Over the years I have learned through training, reading, and very often through mistakes and missteps critical traits that help individuals rise in their careers.
Utilize these traits in your own career development or discussions to help you or your employees rise up in their careers.
1. Develop Your SuperPower - Being Yourself
Everyone has a superpower, the power of being who they are and bringing all that they are to the table each and every day.
Throughout my career, I had many misconceptions about what I thought it would take for me to get promoted. I thought that as a woman I had to minimize my femininity. I wore drab clothes and focused on trying to reduce my outward appearance.
This inaccurate view of the corporate laddering system stemmed from always being one of the only females in my organizations and thinking I should somehow "blend in" -- which as a blonde woman is not at all possible in teams of all men.
After many years of trying to be something I wasn't - a drab drone - I instead began to be myself. I like color, I like makeup, and I like dressing up, I like being fit and strong and standing out because of my excellent work. I had to move my mindset from one of thinking I had to "fit in" to one where I can be my whole self and "stick out" of the crowd.
Once I started showing up as my whole self my superpowers showed up. I felt more self-assured and engaged. I stopped trying to hide who I was and owned the real me which built confidence. I began to receive recognition of my abilities to work with customers finding that this newly found confidence created an ability to engage at senior levels as I could translate business needs to technical delivery.
This is something of an exception within the tech world where most of my colleagues were highly technical, but lacked the ability to raise discussions to a level where management could understand.
Leadership teams saw my ability to work with senior level customers and businesses and leveraged my skill set in presentations with our largest clients. Frequently I became the "go to" for urgent fire drills and sent onsite to represent the company and resolve outstanding issues with company executives and boards. I was assigned large scale projects giving me expanded experience in enterprise implementations and given work that had I kept myself "hidden" I would not have received.
I would suggest doing your own super power self check -- if you feel stifled, minimized, or feel like you can't bring your whole self to the table without recourse it's time to do a self evaluation.
Can I identify my personal SuperPowers?
Am I comfortable in bringing my whole self and utilizing my SuperPowers?
Do my organization and leadership team recognize and welcome my SuperPowers? (If not see trait #9 and find somewhere you can shine.)
If you are confident in your personal super powers - rock on! Keep on discovering more about you, what you have to offer and share them with the world!
2. Have a Voice
When I was in college I had an experience that set the stage for me recognizing the importance of having a voice. While completing my Computer Science degree I was in a course that had us doing a group coding project. A group (all men and myself) were discussing the project I was unsure of myself and thought that these men knew more than I did and initially didn't speak up (dang imposter syndrome). As the group put together their ideas on how to execute and build the project I kept thinking "this is way to complicated, why are they doing it this way?". I built up the initial courage to interrupt and ask, "why are you doing it this way? If you were to approach it this way it would be much simpler." Their response -- "Uh yeah! That is better! Let's go with that".
This hit me as why diversity is so important. When we don't bring everyone to the table or allow them to have a voice we may be taking a much more complicated road or not going to where we need to in building products or delivering value to our organizations and customers. We need to learn it is okay to ask questions, be curious, inquisitive and offer ideas. It may not always work out -- but the times it does it will make an impact and that one time is the one companies cannot afford to go without. Don't be afraid to offer alternatives as it could lead to the next big breakthrough that would not have occurred. This is why companies see 15% higher profitability when they have more diverse workforces - every voice matters and you need to bring that voice and leaders need to hear it.
3. Recognize and Call out Bias
More than anything I wish someone had given me a book on recognizing bias early in my life. As I look back I was completely unaware of the impact bias could have on me and my career. When I was a young woman I was extremely optimistic, highly driven and definitely naive. There were times in my career where I knew something was off, but couldn't quite put my finger on it. At times I would have a situation happen and be completely left not knowing how to respond or what to say. It is important for everyone -- men and women -- to recognize bias when it occurs and call it out.
I often would fear recourse in getting fired or not promoted by stating what was happening, whether it was constantly being interrupted, thoughts and work stolen that were mine, full sets of work taken and my name removed and theirs put in place, being asked to do all the mindless tasks for a group as the only woman or even more damaging micro-aggressions, leaders yelling in meetings and then only apologizing to the men, being told you are a "risky" hire because you are woman, not getting a promotion because your colleague is a man and has a family to provide for.. the list goes on and on.
