P.I.E. and Career Success

by Dr Galia Barhava

Early in my career, I was the Ethics Officer of New Zealand’s largest company at the time: Fonterra Cooperative Group. My office became a space for senior women in the business to share with me the challenges they were facing in their careers. I was struck by the feeling of isolation that so many professional women carried with them – I kept thinking about it and seeing more and more of it as an executive coach. An idea started formulating in me: ‘What if we bring these women together? What if we create a safe environment for them online to share the things that mattered most with one another? What if we could offer internet-based support to help more women achieve senior roles? Support that they can access anywhere any time?’

I pitched the idea of building a professional women’s networking site to my BCG former manager and friend Sarah, and the two of us launched Professionelle in March 12th 2007. Over the next few years Professionelle attracted thousands of members. We started holding networking seminars, researching, and listening. What we discovered was that so many women, who to us appeared accomplished, capable, and inspirational, shared that they actually felt an almost debilitating lack of confidence.

That blew us away. We couldn’t quite get out heads around it. So, like two good former consultants, we looked for the evidence. What we found shaped how we approach our work ever since and has led to my development of the Oro Group Mentoring concept.

The Invisible Forces that Shape Women’s Careers

It turns out that there are many invisible forces that shape women’s careers and they start a long time before women enter the workforce – as early as kindergarten in some cases. Having reviewed hundreds of articles on the topic, I developed a workshop dedicated to understanding those forces and what can be done about them.

Those invisible forces and barriers include but are not limited to:

  • Unconscious bias, which makes it hard for all of us to see women as leaders or to judge women to be as competent in their work as men. The research is truly confronting and depressing.
  • The way women learn to succeed at school, which is not how men learn. The ways men are socialised at school is more akin to the realities of the workplace.
  • Women’s careers being more like labyrinths than ‘ladders’: having babies, not having babies, looking after ageing parents, navigating what is appropriate and setting boundaries is quantifiably more difficult for women.
  • Women having more limited access to informal networks, sponsors and mentors than male colleagues. This is partly due to senior workers, who are mostly men, encouraging and mentoring new hires who remind them of themselves. Young women don’t trigger the same response, which is one of the main motivations for the creation of ‘Oro’.

Once we understood these forces, we looked for a framework to help the women we work with bring more of their career under their control. Something practical and action oriented, related to our own choices and behaviours which could start right now.

Enter P.I.E.

Sarah ‘found’ this framework during her research for one of the ‘OG’ women network groups, GE women’s network. We found to be so simple and profound, and since that time I have used it extensively in my mentoring work with over a thousand women globally.

This framework for career success first popped up in Harvey Coleman’s 1996 book ‘Empowering Yourself’. Harvey devised the formula based on his observations of successful leaders, and what aspects contributed most to their career success.

The acronym P.I.E. stands for:

  • P – Performance
  • I – Image
  • E – Exposure

Can you guess at the share each of them contributes to career advancement? Coleman argues, based on his observations, that it’s 10% performance, 30% image and 60% exposure. In my experience, this is the exact opposite to how most women operate!

Let’s take each in turn and think about practical things you can do to ensure you get as much success as possible in each of them.


On-the-job performance is typically something women feel comfortable with. Our years at school have taught us that hard work and top grades get noticed and rewarded. While that formula for success definitely doesn’t have the same power at work, there’s no doubt that delivering the goods is a necessary condition for promotion. Everyone who is promotable performs to a high standard.

To receive the next promotion, you must be at the top of your game. Be sure you have a performance plan which you work through with your manager. This plan should contain objectives you will meet during the year and should be specific, measurable, and directly tied to the bottom line of the organization. You should also make sure that there is a degree of difficulty involved to ensure your manager knows you are capable of more responsibility. If you are having difficulty during the year, be sure to ask for help or clarification because remember, your next promotion is on the line. Well, at least 10%!

But watch out for taking on the wrong tasks, the ones that eat up your time for little reward. There was a great line in the 2005 book ‘A Woman’s Place is in the Boardroom’:

“Men do things that are high profile, rather than things that need doing. Women pick up so many low-level tasks they don’t have time for higher level tasks.”

This observation was demonstrated empirically in a more recent 2022 book the ‘No Club’. In this book the authors studied. A professional services firm for a year and they found that the median woman in the firm irrespective of her seniority spent a whopping 200 hours a year on what they term ‘non-promotable’ tasks.

Addressing this means learning to say “no”! We know that’s tough: women are socialised to be nurturers and helpers. I have developed a workshop on setting boundaries and saying “no” just for that reason!


Remember that many of the people with the power to agree to your promotion won’t know you and your performance in detail – yet they will have an image in their mind about you. Your image is all about what you’re known for, what associations people have about you. For example, “Varma is a safe pair of hands who can be relied on to deliver” or “Mary’s quickly becoming an expert in xyz.”

Like brand managers everywhere, you can’t control what people think but you can influence it. The first step is knowing what you want to be known for; then you can show up at work in ways that are in consistent alignment with that image.

You can also let them know about your good performance as part of building your image.

As one of my long-time collaborators Jayne Chater says: “You don’t want to be your organisation’s best kept secret!”.


If Image is what you’re known for, Exposure is about simply being known at all! We all gravitate to names we know. Reflect on what you do when you open your local council voting papers and find forty or fifty names to choose from. You’re inclined to support anyone on the list that you know unless you have good reason not to. Similarly at work it’s much easier to get onto a decision-maker’s list of ‘possibles’ if they have heard your name. Even if they can’t quite remember why, and as long as their somewhat vague associations are positive.

Sitting at your desk working on your P-for-performance isn’t going to cut it. Here’s how Maura O’Sullivan put it (she was shortlisted for Finance Lawyer of the Year 2012 in the US):

“When I first started out, I assumed that just being a good substantive lawyer was enough. I probably spent too much time at my desk doing good work and not enough time projecting confidence and developing relationships. I thought my good work would speak for itself, but the importance of being active and visible was true back then and is increasingly important today.”

There’s definitely more than one way to be “active and visible.” You could write articles, volunteer for working groups, present your team’s learnings, post on LinkedIn, and in online meetings make sure that your camera is on and that you comment in the chat. In my workshops, when women learn about P.I.E., they come up with amazing strategies. Personally, I am a big advocate for doing things at work that align with your values, while also building your exposure.

In a programme I ran with HP Indigo in Israel, one of the women, started as a mentee, then became a mentor. She was diagnosed as having ADHD as an adult. She was passionate about creating a space for women with ADHD, and with our support created a circle dedicated for that. This was entirely consistent with her values, was super beneficial for other women like her, and generated huge exposure for both her and the topic.

Career Success

I hope you’ll find some practical ideas that you can put into practice very soon, or at least try one or two out. You can be sure of one thing: there is no Career Prince Charming about to ride by and rescue you. Your career success is in your own hands!

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