Whenever I’m in the presence of women who have achieved success in the historically male-dominated workplace world, I’m left with a sense of joy and inspiration.
That was the case during Aspire Ascend's latest Wine, Women & Knowledge event and panel discussion in recognition of International Women’s Day 2018. The audience of women representing businesses and non-profits across numerous economic sectors received a tutorial on how to achieve success from three extraordinary women who rose to the top in their chosen fields by reaching remarkably similar conclusions early in their careers about how to move forward. And, thinking about it afterward, I realized that a pattern – a similar roadmap – is emerging for those women who rise to leadership.
They recognize that workplace norms of today were developed decades ago by men who made up the majority of the workforce. It is now an accepted fact of workplace life that men and women think, lead and communicate in very different ways. And while today’s workplace may be a bit easier for women to navigate as a result of that understanding, it is still essentially “a man’s world.”
This reality has shaped the thinking of most women in leadership positions I have encountered and with whom I work. The result is a remarkably similar roadmap among women who succeed.
Determine career objectives early and find a workplace environment that offers a chance to thrive; one in which you are offered opportunities that increase your skills and for which your success will be recognized. That requires homework, due diligence, prior to accepting a position and the strength to walk away from a job offer that doesn’t advance your career goals, even if it means turning your back on a tempting compensation package.
Almost every woman leader I encounter – whether a client, a colleague, or fellow board member – has had a mentor or a sponsor at some point in her career. I have written and spoken many times of the need to find a mentor, someone to guide and correct you, to provide advice and a “safe haven” where you can map out a pathway through some of the workplace minefields we all encounter.
A good sponsor will also help you identify, address and even challenge the biases women in the workplace have to confront much more frequently than men.
Biases and assumptions about what women can and cannot do come in all shapes and sizes.
A colleague of mine related a story about her niece who, early in her career, took two years off from her management role to raise a newborn daughter. When she returned to work part-time, concerns were raised about her ability to handle a management role part-time. But, one senior manager simply asked “Since she has been a top performer for several years, why do you think she would not be able to succeed at this job part-time?”
The result of that simple question, posed by an advocate for my colleague’s niece, changed her career trajectory. She remained in a management role and continued to be a top performer while working part-time.
I don’t know whether that advocate was a man or a woman, but it doesn’t matter. Mentors, sponsors and advocates can be either.
Know what you want and don’t be afraid to ask for it. But, do your homework first.
A common thread among the comments from panelists was the need to be self-aware and be ready to ask for what you want. And, be prepared.
One panelist gave the example of a potential new hire who, after receiving the job offer, negotiated for a higher compensation package. When asked what she thought her desired package should look like, and what similar positions paid, she didn’t have any facts to support her request.
While she was given the position, she probably could have gotten a better compensation package if she had done more diligent homework.
And, what about the impression she left with her new employer? It could also have been better if she prepared more rigorous documentation on compensation.
My take away from the panel discussion:
One last observation… Each panelist – a CEO of a national non-profit, an Executive Vice President at a multi-billion-dollar organization, and the CEO of an international consulting firm – had the same view when it comes to women helping women. As one of them said, “too many women who have made it pull the ladder up after them, instead of helping women coming up behind them climb each rung.” Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said it with a bit more punch: “there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”
Either way, it’s a message worth remembering.