The only way to create real change is to know when both subtle and direct bias is happening and calling it out as unacceptable. This shouldn't be a frequent occurrence -- but the few times I have had bias (from both men and women) and sat down and had a discussion it did change the relationship for the better. If they are not willing to change or be open - that is on them.
Continue to trace your feelings, if something doesn't feel right - question it - it could be something you did or it may be something you need to sit down with someone and get resolved. Keep written logs, dates, times, feelings -- not only does it protect you if it is a a situation that needs to engage HR, but will help you sort through your feelings and determine how you should address. By doing this you not only help yourself, but the individual may start to recognize and begin to become a better colleague or leader in the process.
4. Don't Apologize Unnecessarily
Women have a tendency to apologize unnecessarily. This creates an inaccurate assessment that someone has done something wrong and can also minimize the work performed. I had not recognized early in my career that I was doing this habitually. Once intentionally began to listen to how I spoke I realized that I was apologizing continually... "sorry I didn't call back", "sorry I didn't reach out", "sorry..." many of my statements started with sorry. Not only was I doing this in my workplace I was doing it at home and in my relationships. Always taking blame and apologizing for actions that didn't require an apology.
A 2010 study published in Psychological Science examined how men and women apologize differently. In this study they had individuals keep a journal of when they said they were sorry. The effort in becoming aware of when and why you are apologizing can help you break the "I am sorry" habit. As I went through the process of recognizing when I was using this too frequently, I began to correct immediately stating after the fact -- "Oh wait, I take that back I am not sorry - what I really mean is...." . This intentional interruption of this habit was odd at first, but people recognized that I was trying to change and were open to supporting and calling out if I did it again helping reinforce the change.
This doesn't mean you don't ever apologize, there are times where it is the right thing for the situation. Not everyone sees that situations the same and often may not be one that warrants an apology. Key takeaway is to move away in using "I'm sorry" as a crutch response.
5. Leverage Sponsors
One of the biggest clarifications I make with companies I consult related building engagement mechanisms is clarifying the difference between a mentor and a sponsor. Mentors are personal consultants that can help you sort through situations, thoughts and provide guidance. More critical to any individuals career success is finding sponsors. Sponsors are radically different than a mentor. Sponsors are ACTIVE, they are an advocate and look for opportunities to talk you up to other individuals. They promote you continually and help you understand opportunities that are available.
Unfortunately, most corporate promotion mechanisms are broken. Often utilizing your direct manager as your voice in promotional review rounds, and what I call the "promotion battle". In my experience I have had to be this person advocating for me team, providing reasoning why they should be promoted and battling with my fellow managers as to why my individual deserves to be promoted ahead of another. What is wrong with this process is most people will advocate for people that look and act like them -- with most leadership being white male this means that both racially and gender diverse workforces don't get a fair chance. What you need to be able to fight within a broken system is a strong advocate that are in these meetings and can battle on your behalf.
In addition to direct leadership you should be actively reaching out (trait #6) and identifying those that can sponsor you in other organizations and companies. Make a list of where you want to work (trait #7) and then identify individuals that are in that arena that can be an active sponsor and advocate on your behalf.
6. Network Continually
It is a known fact women have life challenges and constraints not typically in place for men. Women most often deal with the domestic responsibilities at home and due to this do not seek the opportunities to network outside of working hours. In order to have a successful career you need to work at your network continually. Even without the ability to go to after work drinks, dinners or socialize you can build a network. With COVID-19 we have seen a leveling of the field here as everyone has had to learn to network virtually. This means that the opportunities for women are equalized as events are scheduled online and opportunities to connect through LinkedIn and virtual events.
When we launched Tech-Moms in 2020 we knew that we were not only providing technical skills and training, the real power of moving women into the workforce was the broad network we were able to connect them with in the industry. Throughout our work in placing women this network has become a critical component to each woman's successful transition. Each speaker, mentor, coach, trainer expands each woman's network and has lead to connecting into available positions.
To take ownership of your future you need to prioritize time in your schedule to connect with individuals and leverage these connections. In addition to building your network, it is important to leverage your network. If you are hesitant to ask someone to connect you, or pass on your resume -- get over it! The power of your network is learning that 99% of everyone you are connected with are open to helping you find your way into your next step. Ask for help, reach out even if you don't know them -- the worst that can happen is they say no.
