According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women in the US represent about 47% of the workforce, but their percentage in leadership roles remains low. A recent report by Catalyst, Women CEOs of the S&P 500 (2019), shows that this percentage further declines as you go up the corporate ladder with only 11% in top management/C-Suite, and only 5% at the CEO level.
While these statistics are alarming, it is also true that highlighting this leadership gap starts a dialog that can lead to positive steps by companies to build a leadership pipeline that focuses on recruiting, retaining and nurturing female talent through all levels of the organization. That being said, there are many ways that women themselves can take steps to make sure they understand the unwritten rules of the corporate world and that they feel confident in leveraging this knowledge to help their careers.
1. Know your strengths and make sure others know them too: Start by making a realistic assessment of your strengths. While there are multiple tools such as Gallup’s Strengthfinders, the same can also be accomplished by talking to your managers and peers. It is not enough for you to know your strengths, the ‘powers-that-be’ also need to know. You have to craft your narrative and your personal brand and then do an advertising campaign for it. Like all good campaigns, this only works when done in a polished and professional way.
2. Get some help from people who know you and aren’t afraid to talk: I cannot stress more the need for women to have mentors inside and outside the company. But, it is equally important, if not more, to have advocates. These are people who know your strengths and your ambitions, sit in rooms where decisions are made, have the required credibility in that room, and most importantly, are not afraid to speak out in your support. Once you have a few advocates, your narrative gets a chance to be heard in the right settings.
3. Lean In, Lean In, Lean In: Women face many preconceived notions about their participation and commitment to their jobs at every milestone in their lives: marriage, birth of a child, or birth of the second child. How you want to chart your career is totally your prerogative and I believe all choices should be respected. But if you do want to keep your foot on the gas pedal of your career, please, please let it be known again and again and again! So, when it’s time for the next big project or promotion, the organization and decisionmakers have no shadow of doubt (or excuse).
4. Dress for the Job you want: This old adage of ‘dress for the job you want, not the one you have’ still very much holds true. Irrespective of where you work, dressing sharply only helps to reinforce your image and professionalism. It sends a message that you care, give attention to detail, and enhances your brand. Never mind the confidence and the extra spring in your step when you know you are looking your best.
5. Don’t forget to take care of yourself: Women have a difficult time saying no (admit it!) and also bear a disproportionate percentage of work on the home front. It is important that you learn to say no so you can devote some time to take care of your health: physical, mental and spiritual. To succeed in corporate America, you have to be on the top of your game and that is only possible when you also feel good inside and out.