Glass Hammer – January 2012

The New “Getting Ahead”: What It Takes to Succeed in 2012

By Robin Madell (San Francisco)

The news is getting old, and so is the standard advice. We’ve heard many times, and seen through repeated research, that many women are still not being given the development opportunities they need to rise up the corporate hierarchy. Yet solutions that move beyond the tried and the trite are hard to find.

To get the New Year started right, The Glass Hammer spoke with a diverse group of women in leadership positions in law, technology, and finance—as well as workplace experts in other industries—for practical strategies that you can really use. We asked our participants to address truly progressive solutions to help women put their own “glass hammers” to better use against that stubborn ceiling. Here’s some advice you can really use this year.

Manage Your Career, Not Just Your Job
Being great at your job will get you ahead at work—right? Not necessarily. Some of our panelists say that successful career advancement requires career management, not just job management. In fact, strategic career management needs to be considered part of your job.

“Often, women believe the work will speak for itself; that good work will keep you hired and great work will get you promoted,” says Katie Donovan, teacher and speaker on equal pay and women’s salary negotiations. “When you have this mindset, attention becomes laser-focused on the work itself, and the management of your career gets lost.” Donovan says that men tend to have a better understanding that the work itself is only part of the equation for a strong career.

A 2011 study by Catalyst called The Myth of the Ideal Worker shows that women made the best strides forward when they made their accomplishments known, and that men advanced more by using proactive strategies. Donovan thus recommends that the first step in career management should be to self promote—but in ways that management cares about.

One common error in self-promotion by women is a focus on effort rather than results. Donovan explains this crucial distinction: “You may say to your boss, ‘I worked two weekends this month.’ This statement gets no attention from management. However, if you add a result to the statement, ‘I worked two weekends this month to streamline our XYZ process. And, based on my
 projections we should save $ABC,’ you will get the attention of management.”

One step beyond that would be to add a result that specifically ties to your manager’s objectives. For example, says Donavan, if your manager needs to cut costs this quarter, base your projections on cost savings. If your manager’s priority is to shorten product time to market, then state, “I streamlined XYZ process, and based on my projections, the company will save ABC time in manufacturing.”

Donovan also emphasizes the importance of both internal and external networking for successful career management. But she emphasizes that networking no longer needs to mean endless conferences and nights out at seminars. Instead, she suggests that much can now be accomplished online through LinkedIn and Facebook. “It’s empowering to understand how your company fits into the industry, how your skills are in demand, and who you can contact when you are ready or if you are forced to change employers,” says Donovan. “Most of this can be found by engaging online regularly and in person periodically.”

Senior accountant Jaime Campbell agrees that the main challenge to advancement is believing that it comes from working hard and expertise rather than from networking and having an influential advocate in the organization. She believes a related challenge is assuming that we will be recognized for our work without having to ask for—or to create a space for—that recognition to occur. And she has found ways around these challenges in her own career by being open and proactive with her employer.

CPA Campbell took it upon herself to create new opportunities to gain visibility for her employer, launching the firm into the world of social media with the goal of creating an online community for the firm’s clients, potential clients, and professional colleagues. She also created opportunities to be quoted in the media, and expanded her educational seminars to be collaborative and revenue-generating. Meanwhile, she kept the firm’s strategic marketing consultant, as well as the partners, informed about the expanded visibility, working toward producing results from it.

“We discussed specifics about what it will take to advance, and I shared what I am committed to,” says Campbell. “The partners in my firm offered me resources to achieve these goals. Because of this conversation and other actions, they now see me as a potential partner instead of just a number-cruncher.”

Climb the Lattice…Sideways
Over is the new up, says Joanne Cleaver, author of The Career Lattice: How Lateral Move Strategies Can Grow Careers and Companies, to be published in April 2012 by McGraw Professional. The way that careers need to be constructed in the 21st century is not by going up the ladder in the traditional sense, but by stretching the ladder sideways and making lateral moves, learning new skills, and broadening contacts.

