While the corporate world may no longer be a man's game, the sad truth is that businesswomen are still paid less than men for the same positions, and fewer women than men fill the top positions. Further, when a woman is assertive and works hard to get ahead, it can be misinterpreted whereas this behavior is admired and rewarded in men.
What can women do to get ahead without putting out the wrong impression? A woman can do many things to prove and market herself in the business world. Supporting one another in these endeavors is also important.
Network, Network, Network
You've heard it before, but it's so true-the more people you know, the better opportunities you'll discover. Most companies fill positions through inside sources. You're much less likely to find your dream job through the classifieds. Moreover, if that promotion keeps eluding you, advancement through another company may be the answer.
Networking gives you an opportunity to demonstrate your professionalism by helping others and providing information as you are able. People remember these things, and your name might pop up when an opportunity comes along. Get involved with business functions and professional organizations. Take on a volunteer position through the organization or serve as a contact person for new members. The more people you know the better.
Determine Your Niche
What do you do best? Why do you do this better, or how are you able to fill a need that others cannot? Just as a specialty store offers products or services that the mainstream department stores do not, so too can you (and should you) develop a skill set that sets you apart. Are you an engineer with strong communication and social skills? Do you have particularly strong leadership, analytical, or outstanding project management skills? If so, use these to your advantage.
Volunteer to take on projects that will let you shine (and if they're the types of projects that no one else wants, that's even better). When the project goes well, be sure that people know about it. This doesn't mean that you walk around the office bragging about it to everyone, but it does mean that you get the word out. Most projects require some type of follow-up or project summary, which is the perfect way to summarize everything that went well and your role in the project's success.
Script and Practice Your Elevator Speech
An elevator speech is a brief summary (about thirty seconds or so) designed to market yourself, outlining who you are and what you do. This is used in networking, but also “on the spot, " when you suddenly find yourself in a situation where someone wants to know what you are all about. The purpose of the elevator speech is to have something prepared ahead of time for these situations. This way you're not caught off guard, and you know exactly what to say. Yes, it's a memorized summary of your career and experience, but of course, you can ad lib as necessary.
Also, be aware of the proper times to use your elevator speech. As a professional, you understand that some situations are inappropriate for this kind of chat. However, many businesswomen hold back when the time is right. If you have something prepared, this is a real confidence booster when the opportunity presents itself.
Be a Walking Resume
Many people don't like the idea of bragging-or more correctly-listing accomplishments and achievements on their resume because the idea of tooting their own horn makes them uncomfortable. The simple fact is, if you don't toot your own horn, no one will do it for you. This means that you not only develop a powerful paper resume, but also that you make sure others are aware of your achievements on a regular basis. While this may sound like you'll be a walking braggart, it doesn't need to be this way. For example, schedule regular appointments with your boss to review current and upcoming work. While there, be sure to tell her about your successes.
Annual reviews are great, but your co-workers and superiors are not going to remember everything; a few reminders along the way can work to your advantage. Keep as much of this in writing as possible. Document the hard numbers, comments from clients and coworkers, and anything else that supports your success. When clients or coworkers congratulate you on your work, ask for it in writing. If this makes you uncomfortable, say that you want to add it to the project file for future reference of what went well so that it can be repeated on future assignments.
Keep Moving Forward
In nearly every profession, those at the top say one of the primary reasons they ended up where they are is because they didn't give up. The millionaire mindset is one of not giving up. Persistence is key. There are always setbacks, and unfortunately, women have more hurdles to overcome from the outset. These can be viewed as negatives or a challenge.
If you value yourself and your contributions, you will be better prepared to handle the setbacks. People will not always support your goals, you won't always get the promotion, and you won't always love your job. You will struggle with how to overcome challenges, balance your work and family life, and how to move ahead while maintaining positive, proactive relationships. However, leading women entrepreneurs, women business owners, and women in leadership roles all have one thing in common: they never quit.
Roxanne is managing partner of WomenCorp an international women’s leadership development company that provides experiential learning programs for women who want to succeed in business and life.
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