By Abby Locke
You have completed your MBA degree, you have made a solid commitment to your career, and you consistently work hard – all the smart steps for long-term career growth and success, right? Wrong. Despite the increased representation of women leaders in the business world, surveys have found that a small percentage of officer-level positions in some of the largest companies are occupied by women.
So how do you make significant strides to move beyond the “glass ceiling” and overcome any career obstacles, when hard work alone is not the answer? Well, it starts with having a good understanding of your work environment, making deliberate shifts in your mindset about career success and embracing effective career growth habits from a very early point in your career.
Increase Your Professional Voice. If you are silently plugging away at desk, putting in very long hours and going beyond the scope of your job responsibilities, that is very admirable. However, it does nothing for your career path if your actions and efforts go unnoticed. While being humble is noble, you must become a public relations expert for your own career.
-- Take advantage of opportunities to participate in meetings, readily share your ideas with colleagues and frequently make references to special projects or assignments that you are working on.
-- Learn the language of confidence – don’t lose your audience in a sea of “uhs” and “ahs” – make a practice of starting sentences with phrases like: I feel strongly that… My experience suggests… I recently observed… My idea is… I recommend…
-- Join a local Toastmasters’ group to improve your verbal communications skills and increase your comfort level with public speaking.
Promote Your Brand & Career Achievements. Unfortunately, the ability to “boast” of career achievements and actively promote personal strengths continues to be an area of challenge for many professional women. Traditionally, we were raised to be modest and told that “bragging” was somehow inappropriate or unacceptable for women.
However in today's workplace, if you are not consistently communicating your personal brand and referencing past career achievements and individual contributions, you are in a disadvantaged position for promotions, salary raises, bonuses and high-profile projects. It is critical that not only your immediate boss is aware of your value proposition, but also the company's vendors and clients.
-- Maximize popular social media tools and resources to build and maintain a strong online brand identity.
-- Chronicle your career achievements carefully; take inventory of your progress every quarterly and compile a Word document that summarizes your contributions to the company.
-- Think carefully about your contributions not only in terms of new revenues, cost savings, customer acquisition, new market share, public relations and staff leadership, but also focus on anything you have done to make the company or your department perform better.
-- Don’t overlook leadership opportunities outside of the company through non-profit, community and civic organizations that would provide you and your personal brand with more visibility.
-- Get involved in a cause that your company supports and funds like United Way or American Cancer Society so that you can expand your network beyond your immediate department colleagues.
Build A Support Team. You can have all the resources in the world and read through every book and article on leadership in the corporate world, but it can never take the place of a supportive network of personal and professional friends.
-- Identify another well-connected, successful woman leader within your company or your industry/profession who can serve as a mentor. Mentors are essential for long-term career success as that person can help “sell” you for major assignments, help position you for promotions and serve as your personal cheerleader as you advance in your career.
-- Build a large, diverse strategic network; don’t limit your connections to only people who work in your field. Instead, reach out to other individuals who can offer a different perspective and often valuable insight on your career challenges.
-- Join a professional and/or industry organization that focuses on career development and leadership issues for professional women. For example, check out the National Association of Women MBAs.
Overall, true career success will not happen overnight, but it will happen. It takes careful planning, a strong desire to grow and an open mind to try new strategies if the old ones are simply not working.