Four Tips for Thriving in the Workplace from Women CEOs

New York Times, Adam Bryant interviewed four women CEOs about how to thrive in the workplace. These leaders described “headwinds” or challenges they have faced as women leaders and tips for how to overcome them. Examples of their headwinds included

  • Receiving feedback during performance reviews that they dress too sternly or smile too much or too little—thereby making other people uncomfortable
  • Receiving promotions without adequate resources to do the job
  • Feeling they needed to downplay their accomplishments to fit in
  • Being underestimated or not given the benefit of the doubt
Have you experienced any of these headwinds? If so, here are some tips from the CEOs about how to overcome them.

Four Tips for Thriving in the Workplace

Tip #1: Take a stand about your performance. If you get performance feedback that focuses on personal attributes, behaviors, or appearance, and your performance results are strong, insist that your results be the focus. Here’s what one of the CEOs said to her boss, respectfully, early in her career when he told her people were uncomfortable with how sternly she dressed: “From this point on, I want you to judge me on my performance, not my appearance.” After that, he did. Tip #2: Toot your own horn. Self-promotion can be difficult for many women because we are socialized to “fit in” and not stand out, but we need to stand out to realize our potential in organizations. To get recognition from senior leaders, be prepared to strategically remind them of your experience and accomplishments. This can be helpful in meetings when you are having trouble being heard. As CEO Dara Richardson-Heron noted, women often mistake words for voice. In other words, it is not enough to be at the table and say something. For Richardson-Heron, voice means “having a track record of success and accomplishments” that you remind people about from time to time so they want to listen to you. You should also toot your own horn when being underestimated or overlooked for opportunities. One of my clients recently found that she needed to start systematically reminding the senior leaders in her company of her accomplishments and her career goals because they kept overlooking her when opportunities arose for promotions. She created a two-minute elevator speech about her strengths and accomplishments that she repeated frequently. She got promoted. Tip #3: Cultivate allies and sponsors. Women need both women and men to be their allies and sponsors. Conversations among decision makers about perceptions of our performance often take place in meetings or settings where we are not present. We need to let key people know our career goals and our accomplishments so that they can put in a good word for us when opportunities arise and help us get the benefit of the doubt when people are questioning our performance or when we have been asked to take on a role without proper resources. We can shape the narrative about how we are perceived if we keep key people informed about our talents and successes and if we let them know what support we need. Tip #4:  Be authentic. The pressure is strong to “fit in” to an organization’s leadership mold or to respond to feedback about being too harsh or too nice. The CEOs interviewed for the New York Times article and author Sylvia Ann Hewlett agree that an important part of having leadership presence is being authentic. Being nice, smiling, or leading collaboratively isn’t wrong if you are able to get results. As CEO Jenny Ming explained, you can make a tough decision and “still act on it in a nice way. Why not?”]]>

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