by Vickie Milazzo, author of “Wicked Success Is Inside Every Woman“
It’s a fact: women in business are on the rise. We’ve all heard of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, both of whom rocketed Wonder Woman-like through the glass ceiling to become household names. And those two famous females are hardly alone: women now occupy 24% of corporate senior leadership positions around the world. What’s more, 37% of worldwide entities in the formal sector are owned by women.
Still not convinced? Consider that in America, women make up 47% of the workforce, and a 51.4% hold of managerial and professional positions. Women are outpacing men in education (57% of bachelor’s degrees and 63% of master’s degrees are earned by females), and 40% of women already out-earn their husbands.
Here’s the takeaway for smart women: Those numbers are exciting. You can, and should, take advantage of women’s advances to propel yourself to greater personal and professional success.
While we aren’t there yet, women are making great strides in catching up to men in business. The best news is, the race is just beginning, and it’s becoming exponentially easier for women to break ahead.
One factor propelling women onward and upward is their unwillingness to be treated like a commodity. It seems it’s finally sinking in that women are already CEOs — Chief Everything Officers — of our lives and families. We manage careers, households, meals, shopping, and more. And we don’t even break a sweat—except at the gym. Entrepreneurship, leading projects, facilitating teamwork, and more are simply extensions of what we already excel at, and our expertise is a huge asset to companies when channeled professionally.
If you’re ready to jump on the elevator and push the “break the glass ceiling” button with your fellow women, read on for 11 tips to help you get where you want to be:
1. Act like the executive you strive to be.
Every day at work is an audition for an executive position. And the more you act the part, the more likely you’ll be cast for the position.
At my company, there were two female executives who were already running their departments even if their official titles didn’t reflect that. It was a no-brainer to advance them. And what about women who aren’t sure how to act? My advice to you is simple: pay attention. Surround yourself with as many mentors as possible. Study and model them. And as a side note, remember to dress the part, too. I don’t want to see your belly button, tattoos, or boobs hanging out.
2. Don’t be a commodity.
Commodities are easy to obtain and easy to replace. And that’s certainly not how you want to be perceived at your job — whether you’re an employee, a leader, or an entrepreneur. Don’t shrink into your chair and become the invisible employee. Instead, make your presence count in every meeting, brainstorm and project. That’s the only way you’ll be seen as necessary and indispensable.
Women in general, and mothers in particular, are good at putting others’ needs and interests before their own. They’re also good at making sacrifices to keep the peace. Stop doing that, at least when you’re on the clock. It’s better to articulate a dissenting opinion than to ride on the back of everyone else’s. At least people will know that you are thinking.
3. Go big or go home.
It’s human nature to want to check the small, easy things off our lists in order to avoid the tough stuff. See if the following scenario sounds familiar: I cleaned out my inbox, organized my project files, and followed up with several prospective clients today, you think as you mentally pat yourself on the back. But meanwhile, you’re studiously ignoring the fact that your team needs to revise a complicated — and critical — proposal.
Break the feel-good addiction, and stop confusing busy-ness with progress. Remember, where you engage and focus is where you will get results. Going after the significant projects gets you noticed and promoted faster. There’s a reason men don’t volunteer to organize the holiday party.
4. Run the corporate marathon.
Yes, working a standard 40-hour week will earn you a sufficient — maybe even comfortable — living wage. And if financial security is all you’re after, you may have no need to change your habits. But if, like many women, you want to take a more active hand in determining the fate of your career, company, and/or industry, you’ll need to step it up and begin working longer, harder, and better.
Clock-watchers who go home exactly at quitting time are never around for promotions. Work as hard as, or harder than, your boss. And stay fit — you have to look like you’re up for the task. While you’re at it, stop expecting the company to pay you to manage your personal life while you’re at work. You can catch up on Facebook and Twitter when you get home.
5. Check yourself at the door.
Let’s say your son spilled orange juice all over his homework at breakfast, the zipper on your favorite skirt broke, and you hit every red light on the way to work, only to find your inbox full of emails from a particularly needy client. (We’ve all been there.) You deserve some sympathy, right? Wrong!
Even if your car broke down and you had to hitchhike to work, your boss doesn’t want or need to hear about it. Unless you’re experiencing a serious life circumstance that will impact your ability to perform your job, like an illness or a death in the family, keep your personal woes to yourself. Successful people make the difficult look easy while the less successful whine and complain their way through the simplest of projects.
6. Network with big players.
Successful people spend time with other successful people, not with novices and low performers — and they limit their exposure to individuals who are at a similar level. So if you’d rather swim with the sharks instead of the bottom feeders, start forming strategic alliances. And remember, whether or not it’s “right,” It’s not what you know, it’s who you know is a truism that is still alive and well in the corporate sector.
