Corporate America is at the beginning of an exciting and much needed renaissance for professional women. Companies realize it’s not just about women Leaning In, but also organizations meeting women in the middle and blowing up old structures created when men went to the office, and women did not.
Today, women enter the workforce at about the same rate as men, but the gender balance quickly shifts as early as the first opportunity for promotion. Men get promoted 18 percent more often and the trend continues into the mid to senior levels, causing a huge chasm in the male-to-female ratio at leadership levels.
In order to stop the drop of women leaving at every management level, companies need to take a serious look at why women are being left behind and put new systems and tools in place so women can advance at their companies, enjoy their careers and reach their full potential. As professional women, we also need to know how to navigate the current system.
This Mother's Day I again find myself in the curiously wonderful intersection of three generations of women—my mother, still active on library boards, my Millennial daughters blazing their own trails in corporate life, and me—growing my company reacHIRE, by empowering women to give them the confidence, skills and roles they need to succeed in their careers. Both of my daughters are at the beginning of their professional lives and often ask me for advice on what I think it takes to succeed in today's fast-changing workplace. I tell them that the rules are constantly changing and we're at the precipice of an exciting and much needed renaissance for professional women.
Here are the five things I’m sharing with my two daughters as they pursue and grow their careers in Silicon Valley:
1. Seize every opportunity.
Don’t draw a line in the sand and say no to opportunities or extra projects just because they are beyond your job description (as long as they are legal and professional!). Some people aren’t excited about signing up for more work than they already have—especially if it is seemingly beyond their specific job description. But often times, the projects that suddenly appear out of nowhere are the most urgent to an organization and garner high visibility for those who do the work. If a chance to learn and collaborate with people across different areas of the company presents itself, take it! Showing that you are tuned into the needs of your organization and eager to get in there and help is what separates indispensable, high-value leaders and workers.
2. Get uncomfortable.
We all have goals. Some of us started setting them in middle school! If we are honest, we’ll admit that we include some goals just because we know we can nail them. It makes us feel good to achieve success—of course it does! That kind of success is important because it creates momentum and builds confidence. A few wins under the belt, as they say. But make sure you also have goals that make you uncomfortable. Goals that force you to summon your courage and try something you’ve never done before—something that may not come easy for you that stretches you beyond your core competencies. The higher you set your sights, the more you will grow and the higher you will go.
3. Ditch the headphones and listen.
Headphones at work are great for a lot of things: participating in conference calls, jamming to music that boosts your creativity, drowning out a chatty cubicle mate ... But here’s what they are not good for: putting your ear to the ground and listening for ways to go above and beyond. This is a huge advantage for women because we don’t just hear, we listen. We pick up on the subtle cues from clients, coworkers and customers that are critical for a business and act upon them to derive better solutions, better products and more efficiency. I call it the Plus One!
Imagine saying to your boss, “I heard you mention yesterday that you were worried about Client X leaving, so I created a list of 10 potential prospects in the same industry with similar revenue and noted whether or not they have current representation.” Wow! Now that is a Plus One! This would definitely not be possible if you (literally) shut off your ears to what’s going on around you. Also remember that while wearing headphones can make you appear serious and focused, it can also signal unapproachable and aloof. Be mindful of the message you are sending and strike the right balance.
4. Network like your job depends on it.
Not everyone in your workplace will be a friend. In fact, many people prefer to keep coworkers and friends separate. But just because you aren’t grabbing drinks together on weekends doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get to know the colleagues around you, especially those in other departments. Most companies are large organizations filled with many different types of people in many different roles. The opportunities to network are endless. Create a reasonable goal to meet one new person a month (or week!) and learn about their position. If you currently view going to the cafeteria as time wasted, start thinking of it as time you can’t afford to waste. You just might identify your next position via an impromptu conversation over coffee.
5. A glass half full gets things done.
We are human beings. People like to work with people who are authentic, friendly, open, and see the glass half full. But ... we’ve all had colleagues who like to see the glass half empty and never miss an opportunity to complain. Proceed with caution because those people love company. Evaluate what is really going on. Does constructive change need to happen to fix a bad situation? If so, how can you constructively listen to their opinions and feelings and be part of the solution? Despite the allure and intrigue of always participating in water cooler woes, it is far better for your career to be the person people enjoy working with and turn to for encouragement because your attitude is positive and you get things done.
CEO Addie Swartz is passionate about empowering women and creating mission-driven companies to achieve that goal. In 2013, she launched reacHIRE, to work with companies in recruiting, developing and retaining a gender diverse workplace. The company works with organizations committed to a gender diverse workforce by connecting them to women who are returning to work after a break or women looking for new roles and advancement.