This weekend, I was honored to be part of the 2nd annual Harvard University Young Women in Business Leadership Conference (HYWBLC). The conference is designed to help young women – high school girls to be exact – learn more about career paths as they think about college and their futures. I am thrilled that programming like this exists for young girls as when I was in high school, it was just a lot of winging it and hoping you make a good decision. And, I got to bring my daughter along with me. She’s a Sophomore at Boston Latin School and starting to look ahead to what college might look like for her.
I had the opportunity to participate in a panel, along with several other successful women who have created career paths in Marketing, PR and Advertising. As we answered questions from the audience, I couldn’t help but reflect on where I started and what I learned along the way. I wanted to share what we discussed, as so many women can benefit from the learnings. I always love a good top 10 list. What else would you add?
The Top 10 Ways for Women to Grow Their Careers:
- Stop the self-doubt: Women spend a lot of time doubting themselves and wondering if they can do it, or if someone can do it better or agonizing over the details. It’s a giant waste of mental energy. Let it go and let the confidence flow.
- Take a risk: Sometimes you need to trust your gut and take a risk. It might not be your forever job or the best decision on the planet, but action always trumps indecision. Take the risk – it’s part of the journey.
- Be confident, not arrogant: We talked a lot about the fine line between being confident and being arrogant. Many women confuse this, as it often feels important to come across with strong ideas and opinions. I have worked with and for both men and women who are arrogant. They want to have all the power, have all the answers and are terrible team players. I have learned what not to do from these people. Check your confidence and play nice.
- See the journey for what it is: I remember thinking when I started my career that being an admin was a horrible way to start. I felt like I should have a bigger job and didn’t want to start at the bottom. In hindsight, it was the best thing that ever happened to me and my career. I learned indelible skills that make me who I am today.
- Be yourself: I spent time early in my career thinking I needed to “act like a guy” or be one of those women who is a total bitch to get ahead. As I gained confidence in myself, I learned to just be ME. I was so worried about being a woman and thinking that would hold me back, that I let it get in my head and mess with my mojo. Once I just embraced who I am, my confidence came with it, along with even bigger success in my career.
- Find your voice: A woman + marketing was a bit of the kiss of death. I worked with predominately all-males and this combo resulted in my voice often not being heard, which made me sometimes not want to speak up. For me, finding my voice was about knowing my stuff. I always came prepared to meetings with current data, info and updates and was always ready to answer questions and provide insights to drive decisions. Find your voice and speak up.
- Build your network: I can’t tell you how important this is for your career. I was talking to someone about how exhausting it can be – truth? Yes. It requires going out of your comfort zone. Reaching out and meeting people you don’t know and starting conversations is not easy, but it is imperative to grow your career. I lean on my network every day and I make it a point to have coffee lunch or dinner with at least 3 new people a week.
- Find a mentor (or two or three): In just about every position I had in the first 10-15 years of my career, I had a mentor. Sometimes they developed naturally through relationships with my manager or another person in the department. Other times, I asked someone for help. A mentor is someone you can lean on and who can help shape your direction. I love my role as a mentor and helping women grow.
- Own it: At the Harvard event, someone asked what one piece of advice I would have given my younger self and I said: “Own it.” I spent a lot of time early in my career worrying about doing a good job, doubting myself, over-thinking situations and blah blah blah. Instead, I should have just OWNED IT. I was damn good at every job I ever had and spent too much time second-guessing myself. Just be the ball.
- Be nice: One of my fellow panelists shared her advice around “being nice.” While this sounds kind of fluffy and hippy-dippy in some ways, I could not agree with her more. There are so many people you will encounter along the way in your career who are threatened, jealous or just want to get ahead. They will make your life miserable and you have a choice – join them or just be nice and move on. I’m not saying be a push over. I’m saying, pay attention to #3 above and don’t confuse confidence for arrogance. We need more confident, collaborative, open, positive and encouraging women in the workplace. Be nice and it always comes back in spades.