We may be living in the 21st century but not all companies are created equal when it comes to women. Over the past three decades I’ve held increasingly responsible positions in small and large companies. During that time I had the opportunity to work with many women and observe the good, the bad and the ugly of what each of you face in your quest for success. Let me share just a few observations that may be of help to you and your career.
We’ll first take a look at the different dimensions of the workplace and how that may or may not impact you as a woman. Then we’ll take a look at you, a woman, and what you should know and do to make the most of every opportunity.
Below I’ve outlined a few workplace dimensions:
Size of the Business
In my career I worked with small ($50,000 a year) businesses to large ($50 billion) businesses. My observation is that in today’s world women have more opportunity in larger organizations than smaller. Larger organizations tend to get on board quicker than smaller ones. Many times not for the right reasons, but there is opportunity for women. Smaller organizations, such as startups, generally welcome winners regardless of race or gender, they just want results. You must be careful in stable small organizations because you are at the whim of the owner or manager.
Type of Business
What I found in my last 10 years consulting is that different industries are further along than others. Retail, for example, is very open to women. Many health organizations, too. Tech companies seem to be further along than others. On the other hand, oil companies, oil field services, heavy industries and trucking are not so far along the path.
Location of the Business
Location may seem an odd choice today, but trust me, it’s not. We have different cultures in this country, and they are somewhat by city and region. These are not right or wrong; they just are. You must be aware of the differences, or you can get yourself into a position where you cannot succeed.
Culture of the Business
It is difficult to know when interviewing exactly what the culture is in a particular business. Yet, it’s imperative you find out as much as you can. You now have the Internet, which can be quite helpful. What you are looking for is the difference between what the interviewers are telling you and the observations of people on the ground in the company. It may sound good, that is HR’s responsibility, but how does it all play out in real life?
Now that we’ve considered the dimensions of the business, let’s take a look at you and what you need to bring to the job. I’ve listed these below in the priority of their importance as I’ve observed over the years.
You may think this goes without saying, but it does not for a woman. You need to be every bit as good as anyone in your profession, or being a woman you’ll quickly see the double standard in many companies. Commit to do better than ever. You still have a weight around your neck. Overcome it with your skill.
So that there can be no questions, ensure you understand exactly what is expected of you and define what success will look like for the job. Be stubborn — but respectful — about this one. If you do not know what success to your boss is, you will not succeed. Once you know, deliver results. I’ve seen so many bright people who got lost in the game because they did not understand it’s all about results. That is what gets you promoted and sets you apart.
We mentioned this one earlier, but this time the point is to make sure you fit the culture. The company culture is how work gets done and how people relate to one another. Again, it is not about right or wrong — it is what it is. You must fit in. If there is a value mismatch then you’re in the wrong place.
The games people play at work are politics. Make sure you are aware of the role it plays in your organization. But, don’t play politics. You can overcome anything with strong performance. Stay true to your values. Be aware of the political players. Learn to work with them, but do not play the game.
Whether you like it or not, today you live in a world of ‘free agents’ and you’re one of them. While you may like to stay at your current company forever, odds are you will not. While there, work as if you’ll be there forever, but gain experience and skills like you’ll be leaving soon. Build a portfolio of skills that will serve you in the future. You live in a working world of constant change. The more skills you have over a broad range will make you more valuable in the workplace.
As we approach the second decade of the 21st century, the possibilities for women are certainly much better than years ago. But there are certainly challenges to be overcome. You must be yourself, stay away from the ‘good ole’ boy’ clicks and companies, and deliver results. You will succeed by paying attention to what we discussed above, and each month I will be back to take an in-depth look at each section we briefly discussed above.