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The idea of women “getting ahead” in the workplace is nothing new. But as the specific challenges of the workplace continue to evolve, the strategies you use to advance your career must change, too. If you’re still playing with yesterday’s rulebook, you may quickly find yourself falling off the fast-track, while those agile enough to anticipate the fresh directions move forward.
With the pace of change so rapid and work-life demands so high, it can be hard to keep up with your daily deliverables, much less strategize about the future. To help add clarity, career-intelligence.com polled a diverse group of experts for their advice on the best ways for women to get ahead, given the specific issues faced in the current workplace. The result was invaluable guidance on strategic and tactical shifts that you can make in your approach to work today, to boost your chances of career advancement tomorrow.
Visibility Not Vacation
If career success is your goal, you must increase your visibility in your organization. Many women still have difficulty finding ways to get senior management to notice their contributions. Vicki Donlan, business/career coach for women and author of Her Turn: Why It’s Time For Women To Lead in America, suggests women volunteer for leadership opportunities, even if this cuts into personal time. “Positioning yourself to advance must happen from the beginning,” says Donlan. “In other words, don’t ask for vacation time—ask for visibility to those above you.”
Planning Not Tasking
Getting ahead is about seeing what’s down the road and planning for it, not just checking off today’s to-dos. Yet as companies attempt to do more work with fewer people, it can be difficult to dig out from under the task list to actively plan your career strategy—especially if you have additional demands outside of work. Mother of two and high-tech advisor JJ DiGeronimo says career advancement takes both time and a plan: “It is helpful to think about planning as you do a project: outline your current situation, future desire, and a roadmap to get from here to there.”
Toughness Not Triggers
Workplaces are almost always complex political environments not for the faint of heart. Though some women thrive on navigating their way through office politics, others would prefer to avoid them. Yet reacting emotionally to political situations can brand you as a novice, not a climber. Elle Kaplan, CEO ofLexicon Capital, suggests staying strategically focused rather than emotionally reactive. “Think about what motivates your boss and what her interests are,” says Kaplan. “Then think strategically about how to align both of your interests. When you think strategically, try to remove any short-term emotional triggers you may feel. They will only distract you.”
Influence Not Grindstone
Many women are comfortable in the role of workhorse, consistently over-delivering. But how will that help your career if no one knows how your long hours have helped the company? Kristi Hedges, author ofPower of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence, suggests one’s influence has become more important than hierarchy, and recommends cultivating communications skills to project a strong presence, build trust, and leverage networks to increase your influence in the organization. “Executive presence is the differentiator between who gets noticed and who fades to the background,” says Hedges.
Personal Branding Not Downplaying
Unlike most men, many women are uncomfortable with self-promotion. Yet several of our experts noted the increased importance of women building a personal brand to aid with career success, rather than hoping someone will notice their achievements. Career coach and author of Discover Your CEO Brand Suzanne Bates suggests that just as we may eat right and work out to improve our physical health, we can put time into creating our personal brand to amp up our professional health by doing the following:
Commitment Not Candy Bowls
When you build your brand, the image you create must be one that helps advance your career rather than hinders it. Certain brands may hold you back rather than propel you forward. Lisa Johnson Mandell, author of Career Comeback: Repackage Yourself to Get the Job You Want suggests, “Become known as the one who always finishes projects in advance, thrives under pressure, comes in under budget, etc. The last thing you want to become known as is the one who brings in the best homemade treats or the one who has a candy bowl on her desk.”
Reinvention Not Ruts
Whether it involves technology, networking, communications, or management style, women who stay current and adapt flexibly to change have a leg up on those who cling to convention. Ilene Smith-Bezjian, Dean of Azusa Pacific University’s School of Business and Management, is a firm believer in women learning how to reinvent themselves when necessary. “Men have been taught this for years, whereas women have been told to stay with the known label,” says Smith-Bezjian. “Women who essentially stop moving will be seen as a fixture in the organization and fade into the background.”
Seeking Not Waiting
Too many women hold themselves back from advancement by waiting for opportunities to come to them rather than going after what they want. One example is mentorship and sponsorship, which involve others advising or advocating on your behalf. Stephanie Rogen, VP of Corporate Programs at the White House Project, says women need to be intentional about identifying and securing sponsorship in particular, which may require moving out of comfort zones into more assertive behaviors. “Women benefit when they proactively seek sponsors and clearly communicate their goals,” says Rogen. “Women have a tendency to shy away from behaviors that feel ‘political,’ but the truth is that it is a necessary skill for advancement.”