Furthermore, stay out of the gossip chain. That’s fine when it comes to friendships, but you need to aim higher when it comes to networking. More than 60% of people find jobs through networking, and you can bet that most successful referrers didn’t come from the bottom of their organizations’ pecking orders.
7. Be your own number one fan.
It can be hard for women to toot their own horns. To a certain extent, we’re actually wired to nurture and care for others and to put the good of the whole over our own personal interests. While these impulses aren’t inherently bad, it’s time for a newsflash: if you don’t announce your own achievements, you can bet that no one else is going to do it for you. With humility, make sure that you’re keeping your name, your accomplishments, and your skill set in front of everyone.
Have you ever noticed that women tend to downplay their accomplishments, while men routinely highlight their achievements and use them to advance? We females need to take a page from the male playbook and make sure that we’re getting the recognition and credit we’ve earned. If you still have doubts, consider that announcing your accomplishments validates the investments others have made in you. Your boss, for example, wants to know that he bet on a winner when he hired you — and that knowledge will, in turn, make him more likely to promote you.
8. Don’t underprice yourself.
Let’s say you’re in the running for a promotion and raise within your company, for example, or that you’re in the process of negotiating your salary after receiving a job offer. I’d better not ask for too much, you reason. This isn’t what I was hoping for, but if I get too pushy I might be passed over for one of the other candidates. I should just be grateful to have made the cut. Back up — you’re making a big mistake. Settle for less than you’re worth and you’ll lose credibility… and maybe even the opportunity.
Many women mistakenly think they’re doing their employers a favor by not pushing for more or that they’ll be more appealing if they don’t ask for what they’re worth. However, you should know that like many CEOS, when I’m hiring, I weed out candidates who underprice themselves because I assume they won’t perform at the level I expect.
9. Be confident.
Studies show that women will underestimate their own abilities, judging themselves lower than their skills prove, while men overestimate their abilities, judging themselves more competent. And that’s a problem. If you see yourself as powerless, that’s what you will be. Anytime you find yourself entertaining doubts or trying to limit what you think is possible, remind yourself of your past successes. Let them infuse you with confidence and bolster your resolve. Believing you can do it — whatever “it” is — is 90% of the win.
Don’t underestimate yourself, and certainly don’t do it in front of power players. Confidence is a prerequisite for moving up, and you should have plenty of it. Think about it this way: Women are masters of juggling numerous balls without dropping any of them. We manage careers, households, meals, shopping, and more, day after day and year after year. Adding professional growth to that list doesn’t mean you’ll be advancing into new territory; it simply means you’ll be honing a skill you’re already more than proficient at.
10. Know that everything is marketing.
Unfortunately, life isn’t always fair. The hardest worker or most innovative thinker doesn’t always get the promotion. The popular and persuasive do.
Having great ideas is one thing, but if you can’t figure out a way to sell them to everyone else, you’ll be stuck. It’s okay to have a dissenting opinion — it shows you’re thinking. The trick is to disagree without being disagreeable. Pouting, raising your voice or endlessly repeating yourself only reinforces that you have nothing important to contribute. You must intelligently and persuasively market your ideas and the person behind those ideas.
11. Be a woman, not a poor imitation of a man.
It’s undeniable that the more masculine command-and-control way of doing business is on its way out. Increasingly, corporations are coming to value more feminine qualities like participation, engagement, collaboration, agility, relationship-building, and an appreciation for the greater good.
Be yourself. No one (men and women included) wants to work with a bad imitation of a man. And no successful woman ever got anywhere waiting for women’s equality in the workplace to ‘happen.’ Instead, use your innate qualities to shape and fuel your success.
Here’s one last thought to buoy you as you sally forth to help womankind rise to much-deserved, new heights. Adding women to groups increases those groups’ collective intelligence! In other words, corporations who still rely on the good ole boy network are making (and keeping) themselves stupid. In my opinion, it’s time for all of us to get in touch with our inner Wonder Woman and rescue the traditionally male-dominated business world from itself. So be encouraged by all of those girl-power statistics. Better yet, take an active hand in making them even more impressive. You’ve never been in a better position to make your mark.
Vickie Milazzo, RN, MSN, JD, is author of “Wicked Success Is Inside Every Woman” (WickedSuccess.com). From a shotgun house in New Orleans to owner of a US$16-million business, Wall Street Journal best-selling author Milazzo shares the innovative success strategies that earned her a place on the Inc. list of Top 10 Entrepreneurs and Inc. Top 5000 Fastest-Growing Companies in America. Vickie is the owner of Vickie Milazzo Institute, an education company she founded in 1982.