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Kimberly Blessing

Tips for Women in the Workplace

5 min read

From the New York Times, The Mismeasure of Woman:

"For the first time, women make up half the work force. The Shriver Report, out just last week, found that mothers are the major breadwinners in 40 percent of families. We have a female speaker of the House and a female secretary of state. Thirty-two women have served as governors. Thirty-eight have served as senators. Four out of eight Ivy League presidents are women. Great news, right? Well, not exactly. In fact, it couldn’t be more spectacularly misleading."

Sadly, it's true: making up half of the workforce has not brought women equality in the workplace. American work places are still largely ill-suited for us and our employers do not fully recognize or taking advantage of our talents. What's more, we're still far too often demeaned, belittled, and treated as sex objects -- usually behind closed doors, but sometimes publicly, too. What must women continue to do to gain equal footing?

In Ten Things Companies -- and Women -- Can Do To Get Ahead, employers are reminded that a lack of gender diversity in executive and board positions hurts both the company, as well as professional women, and provides some great tips for companies seeking to increase female presence. While all of the tips were good, those which I'd personally recommend, from personal experience, include: (emphasis mine)

  • Make Mentoring a Priority: Research shows that mentoring programs can be powerful tools for advancing the careers of professional women. Every young professional can benefit from having a mentor. But for women in male-dominated corporate environments, the need is even greater. Women with mentors, research finds, are more likely to apply for promotions.
  • Retain Your Best Women: What does it take to keep talented women in your organization? Asking them directly is a good place to start in getting an answer. However, research finds that flexible work hours, generous maternity leave benefits and coaching for women returning to the workforce can make a difference.
  • Measure Your Results: When companies put goals in writing and track their results, things gets done. Companies need to know where they stand and make managers accountable for the level of gender diversity in their organizations.
  • Move Beyond Tokenism: According to McKinsey, companies with three or more women in senior management scored higher on measures of organizational excellence than companies with no women at the top. It is not enough to add a woman here or there. The best performers build a critical mass that gives women the power to have their views heard.

The article also provides some suggestions for women -- again, all good tips. Here are the ones I'm always telling other women:

  • Dare to Apply: McKinsey, citing internal research from HP, found that "women apply for open jobs only if they think they meet 100 percent of the criteria listed, whereas men respond to the posting if they feel they meet 60 percent of the requirements." That by itself, if it holds true across the corporate world, could be holding back a lot of talented women.
  • Know What You are Good At: Instead of just focusing on what you are lacking, take time to inventory what you have to offer. Evaluate your potential based on your skills and competencies, not merely the jobs you have held in the past. Many of your skills could be applicable in jobs -- or in fields -- you have not considered.
  • Know What Success Means to You and Move Toward It: If you want to get somewhere, it helps to know where you are going. In the book "Stepping Out of Line: Lessons for Women Who Want It Their Way...In Life, In Love, and At Work," author Nell Merlino says: "You have to see it before you can devise a plan to get there."

Some of the best advice I've read lately comes from an unlikely source -- Forbes. (They've published a number of sexist pieces in the past year or two.) The article states what many people won't acknowledge, telling women: "Sexism, whatever you call it, hasn't disappeared. But it's better to know exactly what you're up against." Amongst their list of unwritten rules: (emphasis mine)

  • Men get the benefit of the doubt. Men generally get hired on their promise and women on their demonstrated experience. Men are usually taken at their word, while women get challenged more, required to deliver data and substantiation for their views.
  • You won't get sufficient feedback. Professional development depends upon rigorous, comprehensive, ongoing feedback. Your (male) boss may not feel comfortable delivering that information to you. You need to be direct in asking for it from him and from other colleagues and team members.
  • Women are rendered invisible until they demonstrate otherwise. If you want to be noticed, you've got to offer your ideas, approach a mentor, ask for the assignments, build a network, convey your aspirations and communicate your achievements.

I feel very lucky to have worked with some great women and men in the course of my career who -- regardless of whether or not they acknowledged that sexism still exists -- proactively mentored me, instructed me, and helped me overcome any roadblocks which could have set me back. Still, I see too many environments in which sexism, however subtle, is part of the status quo and managers and leaders are unprepared (and, sadly, sometimes unwilling) to change their own behaviors, as well as those of their teams. I realize that I make people uncomfortable in raising these issues and pushing to address them. But what others must realize is that I live according to a rule my mother taught me long ago, which is reiterated in the Forbes article by Ann Daly, and which I can't say often enough to other women: "Don't let them sabotage your ambitions".