I understand this unease. But, based on my years in the work world, I believe there are ways to help make sure that women get the chance to advance and lead in an organization.
Here are six effective strategies that I strongly recommend:
Raise Your Hand
Don’t be afraid to jump in when an opportunity to lead presents itself — especially in the early stages of your career. And, if no opportunities to lead present themselves, then create them. When I was working in one of my first advertising jobs in Boston, I suggested launching a new research initiative. I ended up running the project. My mantra is: Blaze new paths and lead value creation. I know it’s hard to summon the courage to lead when you’re just starting out, but if you don’t take the lead, then someone else will.
Make Yourself Invaluable
Work hard to develop your skill set, relationships and reputation early on in your career so that later on, if and when you want to ask for a more flexible work schedule, it’s an easy “yes.” Make yourself so invaluable that your employer will want to accommodate your changing needs, rather than lose you from the team.
Be Somebody People Want to Work With
You always want to be on the team and, generally, you’ll be chosen if people believe you’re smart and add value. But a critical ingredient here is being likeable, and being a good collaborator. Also, it may not always be your time to lead, so it’s important to be a good support person who always shows up and contributes. If you do this, you’ll be recognized; and, if you’re a great number-two person, you’ll ultimately get your opportunity to move up and lead.
Look For People Who Will Challenge You — And Move You Ahead
Everyone wants — and needs — a pat on the back. But you also want to work for people who will challenge you by setting high standards. That’s how you grow in an organization — and as a professional. And, more often than not, that’s also how you move up and ahead into a leadership role. One of my first clients intimidated me, because she was tough and had high expectations. I responded by understanding and anticipating her needs. Being proactive helped build my competence and confidence. Eventually, we established a great partnership, and it paid off for me in terms of career enrichment.
Seek Out Sponsors — Not Just Mentors
Having a terrific network of mentors who will advise you and guide you is essential. But, in my experience, having sponsors within an organization is also crucial. A true sponsor understands you, believes in you, and is consistently looking to advance you and your career. To put it simply: Sponsors always have your back, and are always there for you.
Don’t Be Afraid to Move On
It’s important to know when you’re in a position, or in a company or organization, where you’re not going to grow, or where you’ve outgrown your role. At that point, you need to look and see what the next career step might be. Getting stuck in a corporate silo is a problem, and one of the ways to avoid it is by getting out and becoming more of a fixture in the community or industry at large. Expanding your world, and joining new circles, will open up a gamut of new professional and personal possibilities. For me, the Bentley alumni network has been one of these circles of growth.
Developing and nurturing your post-graduate career as a woman is going to be complex and punctuated by trade-offs. If you can internalize and embrace these six strategies, however, I believe that your professional stress and wear-and-tear will decrease at the same time that your job satisfaction actually increases.
Melanie Otero ’91, MBA’ 92 is chairwoman of the Bentley University Global Alumni Board and vice president/philanthropy, Palm Healthcare Foundation Inc.