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Learning to Climb in a Dress

It wasn’t so long ago that the top of the corporate ladder was unreachable to women. The most we could hope for was to look up through a glass ceiling at the patriarchal community at the summit; to watch the male corporate bigwigs as they partied, schmoozed, plotted and formed alliances amongst themselves as the only real contenders for the top position. Whether or not those men were best qualified for that position didn’t always matter as much as whether they’d played the best political game out of all their competitors. And those men knew that – were used to it, even.

The glass ceiling may have shattered, but navigating the path to the top continues to be a challenge for smart, capable women.

The road is cluttered with residual chunks of glass from that ceiling such as:

  • Unspoken rules about what it takes to get ahead in a male-dominated culture.
  • Leadership standards that were defined in the decades when men worked and women stayed home still exist today.
  • Unconscious and even conscious biases that prevail and subjugate our reputation as leaders.
The real solution is to eliminate these intangible barriers that so many women face every day when they go to work. Until the time comes when organizations realize that the real problem suffocating women leaders is the very culture in which they work, we must become more adept at traveling the glass-cluttered road.

We can improve our odds of landing top, influential leadership jobs by knowing of certain personal behaviors that can sabotage our career advancement. Changing these behaviors can make a profound difference.

Here are three of the most common ways I find women limit their own potential, and several strategies to immediately overcome them:

1. Invisible Woman Syndrome:  Slaving at your desk non-stop is a surefire recipe for being overlooked for a promotion or key assignment. You do a great job, but no one notices. You are not given credit for the project that you tirelessly worked on to make the deadline.
  • Strategy: To optimize your career advancement key stakeholders, who can influence your career advancement, need to know just how good you are at what you do. You must stop hiding out in your office and eating lunch at your desk and start wasting time at the water cooler. In other words – you must get visible! Networking and forming relationships is not a waste of time.  It is time well spent. You’re getting to know others who can advocate for your career advancement and perhaps more importantly, help you make things happen in your current job.                                                                                                                                                                                         There are countless ways to get visible: volunteer to participate on a cross-functional committee, invite a colleague to go for coffee or lunch, identify the key connectors in your organization – those who seem to know everyone and everything that is going on. Be sure they know and like you, and know what you do as well. ( Note: these individuals may not be high up on the organizational chart, but they can create great buzz on your behalf.)

2. Political Iconoclast : The term “politics”, when associated with the workplace, is charged with emotions – typically negative.  Yet, every organization has the unwritten rule book called “office politics”, which are essentially the rules of the game you play to gain advantage for yourself or a program you support.These rules are understood by the politically astute and seem to baffle those who are politically naive.

The game of politics in the workplace is a fact of life. Love it or hate it, being politically aware and tuned in is essential to thrive in the corporate environment.  Yet many women abhor the idea of playing politics and disregard the importance of being politically savvy.

  • Strategy: Stop stonewalling when it comes to politics. Find a way to make office politics work for you, versus allowing them to derail your success. It does not have to be a black and white situation where you are either naive and politically off the grid, or slick, slimy, and overly political.  Begin by identifying the politically influential individuals in your organization.  Observe the informal groups, networks and relationships that possess the power. Build relationships with key players, but proceed cautiously before you align yourself too closely with any one group. This way, you can get the pulse on the politics from all the players in the game.
3. Fragile Self-confidence:  Lack of self-confidence is the wellspring from which flows the majority of women’s career-derailing behaviors.  Listening to the voice of your inner critic, and believing what you hear, is the mother of behaviors that will sabotage your career.

Notice that I didn’t say having an inner critic was the problem.  Everyone has self-doubts and negative thoughts running through their mind at some point.  But listening to your inner critic rant about your inadequacies and worse yet, believing the messages are gospel truth, causes a problem. Unfortunately, countless women do listen and believe.  Career-derailing behaviors are the result. They don’t speak up and voice their opinion in a meeting. They don’t apply for a job because they doubt they are good enough to land it. They don’t request a promotion because they fear they do not measure up. They are fraught with nerves when they stand on a stage presenting to an audience.

  • Strategy: Stopping the chatter is a herculean task, so don’t even try.  Just don’t let it stop you! Instead, acknowledge the voice of the critic and talk back!  “OK. I hear you saying I don’t have enough experience to apply for that big job. Thanks for your opinion inner critic.  But I am going to do it anyway.”  Why not? The more you become aware of the negative talk and your tendency to let it stop you, the more you will be motivated to respond!
Mastering these three strategies will significantly enhance your leadership profile and get you recognized as a powerful, persuasive, high-impact leader. Choose one to put to work today.

The corporate game isn’t fair. That’s a given. But when you can’t beat ‘em, you join ‘em, and you can play the game until you get to your rightful role in the company without losing touch with yourself as a person. Work to overcome your personal barriers and misgivings, bit by bit, and soon it will no longer feel like a chore. It will feel like you’re just being yourself…only letting more people know about it.

**Repurposed by Amy Kisaka, a staff writer at Goddess Connections’ publication Women Who Run It.

Jean Caton

Jean Caton is a Business Women’s Coach and popular speaker who educates, motivates, and inspires her audience. Jean brings a practical perspective to her coaching a speaking because she “gets” the challenges of business women- she has walked in their shoes both as a corporate America business leader, and now as a small business owner. Learn more about Jean at www.TheProfitableWoman.com