How More Working Women Can Advance to the C Suite
If you’ve been keeping up with my blog, then you know one thing about me: I advocate for females boldly being the awesome workplace contributors they are. Women tend to think differently than men at work; we offer a unique lens in which to view situations and problems. We’re inherent multitaskers. We’re fundamentally different than males, and that allows us to bring incredible value and dynamism to our work environments.
Despite this, there’s no shortage of challenges faced by today’s working woman. This is especially so for the female who wishes to advance her career in a male-dominated industry. As a female executive in the largely male-dominated technology industry, I know firsthand how difficult it can be for women to break through these barriers and challenge others to reimagine leadership possibilities. It’s hard to imagine that today only 14% of the top five leadership positions at companies in the S&P 500 are held by women.
There are many shining examples, however, of women who are shattering this statistic. For example, there’s Adena Friedman, who was recently named president & CEO of Nasdaq. (She’s the first woman ever to lead a major U.S. exchange.) There’s Mary Barra, who currently serves as the world’s first-ever female CEO of a major automaker; and Indra Nooyi, who’s been serving as Pepsi’s CEO for a decade as of this year. I take pride in standing with these women as female executives of well-known, global brands.
So, how can more women advance their careers as they desire? (As I explained in my blog about defining leadership on your terms, there is no set definition of success at work for women; rather, it’s whatever we wish it to be for ourselves).
I believe the most direct path to career advancement is through personal growth and development, which only starts when you look within …
Finding Your Voice Is Essential, but Not Easy
The key to career advancement is not in women gaining power over men, but in women empowering themselves. To do this, we need to become bold thinkers. We need to harness the unique ideas we have and confidently believe in them. Above all, we must find our voice. As Melinda Gates has said, “A woman with a voice is by definition a strong woman. But the search to find that voice can be remarkably difficult.”
Finding your voice can be challenging. My best suggestion is simple: Know what to say, when to say it, and when to say nothing at all. On one hand, for instance, women should never be intimidated to speak up or speak out. I understand this is easier said than done, as male-dominated industries can be naturally unwelcoming or intimidating for women. Despite this, women have amazing ideas that should be shared. Believe in yourself, and believe in the value you bring to your organization. It won’t take long for you to gain confidence in this way, as well as the confidence of your peers.
Throughout the years, I’ve seen women (especially those early in their careers) say too much in conversation with male colleagues because they think they’re in a trusted environment. Based on my observations, this “unspoken oath” doesn’t seem to resonate with males. So, what happens? Something said by a female that she believes is confidential is perceived by a male as something said during open discussion. In the end, what the woman has said is at risk of becoming amplified in an environment she never envisioned.
The key here is to establish a balance between being confident and open versus oversharing. Remember: the work environment in which you make friends and share ideas is also an extremely competitive one.
In business, it’s not a man’s world. It’s not a woman’s world. It’s your world. You can be a Mary Barra. You can be a Melinda Gates. But above all, be yourself. Find your voice and, just as importantly, know when to cast it. Be strategic and perceptive. Leverage the resources at your disposal. Seek mentorship and guidance from female leaders who have gone before you. With the right support and knowledge, advancing your career is easier than you think.