by Patti Wilson
Sep 12 2014
When I look back on the hundreds of women I have coached individually and in groups, some key behaviors or workplace issues repeatedly come up for discussion. They are not exclusive to women, men have them too, but issues around these behaviors tend to manifest more strongly in women and can impede career growth or create roadblocks when not acted on. Working on improving behaviors that are holding y back can not only change your outlook on life, but will also accelerate your career management strategy.
Use Money as a Tool for Advancement
Yet, more often than not, men are more willing to spend money to advance their career by hiring and buying the advice, tools, data and resources that will help. I would be willing to bet serious money that the number of male executive members to female executive members is disproportionate within BlueSteps compared to their statistical numbers in the workplace.
Fifty percent of the workforce in the USA is women. But About.com reports, “currently, almost half of the people who take the GMAT are of the female persuasion. Unfortunately, women only account for 30% of enrollment in MBA programs.”
The MBA continues to be the gold standard for professional career advancement and they aren’t cheap in terms of a money and time commitment. Women are less likely to spend money to advance their careers than men and it shows up in their enrollment in MBA programs.
When the Dot-Com crash occurred with 3,000 companies closing and over 200,000 people losing jobs over a two year period in Silicon Valley, my client base at that time was 50-50 men and women. After the crash my client base became predominately men with women reporting to me informally that they could not afford to get help. When I queried my male clients, they universally said that they needed the help even more to get a competitive edge, and were willing to dip into savings or 401k plans to get it.
A key driver to career success is money spent on education, executive career coaching, conferences and technology tools that will pay-off many times over for women throughout their work lives.
Question Your Belief Systems
I have noticed that the “mind talk” and decision-making criteria of men and that of women differs markedly. This represents widely differing approaches to workplace behavior. These differences have been well documented in the national statistics collected by the premier behavioral personality assessment, the Myers-Briggs, distributed by Consulting Psychologist’s Press. The majority of women generally tend to make career and personal decisions based their values and feelings. This can lead to more accommodating and self-effacing behaviors.
When something goes wrong, more often women will ask where she was in error rather than asking that same query more globally, such as “What did we do” or “What did you do?”. While taking responsibility is an admirable and virtuous quality, sometimes not immediately jumping in and owning things personally is better for a career. Problems can get solved without assigning blame. The corollary is not letting blame be laid as a mantle around one’s neck.
There are many belief systems that tend to create roadblocks for women that do not seem to be as strong in men. In an executive seminar I deliver about the top roadblocks for women, one that repeatedly gets audience agreement and heightened reaction is the negative talk we tell ourselves about not being good enough, experienced enough, educated enough, or prepared to do something.
Taking the time to listen to our inner voices and modifying the mind chatter that contributes to doubts and fears will create demonstrable, immediate, and positive change. Questioning those repetitive beliefs ingrained in our mental talk will chart a new course for advancement.
Women tend to be less competitive and aggressive in business, though I am sure that individually there are women reading this article that would debate this with me. Overall, women have more willingness to accept or accommodate executive edicts without challenging them. The art of negotiation from strength does not come to women with fluency as does compromise, collaboration and conciliation.
Speaking truth to power and challenging a management course of action or decision might come more easily if women played aggressive team sports in school - many women have not done that, though the numbers are growing, but yoga tends to be a more preferred in exercise for women than kick-boxing. I am not saying that a new exercise routine will enhance a woman’s ability to challenge authority, but the learning and practice of verbal jiu-jitsu and assertive communications can result in managing up, across, and down far more effectively. Sports aside, acquiring the training in self-defensive communications skills is not only doable but a key to advancement and work-life balance.
“Coloring outside the lines, jumping into the deep end, stepping off into the abyss” are all titles or sub-titles of personal development literature that uniquely target women. Men’s titles tend towards: “Get your competitive edge”, and “Put yourself in the zone.” It is not a negative judgment that women do not take the magnitude or level of risks that men do in sports, investing or business. It is what it is.
Without a certain willingness to take a chance and move past fears, inhibitions and preconceptions, positive change will not manifest in our lives. Taking action by actively and pro-actively focusing on career management means making choices without complete information - thus taking risks.
We cannot predict where our next position will be. Foreclosing our options by taking the first or easiest offer may mitigate the anxiety of ambiguity but it may not be the best path for us. Without a willingness to take risks, women often stay too long or wait too long to make a career move and thereby miss windows of opportunity.
Risk-taking implies an ability to stay the course into the unknown while trusting the process, and being open to the unexpected even when following a plan. It is a paradox of opposites and women can do that with a determined grace to the benefit of their self-fulfillment and career paths.
These are four simple behaviors and actions that are often easier said than done. Taking it one step at a time and staying the course will see the results.