I’m five years into my post-graduate career, and while I’m sure I have so much more to learn, I’ve encountered so much since beginning my career in the male dominated industry of civil engineering. Reality for what I could expect set in pretty early on. Regardless of what anyone says, or how far we think we’ve come, it’s still quite difficult to be a woman in corporate America. Since graduating, I’ve been on a rewarding journey to find my “fit”. I went from being the overly inspired overachiever, to the under-expecting unimpressed professional, to becoming a manager and needing to lead by example while finding my motivation again. I’ve listened to more podcasts than I can name and have read over a dozen books (Lean In and Dare to Lead are my faves!) to aid me in making myself more of a leader, who leverages where she wants to go and isn’t afraid to find her way there.
On top of all the things that are already against us, it can be confusing to truly understand how to conduct ourselves at work without being “too much” or “too little”. I’ve learned some things in the past few years that have helped me in getting out of my own way when it comes to my career. Most of those things required that I stop doing them.
Out of habit, I’d be so quick to react with “I’m sorry”, even when I had no reason to be. So I stopped it. I’d apologize for being 30 seconds late, for missing their call, for misreading their email, until I noticed that the men I work with never apologized to me for anything. Instead of saying “I’m sorry”, I replaced it with “thank you”. I now say “thank you for pointing that out”, or “thank you for waiting on me”. Because I’m not sorry.
Stop Waiting Until You’re Ready
Women wait until they feel 100% prepared to take on a new role before they even attempt to try it out or believe they can do well in it. Men will accept a job knowing that they’re not fully qualified and wing it, trusting that they’ll eventually be able to get the hang. We need to have that same confidence. We can learn as we go, just like they do!
Stop Using Minimizing Language
Saying things like “I was just wondering”, or “do you have just a minute?”. Using words like that implies that what we have to say isn’t important or worthy. To say you’re feeling “a little bit concerned”, when you’re actually very concerned won’t emphasize the importance of your issue. Say you’re concerned, and not just a little bit.
Stop Moving Your Boundaries
If something in our work place makes us uncomfortable, it needs to be stopped or addressed. Women especially giggle off things that we aren’t OK with, from overly sexual jokes to comments about race or politics. If the amount of money we are being offered during reviews, or the positioning of a company reorganization makes us uncomfortable because it’s less than what we were hoping for, you can speak up. Be clear about what is inappropriate to you. In the work place especially, we should not make ourselves uncomfortable because we want to keep others in their comfort.
Stop Doubting Yourself
We let the idea of what the next of our lives will look like hinder us from going after it. Women are constantly questioning themselves, asking “Will I be a threat to my husband if I surpass his income? Will people think I’m a bad mother because I’m working so hard or running my own business? Will I lose my friends if I upset the balance of power or popularity? Will my male coworkers think I’m an angry black women if I speak up too often in meetings?” The answer is: they might. Who cares? This is your life, not theirs.
Stop Being So Realistic
Men certainly aren’t. Why can’t you be a manager by 25? Why isn’t you becoming a Vice President realistic? Why do big titles seem so unattainable? If that’s the level you aim to achieve, start saying it out loud. We don’t care what the company is used to, or what’s been typical for women in the past. If it’s what you think you want, go for it.
Stop Depending on a Job to Make You Rich
I am so very glad I grasped this early on in my career. After I worked my ass off, with no overtime, all year long, for a 5% increase, I knew then and there I’d have to figure this out. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that some people may pour all they have into a job which in turn makes them very, very wealthy. I don’t know any of those people. Collect what you believe you’re worth in a paycheck and tap into your natural talents and passions to make you money outside of your 9-5. I quit resenting my job and what they were paying me when I realized I could make whatever they’re not paying me, for myself. I recognized at a young age that I needed to make money multiple ways, and use that money to make money that eventually makes itself.
Stop Holding Your Tongue
By encouraging this I don’t mean blurting out the first thing that you’re thinking, every time you have a thought. But I do believe in speaking up when it’s appropriate. And it’s up to you to determine when that time is. So often, we have things to add to the conversation, but hesitate to speak up because we don’t want to come off as overbearing, as a know-it-all, or even as incorrect. We hold back on what we told ourselves we’d say during reviews or negotiations because we don’t want to overstep or we’re simply afraid. We have to STOP holding back. How do you ever expect to get a fraction of what you really want if you don’t push for it in conversation?
Find an Advocate
I can wholeheartedly say that I would not be in the position I’m in had it not been for my manager continually advocating for me and now, I don’t think I’d be able to work in a position where I did not have that kind of support. She made sure I got face time with our CEO and VP’s. She put me in front of clients. She made many things my responsibility early on so that our project managers had to get familiar with working for me. And after 5 years, it has certainly paid off. If you are this lucky, find someone who prioritizes your growth and experience and stay close to them. When it’s time for someone with a valid opinion to speak up, you’ll hope that you’ll have that one person who will fight for what you’re worth and inform others of how hard you’ve been working, even when they don’t see it. This has taught me to do the same for anyone who I may manage in the future. Allow them the opportunity to prove themselves and then tell everyone how well they’ve done it.
I truly believe whether we work for small businesses, huge corporations, or for ourselves at home, careers will always have huge learning curves throughout their lifetime. I know for a fact these 9 things have helped accelerate my growth and give me a little bit of weight around the office, even if only with myself. What are some habits you’ve formed to boss up while at work? Please do share below!