Book club: women in the City

These two inspirational books by star businesswomen will help you get ahead, says Hannah Langworth

Heels of Steel: Surviving & Thriving in the Corporate World

By Vanessa Vallely

Panoma Press, 2013

Vanessa Vallely left school at fifteen and shortly afterwards started working in the City as a telex administrator. Her subsequent progression took her through a number of increasingly senior technology-related roles in banking, asset management and insurance, to running her own technology training business, and eventually to becoming the chief operating officer of a leading retail bank. Along the way she also founded two diversity networks and did extensive charity work.

Heels of Steel is the product of this experience. Half memoir and half manual, it's full of tips for anyone who'd like to emulate Vanessa's success. Vanessa passes on plenty of good advice from her past experience and how she runs her career and life now, but is also honest about her mistakes and shortcomings.

Vanessa doesn't shy away from the fact that career success, especially in the City, especially in the current economic climate, and especially for women, can take a frightening degree of hard work and organisation. Her goal-setting system sounds terrifying on first read, but the more you think about it, the more sense having a very clear idea of exactly what you want to achieve and when seems, particularly when you note that Vanessa's system includes a section for fun goals too!

Top tip

Don't forget to help others - however inexperienced you think you are, you have knowledge and skills that you could pass on to your peers or those one step behind you, and you'll learn a lot and further your own career by doing so.

You might be surprised to hear that...

Alongside her many other distinctions, Vanessa is the Pearly Queen of the City of London and a member of one of the original Pearly Families who established this charity-focused tradition in the nineteenth century.

For more Vanessa

Join We Are The City - Vanessa's online network dedicated to supporting women in business and promoting the female talent of the future. Find out more at

The Gateway rating: 5/5

Mrs Moneypenny's Careers Advice for Ambitious Women

by Mrs Moneypenny (with Heather McGregor)

Penguin, 2012

Mrs Moneypenny, also known as Heather McGregor, is a former investment banker and the owner of her own headhunting business. But what's she's best known for is her weekly column in the Financial Times magazine, an always funny foray into some aspect of business, finance or personal development that she's become embroiled in during that week. It usually features one or more of her variously talented but all highly distinguished Girlfriends, her sports-mad Australian husband, and her three boys, known as Cost Centres 1, 2 and 3.

Her book is a distillation of what she's learnt during her time in the City and as an entrepreneur. There's plenty of familiar advice - get your qualifications, build your network, and don't be afraid to say no. But the book is so funny that it doesn't feel painful to be told them again - among many other things, Mrs Moneypenny is a standup comedian who's performed at the Edinburgh Festival and off-Broadway.

There is also some more unusual advice. Don't forget to keep supporting your university financially and otherwise as you progress, says Mrs Moneypenny, as doing so will help to ensure that its brand stays strong and thus that your CV keeps its sparkle. She also advocates financial literacy, both on a personal and professional level, as a supremely empowering strategy. And you'll also discover why Mrs Moneypenny thinks learning to shoot, even quite badly, could be a great move for your career.

Top tip

Consider a chartered accountancy qualification - accountancy is a great business career in its own right and can open the door to a board position.

You might be surprised to hear that...

Alongside her many other talents, Mrs Moneypenny is a qualified pilot and flew from the UK to South Africa last year.

For more Mrs Moneypenny

Check out Mrs Moneypenny's column every week in the Financial Times magazine, or at

The Gateway rating: 5/5