Today’s professional world is gender neutral: Women represent more than half of the educated U.S. population, and more than half of them are in the workforce.
But, while most career advice is therefore gender-neutral; as in, what’s good for women is good for men, there are some differences and areas where women need to be especially focused. Here are five things that women in particular should think about as they ascend the career ladder.
1) Ask for what you want. Time and time again I hear that women are more reticent to speak up and ask for what they want — from projects to promotions. Managers aren’t mind readers so the only way for them to know exactly what you want is for you to tell them. One great way to make sure that your manager knows what you’ve been doing and what you want is to hold regular check-in meetings with them. Maybe once a week or once a month, you sit down and have conversations about your progress on projects and whether it’s time to assume more responsibility. The more your manager knows about the work you’re doing, and the work you want to do, including your plans for career ascension, the easier it will be for them to advocate for you at meetings that you might not even know are happening!
2) And that includes money. Think that you have to earn less just because you’re a woman? Think again! The problem, though, is that women often fail to ask for what they deserve. A recent study found that there is often more salary available for people who negotiate. In fact, 45 percent of employers said they are willing to negotiate salaries for initial job offers – and that women are more apt than men to leave money on the table. Don’t be that person. You have nothing to lose by asking for more – and everything to gain! While it’s important to negotiate a top salary when you first start a job, since raises are predicated on that, don’t be shy about asking for a raise at an annual review, or if you have landed a particularly lucrative client or completed an impressive project. And don’t overlook non-monetary compensation, such as extra vacation time or more flexible hours. Sometimes those are easier to negotiate – and just as valuable – as an increase in your salary.
3) Pursue a promotion or new job even if you are not sure that you are qualified in all areas. Men are more apt to apply for jobs or promotions if they meet x% of the qualifications, while women typically make sure that they meet each and every one of them before even trying. There’s no harm in looking into a coveted position even if you don’t meet all the criteria. Show the interviewer how the skills you do have translate into success in the position and just remember that the men who are applying are likely not any more qualified than you — they are just presenting themselves that way. Take a page out of their playbook and do the same!
4) Don’t neglect your network. Again, this is advice that applies to men, too, but they often have more flexible time to socialize or network outside of the workplace. Most women are juggling multiple duties and are more likely to be in charge of after-school kid pickup and shuttling. But just because you can’t duck out for a happy hour after work, or take advantage of a leisurely game of golf on the weekend, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be socializing as you network with coworkers, clients and prospects. Think about the people you want to connect with. Do they have families too? Perhaps you could set up an evening at the local ball game, or a bowling party so that you can socialize while also spending time with your family. If working out is top on your list for down time, see if you can meet a former colleague for a walk, run or even a spin class. And always take advantage of lunch hours to meet with others if you can, instead of working straight through or running errands. You don’t realize how important a network is until you need it, so make sure you keep it up even with the other priorities weighing on you.
5) Manage your flexibility. Women are more apt to want flexible schedules so they can help get kids off to school, be home in time for homework and attend events and conferences. After gaining approval from a manager for flexibility, don’t hesitate to use it — but be smart. Even though your schedule is not the business of your coworkers, they might still pass judgment, so you want to be sure that you are not appearing as though you are not pulling your weight. Make sure that you are in touch with the office if they need you, even if you are technically not ‘working,’ by answering urgent messages as soon as you can, and doing a final check of email after dinner to make sure that you are up on what happened after you left. Whenever possible, try to stay late and help if others are, too, so that you look like a team player. Go in early if there’s a special meeting, even if it’s not technically your work hours since gestures like that can go a long way. People are less likely to resent your special schedule if you are making every attempt to be just as involved when at all possible. The bottom line is that even though face time shouldn’t matter, in many workplaces it still does so you’ll want to be there when you can.
It can seem hard to believe that with all the progress that’s been made, there are still some separate “rules” for women. But adhering to the points above can help women address the special circumstances that sometimes arise in the workplace that affect them differently than men.
by Cathie Ericson