Women career growth: what’s holding us back

By Patrycja Riera, CEO, Inclusionem

Whenever I am asked to speak at a women event, there is this one question that I always get … simple, yet very challenging question…

What career growth advice would you give your younger self?

SIMPLE because we all fail, get up, learn and move on. CHALLENGING because how often have you found yourself doing the same mistake all over again? There are moments when we feel all is going well. We are in the flow. Achieving but yet, not moving ahead.

And even though we are representing 50% of the workforce, we continue to be underrepresented in top management positions of most businesses.

It’s our fault..or is it?

The current career growth conversation is focused on fairness and equality and sometimes raises assumptions that women are doing something wrong when to comes to their career growth. Some blame organizations and environment. Some blame women for not being ambitious, tough or focused on career goals.

I believe that there is a mix of both and as much as organizations can run women in leadership trainings and workshops, the change in the trajectory of your career growth really starts with me, you… inside of us.  

Know thyself

know thyself

From my experience, I know one of the things that often stops us from progressing is simply our own behavior. It’s time to shift the conversation to the massive growth opportunity that we have as women if we begin with what we can control, our intention, thoughts and behaviors.

If we start there… with our personal and professional growth, the growth might feel slow and uncomfortable, but it will definitely bring results.  

Career growth observations from the guy in your corner

I’d like to share some of my personal learnings, observations from coaching women and research explaining specific habits that often slow our career growth down or stop us from entering the next phase. I categorize them as achievements, relationship and career versus job.

We all have self-imitating behaviors; we are all human. And even though women and men do share some of the undermining habits, they frequently do not. Taking context and environment into account, women often face different challenges in their career progression and therefore need to adapt different types of behavior than men.

Having said this, it does not mean that men don’t experience the same or similar challenges.

In previous blogs, I discussed how women find it more difficult to leverage relationships and how to reframe our vision for a career Vs a job.

It is time to celebrate our achievements

Today I’d like to look at our relationship with achievements, why are we reluctant to claim what we have done or wait for others to notice what we have accomplished.

Research shows that women work harder than men, however, avoid taking credit for their achievements.

We use “we”rather than” I” (I know I found myself doing that) because we are expected to be modest, unobstructed, humble and team players.

Most of all though, we believe that our work will speak for itself – clearly right? When somebody speaks about their achievements, we might find this behavior as obnoxious and disruptive.

The research here also shows here clearly that this does not work and works against our careers. 

A dangerous rabbit hole

rabbit hole

When others don’t notice our work, we do feel unappreciated, unacknowledged and often don’t feel we belong to the team or workplace and start looking for another firm that might offer what we are missing. 

If saying “I did it” rather than “we did it” feels uncomfortable, or instead of expressing what you have achieved, you wait for others to notice, than there is a growth opportunity for you in this area.

I am not saying that you need to become a woman that’s only focused on herself and does not care about anybody around. What I am saying is, you need to learn match your career intention with career impact. 

Learn how to promote yourself

Even though often it feels unnatural, we don’t like “bragging” about our achievements, it is important you learn to do it when appropriate. The very safe and official place for it could be performance reviews or check in meetings with your manager.

  • Always come prepared with a list of accomplishments, projects completed, client or peers’ feedback. For example, if you have finished a work earlier, one thing is to let your boss know that you have beat another deadline.
  • More effective could be saying to your boss and peers that you finished your work earlier and you are available to help others to get their work done.
  • This technique is effective because it wins you friends and demonstrates your value to your boss. 
  • If you have a specific skill set or talent that you want to promote around the office, make it visible and available to others. 

Believe that you are in control of your own success

I am sure you have heard the expression “Focus on what you can control” – pretty good advice – What does it actually mean?

Most of us are focused on creating results and often, that is not something we can fully control. Therefore, focus on what you can control, what is it that you can influence and leave what’s out of control. 

Find out what motivates you, why you want to be successful

Happy business couple giving a high-five to each other while sitting at the table during meeting at office

Many academic studies have shown that successful executives were successful not because of their smarts, talent, or people skills, it was their motivation and energy level.

If you don’t have motivation, it almost does not matter what you are good at, it will never bring the same results. Knowing what motivates you and why can be critical for your success and changing some of the behaviors.

Also, remember, feeling progress is one of the most important motivation factors. Set yourself small goals or wins that can help to keep you on track and help you to feel like you are getting closer to the goal. 

Have people that can speak on your behalf (sponsors) and never contradict the positives people say about you

Sponsors have been identified as one of the most important tools for women advancing to top management positions. Identify those who you have worked with well, trust you and know your capabilities and ambition and ask for their support.

Sponsorship is relationship that involves trust and greater public commitment. A sponsor has power and wants to use it for you, for your growth and success.

  • Sponsorship is not mentoring, not a process you can turn on and off.
  • Notice who are the senior people in your organization that you work with, that have seen your work, accomplishments and you can share your career vision and goals with.
  • Build relationships with those who can support you in the future.  

Set goals for your career and share your vision with important stakeholders

  • Develop a habit of defining goals, even small ones that can move you forward.
  • Define what success is to you and, what is the level of effort you want to put in and how will you prepare for it. If you are clear on this, you will most likely find yourself happier and more successful as a result. Success does not always look like what you have imagined, but if you can say you maintained a level of 9 or 10 on the preparation effort scale, you are most probably in a good place to increase your success in a long run with some changes.  

Prepare an elevator pitch on who you are and your achievements

This is the number one action that will demonstrate you’re ambitious, bring clarity on your future and get you noticed.

  • Show that you are confident and serious and highlight your skills.  This is the heart of who you are and what you have accomplished so far, so tell your story, shine and show what makes you unique.
  • Explain your “why” and connect it with your skill set.  

Working on this might not be easy and I would suggest you take one step at a time. Pick one thing that makes you feel stuck and remember that making sustainable and lasting changes requires your focus and takes time.

What got you here won’t take you there

Sometimes our habits got us somewhere but might not get us further anymore and it is important to let them go, shift and change.

So, start creating new habits, work on them until you see a progress and just because you are making small changes it does not mean you are not moving forward.

Repeating those small steps is more likely to create a long-term result.

Connect with Patrycja on LinkedIn