Women are obtaining more power in corporate America, and it’s long overdue, considering we are creative, intuitive and certainly know how to multi-task. What better qualifications to lead a company! Female entrepreneurs have made the most gains since they run their own businesses and have more control over their destinies. Unfortunately, most women have yet to reach the highest levels of the corporate world, and typically, women get paid less than men. Men hold most of the top executive positions in the largest corporations. The following is some sound advice that can help you climb the corporate ladder, break the glass ceiling, and prove to yourself and others that you have what it takes to succeed.
1. Learn the rules of the game. Learn to compete in a man’s world. Men are taught teamwork at an early age through their involvement in sports. They learn to savor a win as part of a team and to shake hands with their opponents when the game is over. Women have not traditionally been taught to compete. They need to develop this competitive spirit while learning how to work with colleagues as part of a team. You may want to join your company’s sports team or start one yourself.
2. Foster relationships with peers and mentors. Men often view their jobs as vehicles for advancement and opportunities to make connections with people who can help them succeed. They tend to look at the bigger picture when positioning for a promotion, and they try to win the influence of their superiors. Women make friends more easily and often with less strategic purposes in mind. While a congenial personality and people skills are essential to maintaining good working relationships with your peers, don’t let personal friendships cloud your thoughts and actions. Seek a mentor who will teach and encourage you. You won’t always be popular and shouldn’t limit yourself to cliques. Delegate responsibility and let your staff know that you trust them. Don’t be reluctant to show that you care about others and their needs.
3. Polish your communications skills. Be open to differing opinions and don’t be afraid to offer constructive feedback. For example, “I wonder if…” is an excellent way to get a point across without being overbearing or bossy. Learn how to present your case convincingly in meetings and always be prepared for questions and comments. The goal is to engage others for their ideas.
4. Establish your visibility and presence. Be assertive and speak up in meetings but avoid being overly aggressive or hungry for attention. Listen carefully, ask questions, and then express your ideas with enthusiasm in a confident manner. Be recognized for your hard work and creativity by documenting all your accomplishments with reports, graphs and memos.
5. Dress the part. Understand your corporate culture, follow the company dress code, and use common sense. Modify your attire to fit the look of your workplace, while retaining your individual style. Always dress neatly and professionally. Avoid attire that is too casual, like jeans, tee shirts, or garments that are too revealing or sloppy. The appropriate attire lends you authority and credibility. What you wear says a lot about who you are and want to be.
6. Make time for both career and family. Women are traditionally nurturers. We like to help others and in doing so, we tend to place our needs and desires second. Accept the demands and sacrifices that a career places on your personal life. Realize that you cannot accomplish everything perfectly at work and at home. Set your priorities to suit your schedule. You don’t have to have it all - having enough can be sufficient. If you have children who are not yet school age, find competent, reliable daycare. If you are forced to take time off because of unreliable daycare, you will not be considered for top positions that require travel or a heavy time commitment away from home. Time management is essential to balance a career and family life.
7. Make a commitment to life-long learning. To have a successful career in corporate America, women should strive to be as educated as men. Women who aspire to a senior management position should get a Master’s degree and attain as much professional development as possible. An M.B.A. is a credential that gives you credibility, flexibility and power. It also helps with job negotiations and career advancements. Join professional organizations to develop your skills and keep pace with changes in your field. Get to know your industry and your company’s competition. Read trade journals, attend trade shows and go to seminars. Trade associations are important vehicles for networking, finding new business resources and exploring new career opportunities.
8. Put in the time. Don’t be a clock-watcher and go the extra mile. Work additional hours, take on more projects and be available for special assignments. Be prepared to travel and attend conventions by yourself.
9. Take risks. Passivity will get you nowhere in business and certainly won’t help advance your career. You must take risks to get ahead. If you believe you are qualified for a certain project or a better position in the company, think it through carefully then plan how to ask for a promotion or a raise. Consider the benefits and the risks involved then act with conviction. It’s okay to make mistakes as long as you learn and grow from them. If you aren’t succeeding, you may not be trying hard enough or you may be working hard but not smart. Analyze what went wrong and try another approach.
10. Be proud of who you are! Be yourself and do not try to change your entire personality to conform to the corporate culture. Pretending to be someone you’re not drains your energy and can lead to failure if you show that you are uncomfortable with yourself. Belief in your self worth, hard work, and a commitment to your career and company will go a long way toward helping you succeed.