Why aren’t we talking more about what women are doing to get ahead at work? It’s no longer a man’s world. But as a woman, what do you really have to do to rise to the top?
When the topic of work comes up for women, we know exactly where it is heading. It’s all about work-life balance. Women, especially those who are mothers, are expected to figure out a magical, mystical way to “have it all.” We are supposed to work hard (but not too hard) while devoting time to our family on the side (but not too much time because that makes you an overbearing, Pinterest mom, and nobody likes her).
After reading this, it is clear that women just can’t win. Let me clarify — we women can’t win if we are playing by the unspoken rules. But as the profoundly wise, non-woman Dalai Lama points out, at times like these it pays to know your enemy. The Dalai Lama said, “Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively.”
If you are a working woman, the only person holding you back from rising to the top is you. I can personally attest that I am always my own worst enemy. I stand in my own way by thinking that a risk isn’t worth the embarrassment, or that I will be rejected for putting forth my creative ideas, or that I will be judged for bluntly asking for what I want at work.
If you, too, suffer from this common working woman shame that is undoubtedly holding you back, it’s time to take notes. Powerful and independent working women are here to share how they achieved their career success.
1. Be vulnerable
Image: Nita Mosby Henry
This is perhaps my favorite career tip of all time, brought to light after I read the masterpiece that is Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly. If you should question whether or not vulnerability is a smart move in the workplace, especially if you are vying for a promotion, take the advice of Nita Mosby Henry, senior vice president of human resources at Children’s Hospital Colorado. Henry insists you are “allowed” to show your vulnerability anytime, anywhere — and especially at work.
She attributes much of her career success to her transparency, explaining, “It is easier to engage with people we can relate to. As leaders, we have to show that we are just as human as everyone else. Being able to show or articulate a few of your own struggles, challenges or fears is extremely healthy for you and for your workgroup to experience. Your ‘realness’ will allow the team to trust and align for quickly with any mission that you set forward.”
2. Cut your losses
Image: Sandie Luna
As the great Kenny Rogers once said, you have to know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em. Hanging on to a stale opportunity for too long can sabotage your career, as can jumping ship too early. Listen to your gut and make decisions that are uniquely right for you, says Sandie Luna, mother and cofounder of Punto Space.
“I have left people behind who were not willing to support, or at least respect, my vision and my goals. When you are driven and motivated, it is easy to feel responsibility for people you love who are stuck in an unhappy situation. I have, at times, even felt guilt. I have had to learn to love from afar. Just like I manage my business, I have to manage the energy I put out in the world. Sometimes it feels bad, it can even make me look ugly, but it has done me some good.”
3. Combine creativity and business savvy
Image: Jessica Rose
OK, creative types (myself included), this may be a tough pill to swallow. But if you really want to live your dream, you need some kind of framework to back it up — in most circles, this is called a business plan. Jessica Rose, former YouTube star and creator and cofounder of WeRehearse, explains how she turned her passion for acting into a lifelong career.
“I have always loved acting and being creative, plus I had a curiosity for business, so I found a way to merge the two in a way that would allow me to put the knowledge I had gained from my experience as an actress and the passion I had for business to good use. Being open to being the least knowledgeable or experienced person in the room has been an advantage to me. While I was terrified of that when I first started in business, I realized that it just means I get to learn new things in this process every single day.”
4. Make friends
Image: Patricia Vila
Sad to say, most of us have the mistaken impression that a woman has to do whatever it takes to gain a position of power — like stepping on people along the way. Patricia Vila, senior account executive at The Conroy Martinez Group and a big believer in karma, says this is not so.
Vila recounts her journey to a senior position at her firm: “I have never backstabbed anyone to get ahead. I believe in hard work and being honest. I am in my mid-40s, and I have stayed in contact with all my former bosses from the age of 20. I still talk and get together with all of them. I know it sounds corny but hard work, networking and being at the right place at the right time always come into play.”
Alice Sullivan, professional ghostwriter, speaker, writing coach and editor with 14 years of experience in book publishing, adds, “Take copious notes when meeting new people, whether through work or through networking meetings. Always exchange business cards and follow up that very day with the person. I’ve kept in touch with the ones who I feel are especially pertinent to my business and send quarterly emails to keep my name familiar.”
5. Speak your mind
Image: Lisa Nickerson
Speaking your mind as a woman in the workforce is such a loaded topic. Stay quiet, and you’re a pushover. Speak your mind too much, and you’re a bitch. Can any woman win? The answer is: probably not. But Lisa Nickerson, host of the upcoming show Brand Boss and founder and principal of Nickerson PR, encourages women to forge ahead anyway. She explains this delicate balance: “Don’t be too sensitive, don’t overanalyze — be direct and speak your mind, and don’t let others tell you something is unattainable.”
6. Start at the bottom
Image: Kara Mendelsohn
The cold, hard truth is that almost no one gets his or her big break right out of the gate. If you want to get to the top floor, you have to start at the bottom and slowly climb the career ladder over the years, like Kara Mendelsohn, founder and designer of cooper & ella, did.
Mendelsohn says, “I stayed late when it was necessary to meet a deadline. If another member of my team was on deadline or working on a project, I offered my help. When I finished a task, I went on to see if there was anything more I could do to make it better. I went the extra mile, and management noticed. I think my most important takeaway or piece of advice is to be a team player.”
Angelina Darrisaw, senior manager of digital business development at Viacom and former ESPN analyst, explains exactly what it looks like to do the grunt work. “I’ve adjusted my calendar to accommodate my boss. I’ve changed my routines and habits to be available to my boss and meet the needs of my team. There was one boss I noticed came in at eight every day and stayed until eight. I tried to get there at 7:45 and leave at 8:15 so that I was prepared for whatever came up for her.”
7. Take risks
Image: Victoria Philpott
If your career is lukewarm at best and you have a headache from hitting your head against the glass ceiling, take a cue from take-charge travel blogger Victoria Philpott of Vicky Flip Flop Travels. Her successful career path has been anything but conventional. “I had taken a financial step backwards in my career from working at one of the UK’s leading food magazines to accepting a job on a hostel booking site as a content editor. I knew I wanted to get online, rather than print, and making a monetary sacrifice seemed the only way to do it. After a while of doing well in my new role, I requested a pay rise with no luck.”
“Part of my job was travel blogger outreach, and after looking at all these travel blogs, I decided that the way to get a step up at work would be to make myself indispensable and get well known among the wider travel blogger community. I set up my own travel blog using everything I’d learned. Within months, I’d built up a reputation for myself in the travel industry, rather than just at my work, and from the networking events I went to, I was eventually headhunted for a role, which was a lot better paid. I did that job for 18 months. My blog became successful enough that I could go freelance, and it’s now responsible for my entire income.”