There’s no set formula or clear-cut “solve-for-X” equation that can propel recent female college graduates to success in their careers, even though more than half of the corporate recruiters surveyed in Bentley University’s PreparedU research say that women are better job candidates than men.
In the end, I believe that moving ahead depends on the individual, and on so many other variables — like mentors, timing, opportunities and company culture.
But, having said that, I offer five key professional advancement strategies for young women just starting out in the work world.
Work where they treat you well, and where employees are valued.
You’re going to have a long career, and, most likely, work for a number of different companies or organizations. I was fortunate to start my career at Agilent Technologies, an HP spin-off that retained the enlightened “HP Way.” My division, in particular, had a strong focus on work-life balance, and on respect for individuals, as well as a focus on teamwork. The division was hit hard when the dot.com bubble burst, but it maintained the respect for employees throughout — communicating frequently along the way. I was given the opportunity to work on interesting projects outside of my job description, and I was able to learn my strengths and interests.
I’ve since worked at a range of companies, some with little balance — Silicon Valley startup style — and others with more balance. And I’ve gotten great experience along the way. But, as I consider the type of company that I want to work for, I know that I’ll be happiest in a place that respects my experience, allows me flexibility to have a life outside of work, and provides opportunity for growth. This is where I’ll contribute my best work product.
How do you find the right company for you?
Use your network to find out about the work environment, if you have contacts at the company. Use your job interview so that it’s a two-way discovery process — you can ask about the work environment; you can ask someone in a similar role to describe a typical work week; and you can have people describe the office culture. And be sure to research your company (a website like glassdoor.com may have employee feedback).
Ask questions, and understand the business context of your activities.
Your employer hired you for your ability to solve problems — not just to respond to email, make compelling presentations or fix bugs. Understanding the big picture, and how your work fits in, will help you to contribute more to your workplace, explore different ways that you can grow, and motivate you to excel.
Networking and establishing good relationships with other organizations will help you to understand your organization as a whole. You may come up with ideas that aren’t picked up at the time, but your manager will recognize that you’ve got a broader perspective, which is key.
Don’t get caught up in the tactical at the expense of the strategic.
We all have tasks that we need to accomplish, and we often get caught up in making sure that things are completed. But, even though it’s important to complete your job tasks, it’s also good to take a step back occasionally in order to consider the long game.
Once you step back, you may realize that some tasks don’t make sense anymore, given a changing business environment.
This is important, because sometimes long-term strategic planning is delayed due to short-term activities. The result is that open market windows are missed, or resources are used inefficiently. I’ve seen this at all levels in an organization, from the executive staff down.
If you’re overextended, be sure that your prioritization of activities matches your boss’s. And periodically consider the whole of your work activity, and whether you’re spending your time most effectively, given the big picture.
Higher levels of management spend more time on the long view — so, if you can demonstrate your strategic planning, you’ll be recognized for promotion.
Sit at the table.
As a junior management-level employee in product management, I used to present at quarterly company management meetings, and product checkpoint reviews. These meetings would often involve the entire executive and management team from the company, plus representatives from other functions. I was the main representative for the product at these meetings.
With a limited number of seats at the main table, there was a second row around the edge of the room. Often, executive staff sat at the main table, leaving only a few seats for others. Initially, I’d sit in the second row of seats for these meetings, deferring to more senior employees.
At some point, though, I noticed that my male co-workers always sat at the table when their product was being discussed — claiming their spot as the owner of the product. So I started to claim my spot at the table as well, and I made sure that I was advocating for myself. After all, I owned the product and had key context for the conversation.
Collaborate, but make sure to lead, too.
Sometimes women take a more collaborative approach to decision making (at least I do). And I think that this is part of what makes women valuable employees — ensuring that different views and voices are always taken into account. Unfortunately, however, this style can often be perceived negatively, especially in a male-dominated environment. So, talking with key stakeholders in advance, and proposing a solution, is a way to lead with a collaborative style.
Patty Solberg is director of product marketing at Powerit Solutions, a Seattle-based international clean technology company that sets the demand management standard. Its Spara DM™ technology links industrial facilities with the smart grid, so customers can effortlessly control energy use for savings and sustainability.