Girls Talk London CEO sits at a work desk with laptop: explains how she helps women to succeed in the workplace
Careers

Girls Talk London CEO Vanessa Sanyauke on what it takes to level-up and progress in your career

Vanessa Sanyauke has helped women around the world to achieve their potential in the job market in a variety of industries. Ahead, she explains her own journey to success and shares advice on how you can do the same. 

I was working in financial services when I started Girls Talk London: a corporate responsibility professional delivering community programmes for young people in London. I noticed that whenever we encouraged young women to pursue a career in our sector, they would opt themselves out saying, “There’s no place for me,” or “I should pursue a career in health or social care instead as it is more ‘girly’.”

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I found this worrying. Jobs in financial services are some of the most competitive for salary and career prospects, and these young women were counting themselves out because they did not see visible female role models. I knew I had to do something to raise their aspirations so that they would seriously consider what would be a lucrative career.

One snowy evening in London in 2013, I delivered my first Girls Talk London event. Senior women in the City told a group of 50 female secondary school students about their career journeys, encouraging the students to broaden their dreams and to know that a career in finance was within their grasp.

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Since our first event, we have expanded our remit to work with women aged 18-35. We have directly connected 5,400 women in 37 countries with role models, opportunities and jobs within global businesses such as HSBC UK, Snap Inc, Virgin Media O2, Vodafone and BT. 

Our mission is to help women level up in their careers and we have curated a digital community of over 44,000 people around the world who engage with our programmes, content and events. 

Girls Talk London CEO Vanessa Sanyauke sat on sheepskin rug: advice on how to succeed at work
Girls Talk London CEO, Vanessa Sanyauke

If you told 16-year-old me that I would become the CEO of a global organisation I would have laughed! With a degree in biomedical science, I was all set to fulfil a childhood dream of becoming a doctor. However, I knew deep down that my purpose was not a career in medicine. 

After graduating, I joined the financial services sector, working within corporate responsibility and diversity and inclusion before progressing into leadership roles. These included head of corporate responsibility and diversity and inclusion at an international law firm, and then as a global D&I specialist for an international bank, working across 70 markets. Then it was time to focus on driving Girls Talk London full-time.

As a Black woman in leadership, it has been a fight to get my voice heard and respected in workspaces that are predominantly white and male. I would often have others question my ability regardless of my credentials. 

It took me years to get to a place where I felt courageous enough to take up space and own the room. It was during those difficult moments that I leaned on “friend-tors” – friends who were also CEOs and professionals who mentored and coached me. They cheered me on and encouraged me to keep going on the days when I wanted to quit.

In September 2021, I launched The Climb Membership, a global digital community for women to connect and learn how to climb the corporate ladder. Through group coaching, masterclasses on topics such as personal branding, negotiation and leadership, and other weekly resources, members are given the tools to take their careers to the next level. 

Having long worked closely with women, I knew that the barrier to progressing to senior leadership was not a lack of ambition, but factors such as having a clear vision for your life and career and developing a strategic approach to achieving this. 

The most special and impactful aspect about The Climb is the community of cheerleaders and accountability partners we have created. These women have lifted each other up during difficult times, such as having babies, working in challenging work environments ­– and the global pandemic.

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We have “Climbers” in the UK, US and Africa. I am super proud of them and love seeing all their accomplishments, whether it’s finally getting that overdue promotion, or securing a new opportunity. 

We have lots of success stories. One member shared how integral one of our masterclasses was to her negotiating an incredible package for a senior role within a completely different industry. Another member has had a role specifically created for her within her organisation.

To level up in your career takes guts. You need to put in the work to face your fears and get committed to being uncomfortable for a while as you make the necessary changes within yourself. 

I am on a mission to support and guide more women around the world and we will be opening the doors to our next cohort of women for the Climb Membership in September 2022. As an organisation, watch this space as we deliver work in western and sub-Saharan Africa and Europe to support more women in these regions to secure jobs and opportunities.     

To join the waiting list for The Climb Membership visit girlstalklondon.com  

Images: Bevon Burke

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