Women Play Catch-Up Their Entire Careers
Author: Vivian Blade
“Women get less access to the people and opportunities that advance their careers and are disadvantaged in many of their daily interactions.”
LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company, 2016 Women in the Workplace Report
In my coaching practice, I run across a number of female professionals who are frustrated with their career progression. They feel like they are committed to the company, working endless hours and doing what it takes to get the job done. They feel like they’re pushing through this journey on their own. In fact, it’s not just a feeling. Studies on the progress of professional women show this to be true for so many.
The 2016 Women in the Workplace study by LeanIn.org and McKinsey also found that, “Women are less likely to receive the first critical promotion to management—so far fewer end up on the path to leadership—and are less likely to be hired into more senior positions. Women also get less access to the people, input, and opportunities that accelerate careers. As a result, the higher you look in companies, the fewer women you see.”
Women Are Missing Critical Relationships
Professional women are missing critical relationships, such as mentors, coaches, advocates and sponsors. These people help to enable success in their careers. Why has this situation not improved? Companies don't realize or appreciate the importance of these relationships and don't provide a supporting environment for these relationships to occur. Women lack awareness that they need those important relationships, so they fail to seek them out.
Women also make a number of mistakes that suppress their progress.
Mistake #1: You lack an awareness of the types of relationships that advance careers
Career success takes a team approach because of the complexity of the corporate environment, with formal and informal processes and networks, and an abundance of office politics. You need people in your network to help you navigate this environment. Allies as mentors and Advocates as sponsors are important relationships in your career. Each has a different role, and may come in and out of the career journey at different points in time.
Mistake #2: You wait for HR or your boss to give you access to the people and opportunities that advance careers.
A challenge for women is strategically building and leveraging the types of relationships that act as a support system throughout your career. You wait for permission or wait to see if you’ll be selected for the official ‘mentoring program’. Stop waiting! You don’t need permission. You are accountable for your own career and for being prepared for each successive step you wish to achieve. Take the initiative to seek and maintain meaningful relationships throughout your career.
Ally as Mentor
Allies often are great resources as mentors. Work with mentors to understand the types of skills and experiences you’ll need, and to help you grow in those areas. They also can help you understand how things really work in the office and help you avoid landmines in your career. A mentor may be within or outside of your employer, and can be at any level – senior to you, a peer, or a subordinate.
Advocate as Sponsor
An Advocate, or sponsor, is an ambassador who can enable progression in your career by speaking up about your track record and the capabilities they see in your potential. You need to promote your value in order to grow awareness of you and your capabilities among decision makers who could be instrumental as sponsors.
Mistake #3: You don't manage the mentoring relationship and fail to get the outcomes you need.
A good mentoring experience doesn’t just happen without planning and care throughout the process. There are four stages of a mentoring relationship that define your progress:
Each stage has its own set of objectives and tasks.
Mentoring relationships often fail because of the mistakes in the very first stage, Selecting Your Mentor.
Women Select the Wrong Mentor
Selecting the wrong mentor can be a waste of everybody's time, as well as detrimental to your self-confidence and career progression.
When I worked for Humana in the early stages of my career, I was fortunate enough to be part of the Management Intern Program. Though that program came with a formal mentoring relationship, being matched with the right mentor was just as important as selecting my own mentors in other stages of my career. I learned that being thoughtful about and carefully outlining my needs was one of the most important first steps to a successful mentoring relationship.
Before selecting a mentor, know your development areas and the skills you need to build for your career path. Seek a mentor who is knowledgeable about the skills you need to enhance or roles you’re considering on your career path. Find someone who has common personal or professional interests and aligns with your expertise.
Influence Your Own Access
You’ll continue to be left behind until you step up to take more ownership in gaining access to important relationships and opportunities. Take a deep breath, and make it a priority to take the first steps of learning more about these relationships and engaging with a mentor who can be instrumental in helping you Fuel Your Career Forward.
About the Author Vivian Blade
A professional speaker, author and talent management expert, Vivian works with the world's top companies to fuel incredible leadership, and with professionals to fuel incredible careers. Vivian is a prolific writer whose articles, featured in professional, industry, and business publications, and published books, “FuelForward”, and "Find Your Fit", a collaboration with the Association for Talent Development, have helped thousands of professionals succeed.