10 things that equip women for professional success

The New York Times reported in 2015 that there are less women CEOs in Fortune 500 firms, than CEOs named John! The numbers would not have changed by much in the past few years. When you look at gender parity in higher education, you would notice that the number of men and women graduating and entering the workforce is fairly even. However, women do not move up the career ladder as fast as men. Research shows that the disparity begins from the first promotion onwards. There are however, several women leaders who embody professional success, climb the corporate ladder and run successful businesses.

I have often wondered if there is a success mantra that enables women to achieve their professional aspirations. I deliberated on factors that equip women on their career paths and after considerable thought, research and conversations with a diverse group of women, here is what I’ve arrived at.

Intrinsic factors such as proficiency, attitude, intellect, communication skills and emotional intelligence play a critical role in professional performance.

There are ten other aspects that influence professional success and I have captured them under two categories:

1. Attitudes and Behaviours

2. Enablers

Attitudes and Behaviours:

Women need to cultivate a few attitudes and behaviours to enhance their professional performance.

Be visible: You may be doing a great job, but unless people who matter know about it, your work goes unnoticed. Not only do you need to churn out good work and results, but you also need to showcase it. Unless you focus on getting visibility for your work and for yourself, no amount of effort on the job will get you rapid recognition. Once you accept this, there are various ways in which you can gain visibility. Talk about your work in meetings, publish it in reports and newsletters and offer to share it with others. The pursuit of visibility need not be a brazen affair. You can do it subtly and still get results.

Speak up: You may well be the smartest person in the room, but no one would realize that unless you speak up. Women need to speak up more and voice their opinions actively. When we get a seat at the table, we need to make our opinions and views count. Women tend to have unique, innovative perspectives and it is a loss when these perspectives are not shared or heard. Also, management tends to notice people who contribute to discussions, present unique perspectives and novel ideas. By not speaking up, you lose out on opportunities for visibility and acclaim. So please, speak up and get heard.

Take risks: J.K. Rowling rightly said — “It is impossible to live without failing at something…unless you live so cautiously that you might as well have not lived at all — in which case, you fail by default”. Staying within your comfort zone is probably one of the most dangerous things you could do to your career. Women should take risks and explore opportunities and projects that are complex and challenging. Such projects lead to immense learning and exposure and even if you fail at them, you would have gained valuable experience. Even failures lead to introspection, self-discovery and bring several personal strengths to the fore. Hence, take risks without fear of failure.

Negotiate: If you don’t ask for it, you most likely won’t get it. Women need to negotiate better and negotiate more often. Whether it is about your salary or a role or a coveted assignment, you should negotiate. Invest time in research, talk to people and prepare a business case and talking points to equip yourself for the negotiation discussion. And then go ahead and ask for what you deserve. You won’t regret it.

Enablers:

In addition to innate potential, attitudes and behaviours, women need a few enablers that equip them to achieve their professional aspirations. Here are the six enablers.

Personal branding: Every person is unique and has several differentiating qualities. Even two people with exactly similar education and experience could have distinct skills and talents. Women need to differentiate themselves by identifying their unique strengths. And then they need to build a personal brand. It starts with an impressive profile and I don’t mean the regular profiles we are used to, but creative, visually appealing profiles using pictures and videos in a digital format that is accessible. Women can enhance their brand through social media platforms too. Let the core qualities that define you, show across all channels. Blogs, whitepapers and other publications help define and qualify your strengths. Create visibility for yourself by showcasing your best.

Network: Professional networking is critical for success. Networking empowers women with connects that lead to new and exciting opportunities. When women join networking groups with like-minded people, it gives them a sense of belonging. The opportunity to discuss, share, inspire and support each other, empowers them with confidence. It instils courage akin to having a whole team backing them. The greater the number of people that can vouch for you and sponsor you, the better are your chances for growth and success. Invest in building relationships not only at your workplace, but also with others in related professions.

Mentoring: The value that mentoring can bring to a woman’s career cannot be overemphasized. In an effective mentoring relationship, mentors are people with experience and influence, who understand your strengths and potential and help you achieve your aspirations. Mentoring provides a channel for women to seek advice when they face challenges or need to make a career choice or need help in navigating complex situations. It helps women build confidence and courage as they tread their career paths. When mentoring expands to include sponsorship, it helps women with the advocacy they need to achieve career growth.

Job opportunities: Gone are the days when people would work with one organization throughout their career. In current times, it is prudent to evaluate and leverage new job opportunities every few years. Such job changes jolt you out of your comfort zone, necessitate learning and give you exposure and growth. They also enable you to build and strengthen your networks and broaden your perspective about the industry. Women need to leverage networks or job sites to get curated information about new opportunities. Access to relevant and exciting opportunities is critical to shaping your career.

Upskilling: The only way to stay relevant in current times is through continual upskilling. Newer technologies are on the rise every day and new management approaches constantly crop up. The digital era is as focused on empathy and user experience as it is on technology. Hence, skills such as creativity and intuitiveness are as critical as logical and analytical thinking. Depending on personal strengths and trends in the industry, women should constantly find new skills to acquire. They should pursue courses and certifications and update their profiles with these newer skills.

Resources: Women need access to career resources such as content around career guidance, curated trends, information about organizations and work culture and knowledge of events and competitions. Each of these resources provide specific types of value. Curated content and career guidance articles share newer perspectives and actionable insights that help women hone their performance and potential. Information about organizations helps women take informed decisions when they wish to change jobs. And access to events and competitions help them build visibility and networks in the industry.

And finally, everything boils down to your conviction, courage and confidence. Here’s a quote that I’d like to leave you with:

Anything’s possible if you’ve got enough nerve” — J.K. Rowling