A Seat at the Table
The truth is...
We hold 53% of entry level corporate jobs, but only 37% of mid level positions and, sadly, an unsurprising 26% of Vice President roles. Until there are drastic changes made at an institutional level, women have to continue to fit themselves in. We have to continue to take space for ourselves which is much easier said than done. (But, we’re doing pretty well so far!)
Still, these sorts of statistics show a deeply bedded inequality higher up in the corporate world, which for us can seem like an impossible obstacle to overcome. Many of us will branch off and start our own businesses--not that this path doesn’t come with it’s own glass ceilings.
But entrepreneurship isn’t everyone’s path, some of us have passions we want to pursue under the tutelage of the greats in our respective fields--how do we get them to notice us?
I read an article a while back that spoke about how small talk benefits men more than women. We’re not necessarily hurt by it, but it also does nothing for us. It gives male negotiators a boost though; they close larger deals. Time and time again, we’ll hit these subtle double standards and sometimes we’ll hit huge double standards. We’re running ourselves raw working harder and longer while our male counterparts thrive and do less work. Women can’t get away with a little effort. Often times we can’t get away with “average” effort.
We need to do more, we need to do the most.
Surviving in a workplace that means to swallow you whole requires getting creative about how we view and present ourselves as professionals. First impressions matter, yes, but the next four impressions matter more. Eventually people will forget the mistake we might have made on our first day because it was one mistake, or maybe two or maybe even three. But shifting our focus from worrying about our mistakes to focusing on being consistent with our successes often means an erasure of negative or uninspiring impressions we may have made.
Being consistent with our successes doesn’t mean we need to close every deal, or steal the spotlight in every meeting. It means keeping up the practices that support our best qualities.
If we’re the organized office manager, our work space should be flawlessly under control at all times. If we’re the don’t-take-no-for-an-answer new business rep, we should be a master at controlling conversation and if we’re the marketing coordinator who always brings the latest trends to the team--every content/google alert we can set up should be bombarding our email to keep us abreast of what's hot in the streets.
Figure out what it is you want to be known for--and go be the best at it.
Here are 5 self-work activities to bring us closer to being our best professional selves:
Read a Book: We can’t learn everything in a blog post. When I was looking to switch to sales full time, I read about 4 sales books, in addition to listening to some Ted Talks and podcasts. I did the same as I transitioned into recruitment. As a writer, I learned I couldn’t write anything good if I wasn’t reading anything good and sometimes, when I need to try something new, research brings me comfort, understanding and a sense of direction. Consume everything you can.
Take a Course: A friend of mine recently switched from sales to marketing. She got a few online certifications in addition to taking on extra marketing related duties at work. This lead to me taking some courses but also devouring webinars. Not every webinar was for me but I got a lot from them. Some courses were free, others I paid for. Invest in yourself. It’s not a bad way to spend money.
Organize your space: We’re not the boss yet but we are in charge of our desks. Take ownership of the space and ask your office if they provide organizational tools; folders, paper organizers, highlighters etc. If you’re a stationary junkie like me, you might come to your first day with a bag full of items to set up your desk. Am I organized all the time? Nah. But I get it right pretty often and it's totally worth it.
Maximize your Out-of-Work Time: It’s important to take a break. If your job is also your passion and you have side projects in the field, designate certain days for work so that you’re always taking time to rest. Overworking ourselves doesn’t guarantee any more productivity. (In fact, in many cases it’s proven to be harmful. So chill out.)
ABL-Always Be Learning: A successful woman is a smart woman and a smart woman is always learning something new. Proactive activities that increase your knowledge base encourage other habits like asking high level questions, learning research as a second language, and staying humble while still owning your knowledge.
To companies, we’re a product they’re paying for; we provide a service that should be unique to us as individuals. Practicing activities like those above help us build our brand as employees and the way we brand ourselves defines who we become in the workplace. This is particularly important for women as we sometimes struggle to talk about ourselves (it feels like bragging, it feels wrong). We can suffer for our shyness. But we don’t have to. By focusing on taking control and initiative on smaller things that directly affect us, we gain the courage to take risks and reach for bigger things we want out of our careers.
These baby steps take us from being outside the party to crashing convos in the middle of the dance floor like the dynamic, magical creatures we are. We don’t have to be shy about demanding what we deserve. We don’t need to be wallflowers when it comes to our careers. We’ve spent too much time unsatisfied and unhappy. We get to be loud now. Go ‘head girl.
Squeeze yourself in.