By Dr. Rosina L. Racioppi
Across corporate America, women are missing out on key opportunities. They fail to bring their successes to the attention of people who matter and continually take a back seat to their own accomplishments. As a result, their careers get stalled, often permanently.
Many corporate women harbor the misguided perception that their work will speak for itself, which history shows is unlikely, since women make up 51.5 percent of the workforce, but only 8.1 percent of officers in Fortune 500 companies. Additionally, even if a woman’s work tells a story on its own, it may be the wrong story. It may keep her stuck where she is, rather than propelling her forward.
The same women who shy away from talking about their corporate successes, are often the first to extol the accomplishments of their peers, their colleagues, their children, their spouses, their partners and their staff. There are certainly cultural reasons for women’s reticence to speak up about themselves, often stemming from a deeply-ingrained sense that it is inappropriate to toot one’s own horn. Men do not seem to share that reluctance and as a result, based on a Catalyst study, they are more likely to get paid for “potential”— while women tend to be paid for “performance.”
Breaking the Invisibility Cycle
The sooner women realize there is nothing wrong and everything is right, with making their accomplishments known, the sooner they could begin accelerating their rise to the C-suite.
And, here’s how they can do it:
Whenever they achieve something noteworthy, whether it’s closing an important piece of new business, hitting on a major product breakthrough or receiving a reward from a professional organization, women should get the word out. Instead of feeling they’re bragging, they need to reframe their thinking and realize they are sharing information from which others can learn and benefit.
There are many appropriate ways for communicating accomplishments, especially when women “work” both formal and informal organizational channels. Among them: word of mouth, memos, forwarding a press release, submissions to corporate publications and mentions at departmental and inter-departmental meetings.
Word of the accomplishment should be accompanied by how it benefits the corporation. This approach is vital for two reasons: it helps the woman get past her reticence to publicize (because the accomplishment is no longer just about her) and it positions her as an important part of the corporate team.
Handling Compliments the Right Way
Women further sabotage their visibility by failing to leverage compliments. As a result, they miss out on career-enhancing opportunities for winning allies and forging relationships.
For example, if a vice president congratulates a mid-level woman manager on an outstanding presentation, smiling and saying “thank you” is just the beginning. She should view the compliment as the first step in an on-going conversation and ask what the VP liked best about the presentation and what he or she found most impactful.
It’s a common human trait to want to help. So the manager can bring the VP’s involvement to the next level by inviting comments on how the presentation might be changed or improved. By seeking out constructive feedback, the manager is strengthening the relationship with the VP and leaving the door open to future advice from a person with both real and perceived power in the organization.
Making Visibility a Priority
In order for women to reach the highest levels of their organizations, they must rely more heavily on themselves for their visibility; they must create their own brand and do their own marketing of that brand.
Three key strategies have proven especially valuable to women as they strive to increase their corporate visibility:
Have a network—people inside and outside the corporation, men and women, who can be trusted to be both truthful and supportive.
Have a mentor — quality is more important than quantity. A mentor is someone who has the insight, the knowledge and the compassion to be trusted with professional questions and concerns; and whose different perspective and experience provides needed insight for career advancement.
Be intentional — it is vital that women have a game plan for increasing visibility (for building networks, for managing mentor relationships) that is in-keeping with their goals. By knowing the “whys” and “wherefores” of their actions, women are more likely to achieve advancement faster and with less difficulty.
The responsibility for increasing their visibility does not lie solely with women themselves. Corporations must create an environment where women feel comfortable to become more visible and where they believe their increased visibility will be rewarded. In light of burgeoning evidence that corporations with diverse top teams enjoy greater profitability, it’s more than corporate good citizenship to support talented women. It’s good business.
Rosina L. Racioppi, Ed.D. is President & CEO of WOMEN Unlimited, Inc. an organization working with leading global corporations to develop their high-potential women.