I was invited to business development meeting with our director of operations and a potential partner from Spain – a well-dressed man in his 60s. We made introductions, talked about our ideas and possible synergies – an even interplay between the three of us in the room, but he and I also chatted briefly in his mother tongue. The Spaniard sat straight with his hands crossed, the director of operations had a small notepad and jotted things periodically, and I typed on my little laptop as we talked.
At the end of the meeting, the three of us agreed it would be great to work together and shook hands, and the Spaniard thanked me for being there to take notes – would I please send them to him? Huh? My notes were incomplete, at best, and mostly had to do with my own personal follow-up.
Two unfortunate things happened in this fateful meeting: the Spaniard probably brought his own prejudices when he met with a middle-aged male and a cute mid-career female copiously taking notes, and I had unwittingly positioned myself as a secretary, though I headed marketing.
Needless to say, along the way, I’ve stumbled and fumbled and learned from my mistakes, and not for nothing, I now have a great job in a leadership position, but I still continue to learn from insecurities, ignorance, and yes, mistakes.
Here are a few lessons learned for you to use to get ahead and work your way to boss lady:
Position yourself as an executive: Even if you feel 12 years old inside, dress like the boss, act like the boss, establish an executive presence, and if it feels funny, fake it till you make it. If you want to be considered for a leadership role, you must blend with leadership.
Mind your tongue: From this moment forward, I want you to scratch passive language and apologies from your business lexicon. We as women tend to be very apologetic: I’m sorry to interrupt; I’m sorry but I just want to say…; I’m sorry, can I just interject here? Don’t ever apologize unless you’ve done something wrong. Also, phrases like “I think” and “I feel” undermine your experience and expertise. State what you know. Say it like it’s a fact, and not only will your colleagues have greater respect what you have to say, but they’ll believe it.
Don’t try to keep up with the guys – be better: Early in my career, I felt it was imperative to my career to show that I could run with the guys. I was wrong. Being a professional woman is an uphill battle and I can’t promise it won’t always be a struggle, but damnit, outrun them! They will respect a woman that can hang, not personalize or overthink things and not bring insecurity to the table, but studies prove that we are equipped with certain strengths that give us an advantage – stronger empathy, great communication skills, the ability to listen and translate. Employ your superpowers and gender advantages to get ahead.
Be effective and honest and nice: Sometimes the truth hurts but you were hired to do a job and be effective. Honesty is the best way to get from A to B but always be nice. Your team may be doing nonsensical, but rather than pointing out to them that the plan is stupid, recognize the inspiration in the idea, and suggest another way to do it. Ignorant co-workers may reduce you to the B-word and others may call you “aggressive” but if you are honest and nice on your way to effective, make peace with the fact that you’re when you’re doing a great job, and they’ll get over it.
Be your own hero: If your leadership doesn’t know about the amazing things you’ve accomplished or how you’ve contributed to organizational success, they won’t think of you for promotions, raises, or recognition. Don’t be boastful, but do put yourself out there and celebrate your victories. Often a report summarizing deliverables and stating metrics is appreciated but superiors, but figure out what works best for your supervisor.
If you don’t ask for what you want, you’re never going to get it: I heard that our leadership was going to Cuba, so I asked if I could go as a translator. My boss said, “Well some in the group speak Spanish, but do you want to be the photographer?” Um, hell yes! I was the only non-doctor to go. If you want a project, ask, and it will show your initiative. If you want a raise, ask for one, but be ready with documents that support your achievements and why you should get a raise (studies have shown that the big income disparity between men and women is because men ask for higher salaries, throughout careers, and it increases exponentially from there). If you want to expand your role, ask, and show how you’re the best woman for the job.
Be a champion for others: Nothing destroys teamwork like someone taking credit for others’ work. If you’re a manager or team member, publicly recognize the effort, dedication, and capabilities of your team. The more the team feels appreciated, the more they will enjoy working with you, and the more motivated they’ll be. Everyone wins.
Find your tribe: I’ve said it before I’ll and keep saying it. It is critical that you join a professional organization and/or find other strong women to support you, to bitch to, to offer solutions and empathy. Even going to a professional development conference, you can find inspiration from women leaders that have confronted similar challenges and come out ahead. Find light in others.
All else fails, a bright red lip works wonders – pretty sure it boosts greatness. Now go get ’em!
Photos: Creative Commons, Canva