LINKAGE Q1 (2021) - Choose To Challenge
By Danielle A. Jones-Hunte
The verdict is in. Diversity positively impacts the bottom line. Women in the boardroom are no longer unicorns, they are becoming more commonplace. An increasing number of Fortune 500 companies are led by them (reaching a record of 41/500 in 2020). There is still quite a way to go as we aim for gender equity in the workplace.
Despite the positive changes in many corporations around the globe, some industries are slower in the race to move beyond a gender-biased past. Though change is coming, tech, heavy industry, and construction still remain male-dominated. The pipeline of talent however, is rapidly evolving with female college graduates and technically qualified professionals growing at pace.
A certification may get a woman in the door of a male-dominated company, but understanding how to navigate a male-dominated field is a skill in and of itself. Here are a few tips to help women navigate!
Understanding the culture of an organisation is an important step for anyone seeking to succeed, but it is critical for women seeking to get ahead in a situation where the female is in the minority. Each company’s definition of leadership and success is slightly different. It is key that these specific socio-cultural mores be thoroughly understood, as upward career moves are considered.
Shakespeare was on to something! “Putting focus on developing your emotional intelligence and resilience is incredibly important, especially in the early stages of a career in a male-dominated industry like tech,” says Vanessa Anderson, Solution Architect. Asking yourself WIIFM (what’s in it for me) can help women navigate the tough moments that will inevitably come with navigating career success, especially when they are in the minority.
Keep your WIIFM visible – write your goals down and keep them visible to you. Create a vision board. Anything that ensures that when you are down (or up) you can know why the journey to success is worth it. Not every day will be a 100% day. Failure will come. “Women in male-dominated industries need to stay gritty and to stay motivated to succeed.” Reminding yourself of your goals and your why can help!
Set your GPS: Everyone needs help navigating. A goal positioning system (GPS) can help. “You must research and own your career roadmap and be an eternal learner.” says Anderson, who despite having almost two decades of large-scale tech industry experience, had certification credentials updated up to the day we spoke! Far too many women trust their careers to someone else. That is a mistake. Industries and corporations need change. If a woman wants to succeed, she must set a career destination and willingly change career paths based on industry trends. Your car GPS recalculates destination approaches based on new information—why shouldn’t you do the same for your career?
Perform and be prepared: When opportunity meets preparation, success follows. When performance is beyond reproach, promotions are not only easier to access, but easier for others, even those most resistant to changing workforce dynamics to respect.
Peak performance, peak respect for colleagues, and taking the time to prepare and develop one’s self are key for women wanting to get ahead in the workplace.
Digital learning and virtual working have increased access to development. Men and women most serious about getting ahead are capitalising on these opportunities.
Move beyond mentors—seek sponsors instead: “Women are over mentored and under-sponsored,” says Arlene Amitirigala, former Head of Engagement & Employee Communications and Change Diaries Podcast host. Mentors help build skills. Sponsors accelerate careers. Sponsors bring your name up in high-level talent development discussions that take place behind closed doors, which means sponsorship of women is critical to ensure success, especially in male-dominated fields.
How to find a sponsor? In reality, leaders choose their protégés. But they can only choose from those they know. My advice to women? Show up at company events (again easier because many are online now). Meet senior leaders. Speak about career goals and ask to work with them to help advance same. As these contacts begin to understand the career journeys and brands of the women they interact with, often these relationships can naturally mature into sponsorship relationships.
However, don’t try to force a sponsorship relationship! When it comes to finding sponsors: “Opportunity favours the bold–but not the boastful or entitled!”
Create your own boy’s club: Without question, one’s network is an important asset. Who you invest your time with is as important to shaping your future, as to where you invest your money. The boy’s club is no less powerful than the right professional associations, alumni associations, and even parent associations. In all networks, you get what you put in! Meet people, learn about and from them, don’t just jump in and ask for favours! Participate in events and activities, and yes, again for women especially, it is important to connect to networks online.
“LinkedIn is an incredible opportunity to not only grow a professional network - but to share and learn from professionals in your field that you admire,” says William Arruda, Forbes writer and Personal Branding guru. Time invested in growing networks on and offline can help open doors for women not only in the company they currently work in, but can also help them be considered for unadvertised roles at other companies. LinkedIn networking can also help women access volunteer networks and those that can help develop leadership and other skills not being developed in their current role, which can help them be considered for the next step in their career journey.
Being respected is more important than being liked–it is a great thing when the two come together though. This said, to succeed in any industry, especially male-dominated ones, women have got to stop being afraid of being disliked. I’ve written on this in my #MojoMonday blog on LinkedIn. It is worth repeating.
The ‘super nice’ trope is the anti-battle axe trope of women in the workplace, the view that if folks say ”gosh, she’s so nice” a woman is more likely to succeed. This thinking under-emphasises all other experience, competence, and qualifications, deeming them all as less important than the female’s ability to (wait for it) smile and agree to basically everything! #StopIt
The results of trying to live up to this ‘niceness’? Lack of respect, tolerance of mediocre performance, overwork, and conscious acceptance of lower pay. Be clear: respectfully speaking up does NOT mean you are not nice. So, both genders should do that instead of overcompensating (consciously or unconsciously) to meet this ridiculous stereotype. Women can:
· Show care and compassion without being weak;
· Respectfully disagree with male opinions without the preface of ‘I respectfully disagree’;
· Give constructive feedback firmly without smiling through it or apologising.
Unconscious bias is real. Neither gender gets a pass on this. Assumption has no place at corporate decision-making tables but from time to time it sneaks its way in. To fight that, women need to speak up. Women MUST ensure that decision-makers are aware of their career goals and development needs. They MUST raise their hands.
The opportunity fairy is not coming.
Opportunity can only find those who have made their career desires known, positioned themselves to be considered, and more than adequately prepared for such moves.
Women are not looking for a handout when it comes to career development. They are doing the work to succeed. Companies that are diverse in ethnic and gender representation throughout their structures have been proven to be more likely to be profitable and more innovative.
Diverse talent is like good capital—it goes where it is welcome and stays where it is well-treated.
Should your company culture not be welcoming to advancing talent of both genders and the non-binary members of society, expect your company to have competition from a new start-up faster than you think. #OptionsAbound
Danielle A. Jones-Hunte is an agile coach and storyteller that helps brands and leaders reignite their spark! She is currently the Global Head of Employee Engagement at bp in London, and writes a personal blog, #MojoMonday on LinkedIn.
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