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5 Lessons Learned: How Women Can Pave Their Path to Career Advancement
At the inception of my career, I job-hopped, thinking external mobility could warp speed my advancement opportunities. Today, I have rapidly grown and advanced within the same company for almost a decade. Falling into the gender-trap of crediting external sources, my success could partially be attributed to working for a rapidly evolving company that values ingenuity. But this explanation alone would not explain how I became the only woman (and the only executive) within my current organization to advance my career, while successfully serving on three separate leadership teams. Through much trial and so much error, I discovered and applied these five lessons that helped me survive, thrive and grow within my organization.
Know Your Next Stop and Plot Your Course. Your future is too important to delegate to anyone else. We tend to believe our hard work alone will beget a hand-delivered promotion. That has yet to happen for me and it may not for you. Empower yourself to determine your next career step and what skills you need to get there. Within a year of accepting my initial role with my current organization, I realized our parent company would eventually create a broader role spanning our business lines. I needed to understand and be prepared to support each of our sister companies. Within my first year, I developed a strategy to do so and pitched it to my then-current boss. Two years later, I was selected for the role.
Know Who You Work For. Even if you are currently employed by someone else, you are working for yourself. If your advancement plan is solely to work harder, you are likely riding a Peloton in the Tour de France – you may get a lot done, but could go nowhere. After you have identified your next career step, seek experiences that can bridge your skill set to that next role. Remember, experience can be a form of compensation when it can propel you into advancing opportunities. Just as you typically would not buy a car without test driving it, most companies are not going to promote individuals who have not demonstrated ability to perform essential, next-level skills.
Know Your Abilities. Ensure you have a confident understanding of your abilities. In the course of your career, someone may doubt your capabilities. If their doubt is unfounded, be prepared to drown it out and prove yourself (or bolster your resume trying). Within weeks of being newly promoted in a previous role, my manager told me he “had a feeling” that I may be unsuccessful. After momentarily wallowing in self-pity, I took the advice I give my kids – you’re the only one who can tell you what to think about yourself. I redirected my energy into either proving him wrong or developing additional, marketable skills. At the end of that year, my boss acknowledged that I had met and exceeded the expectations of my position. Over time, he trusted me with increasing areas of responsibility.
Knowing yourself can be even more important when you are the lone woman on a team. Being outnumbered can cause you to question whether your occasional exclusion is because of legitimate reason or gender. Luckily, growing up the only girl amongst ten boy cousins, I had plenty of practice in this arena. Here’s what I have learned – you can waste a lot of energy attempting to gage intent. Refocus that energy on your success. Your goal is simple: identify the outcomes you need to drive that success. For me, I needed to foster healthy relationships and gain access to critical information. In many situations, I have lacked shared interests with my male colleagues (and my herd of male cousins, too) – I should wear a helmet when golfing and I have a toddler-level attention span for sporting events. I pivoted my strategy to building one-on-one relationships with each individual team member. With inherently good teams, facilitating those individual relationships will lead to broader team inclusion, and that inclusion can entirely transform a team’s dynamic.
Know How to Bring the Solution, Not the Problem. You can add immeasurable value to an organization by demonstrating your problem-solving (not problem-identifying) skills. It’s the difference between having a smoke detector and being a firefighter. The first alerts others to the issue so they can solve it; the second is instrumental to executing a solution. Being solution-oriented is critical to upward mobility, and helping others resolve critical issues can create impactful bonds. When I accepted an earlier role within my organization, we had a situation that was not properly triaged. As a result, I saw an opportunity to develop and manage our crisis response protocol. This showcased my ability to swiftly resolve issues, to understand all types of business-related issues, and to communicate to all relevant levels of leadership. It also paved my way to advancement in many areas as the company has continued to develop.
Know How to Spotlight your Talent. Understand how your talents can benefit your business holistically. Provided you are excelling in your current role (and with permission), consider leveraging your talents to assist others in your organization. This will provide you a platform to showcase your talents and create future opportunities for yourself. The majority of my team is composed of talented women. Each year, my team is encouraged to individually select a passion project (this year they are upgrading to creating career vision boards to do so). Their goals are threefold: (1) know and leverage your unique talents; (2) make the company better; and (3) develop cross-company connections. Not only have my team members secured roles on major initiatives and been asked to join strategic leadership committees, but we have increased our areas of responsibility by 600%.
By leveraging these five strategies, I have created my own career path and helped others to do the same. Working for an evolving and growing company that recognizes and values me and my contributions has made for a smoother career path. Along my way, and like many others, I have had to navigate seemingly insurmountable career roadblocks – like the time I was laid off from my first real job, while pregnant. Those roadblocks helped me to understand that, for most of us, our careers will stall if we wait for others to gift us opportunities. Don’t wait. Be empowered to resourcefully and strategically navigate your own career.