Cleaver says that while the idea of career reinvention sounds great, it’s a reaction, not a plan. What is a plan, she says, is the model of the career lattice, which she describes as continual, incremental change. “Latticing is always adding skills that complement those you already use every day; cycling into assignments that give you new experiences related to those you already handle every day; finding new uses for skills you’ve mastered,” says Cleaver. “Latticing positions you to prepare today for careers of tomorrow that aren’t quite invented yet. But through latticing, you can move into those careers as soon as they emerge.”

But how do you create your own lattice work? Cleaver admits that it’s not always clear. “Career pathing has become opaque, with layoffs, reorganizations, and flattened environments. Even experienced employees are not sure what exact skills and experiences they should pursue to land their next promotion. And most organizations don’t provide much guidance.”

Cleaver’s research has shown that ongoing coaching and career advising is an emerging best practice. Organizations committed to retaining women for the long haul, and at top levels, are putting in place coaching and career-pathing programs. 
“Coaching is especially important for midcareer women, who often ‘self-deselect’ when they observe primarily men at the C-level in their organizations,” says Cleaver. “You can’t be what you can’t see, so many women quietly leave, many to start their own firms.”

Push for an Institutional Approach
There’s only so much that women can do to try to catapult their careers. Another finding of Catalyst’s Myth of the Ideal Worker report is that even when women tried all the strategies they had been told will help them get ahead—using the same tactics as men—they still advanced less than their male counterparts and had slower pay growth. Therefore, as with latticing, it’s up to the companies themselves to meet women halfway.

DDI’s Global Leadership Forecast 2011 found that some organizations are doing a better job than others of getting women into leadership positions—and those organizations have more formal processes in place for talent management.

Jazmine Boatman, PhD, manager of DDI’s Center for Applied Behavioral Research and an author of the study, says the more objective the process is, the more likely women are to succeed on this level playing field. “The fact is, organizations that have formal processes for selection, development, and succession tend to have more women in leadership positions. Coincidence? Probably not,” says Boatman.

There are many institutional problems that prevent women from advancing in the workplace, such as company culture, pay inequities, lack of career customization, and gender stereotyping. The first and most important step is for organizations and institutions to recognize that these problems exist and that they can be solved—but only with the buy-in of the board and administration, says Dr. Linda Brodsky, founder and president of Expediting the Inevitable, an organization that works with women physicians and healthcare organizations to create a more flexible workplace. “The structure of the workplace needs to be overhauled thoughtfully and methodically,” says Brodsky. “It is a top down/bottom up effort. They need to recognize that this situation hits their bottom line.”

Lawyer, consultant, and researcher Cynthia Calvert says that firms don’t intend to make it difficult for women lawyers and most don’t believe that they do, which makes it difficult to implement solutions that will create real change. To crack through the ceiling, she recommends the following:

  • Gather objective data that demonstrate the effects of the unexamined gender bias, such as the number of women lawyers on the firm’s largest and most important cases, the average tenure of men and women at the firm, and the number of women on the firm’s executive committee.
  • Have a briefing on a management-related topic, such as conducting more effective evaluations, and educate about the effects of unexamined biases.
  • Give partners a list of simple, concrete actions they can take to advance women lawyers at the firm, and then hold them accountable in their evaluations or compensation for completing a set number of them. Examples of such actions include taking a woman lawyer to lunch or a bar association event, co-authoring an article with a woman lawyer or helping her get a speaking engagement, introducing a woman lawyer to a potential client or referral source, and attending a CLE seminar about gender bias.
  • Regardless of industry, Brodsky recommends a quantitative approach, using outcome measures that include economic, satisfaction, and other measures of productivity based on the particular industry. “The barrier to this institutional evaluation is mainly the concern about the risk of litigation or ‘bad press,’” says Brodsky. “However, places like MIT have ‘fixed’ their problem by taking such an institutional approach. So has Deloitte. It can be done.”