, your articles are brilliant. So that alone for jumping on the website will give you a good reward. No doubt.
Well, it has been such a delight. I could easily talk with you for another two hours. I try and do tighter podcasts because I think it's a nice digestible thing for women to pop in their ears going on the bus to the office or whatever it might be. But it has just been such a pleasure and so insightful and so inspiring too, Susan. And I think when you meet your heroes, you're always like, you know, they're going to be as good as I thought they were. And you are such a beautiful human as well, Susan.
Susan: Gillian, thank you so much. I feel the exact same knowing you and having the opportunity and someday, yes, we should meet over a glass of wine or a cup of tea, talk those extra couple of hours. I look forward to that. Thank you as well.