7. Personal Vision Statement
A personal vision statement is a mission statement of what you want to accomplish in your life, both personally and professionally. This statement can be used as a guide when determining the career to pursue, making important life decisions, planning how you'll accomplish goals, and realizing your life dreams.
Set a vision statement for yourself - what do you see as the big picture for you and your career? Write this down, put it on somewhere you see frequently and set a path to how you would get there. Your path may be schooling, connections you need to build, identifying companies you would like to work for, or interviewing individuals in that role and get their feedback on how they developed their career.
As you build and leverage your network and develop key sponsors you need to know what you want and where you want to go and having a set vision will help you focus on connecting to the right individuals. Your career will never be a straight line and opportunities to shift will come (trait #10) but to get started you need to make a decision on a direction. When consulting individuals I get wishy-washy feedback when asked "what would you like to do". I get responses like, "well, I could to this... or this... or maybe this...". Pick one, do some research and if needed to a pros/cons list to each path and then move forward in that direction. The ability to make decisions is critical especially when making a commitment to yourself and your future.
8. Find and Live Your Purpose
As part of your vision statement you should identify your purpose. What makes you happy, where do you get energized, where do you see there is a need and have a passion about resolving injustices in the world? The saying, "be actively engaged in a good cause" has not only benefits to those you impact but benefits to you as you get more engaged. Getting involved in separate, purposeful work creates broader connections and visibility.
I have always have been engaged in work that is meaningful to me in addition to my career. It gives me energy and fills me where my corporate roles cannot. There are times where my corporate roles and passion roles have intertwined, and these are some of the most rewarding times in my career.
Examples of my own passion started over 25 years ago when I wrote my thesis paper while getting my computer science degree on "Why women should go into computer science." I was twenty years old and new even then that there was inconsistency in women in the workforce, especially technical roles. It sparked the beginning of decades of work in women's empowerment, betterment and awareness of opportunities for women in the workforce. Whether it was mentoring single women with People Helping People, volunteering to travel to Africa with The Global Hunger Project to learn how this organization overcomes global poverty by empowering and educating women, running initiatives at eBay to help remove bias and promote women in the workforce as their Global President of Women@eBay, to now running a consulting company that helps organizations understand and overcome their own challenges in women in the workforce and helping women transition their careers into technology through Tech-Moms programs.
Each of these experience helped my build awareness, build a network and create a community of support that all have a shared mission. It builds me, gives me energy and motivates me daily to see the impact we each can have as we live our own personal purpose.
9. Walk Away When it Isn't Working
Sometimes, irregardless of our best efforts a situation does not warrant staying. Throughout my career I have had many challenges that I had to overcome and had to learn the hard way that sometimes they are not challenges -- they are roadblocks and the only way for you to progress is to divert and go around. In my experience, there are warning signs that it is time to walk away. If you are anxious when you wake up and sick to you stomach at the thought spending another day at your place of work -- LEAVE! I had a very incorrect impression for decades that you just push through, you will find away, and there was often that this approach did work. There were times where I knew that my career was being limited by not leaving, yet I stayed and spent too many years in a position that was limited my career development.
10. Be Open to Shifts
Being open to shifting into new roles with new experiences provides a broad background that I have found extremely beneficial as I moved into senior and executive positions allowing me to understand and know all aspects of the business. I now have time and experience in customer success, customer experience, marketing, sales, consulting, finance, and operations. Each time I was open to leaving and moving to the next gave me personal confidence, knowledge and experience that enabled future higher level advancement.
11. Help others rise up!
My final leadership trait is one of my favorite, and that is finding way to enable others in their own advancement. The ability to look outside yourself and see not how someone can be a benefit to you -- but the ability to look out and see how you can benefit someone else is leadership. Your job as a leader is to put yourself in a position of respect so that you can be that sponsor, mentor, advocate and active advisor to those around you. I always have individuals I am mentoring.
It seems that there is a scarcity mentality that needs to be broken down which is that there are only so many positions in leadership available for women. This drives unfortunate experience by women to women trying to limit, demote, or diminish one another. The only way to drive real change is to put more women into positions of influence. To get more women in these roles we need more women in leadership mentoring, lifting, being and example and rising up the next generation of women leaders. This is at the core of the name of my company RizeNext as we all have the opportunity to utilize our own super powers and rise up the next level generation strong female leaders.