What Women Leaders Need to Know to Advance their Careers

The world of business is changing rapidly, and according to Ellevest cofounder Sallie Krawcheck, “It’s changing in ways that make us women more valuable assets to our companies. Women do bring different strengths … that are good for business.”

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Those strengths are, in fact, leading to greater innovation and more profitable results. Studies have shown that when more than three women are on a board of directors, stronger-than-average results follow, including higher return on equity and higher return on sales.

As women leaders, we are more empathetic, risk aware, and conceptual thinkers who put emphasis on relationships and people. These attributes are positives! In other words, women in leadership positions make companies better places to work.

So, as a woman leader, how do YOU position yourself for success … while still playing to your strengths? Here are three important components of fulfilling your leadership potential:

  1. Build your Organizational Savvy by Speaking your Truth

Start by stepping out of your comfort zone and taking advantage of opportunities to share your thoughts and opinions, even if they are different from the majority opinion. Understand the defined processes for making decisions and getting things done in your organization, but also seek awareness of the informal, unwritten factors that come into play. Oftentimes, the “old boy’s network” can be as powerful an influence on an organizational culture and decisions as stated policies and procedures.

Learn to navigate through the politics by speaking your truth and by challenging the status quo with questions like, “How can we look at this business challenge another way?” Trust your gut instinct, and be willing to embrace discomfort and failure.

  1. Believe in Yourself (Sorry, Not Sorry)

Many women have felt the effects of gender inequality in their careers, whether it was a lost promotion, pay discrepancy, or a dismissive comment by a co-worker or boss. Even if your current environment champions equality, you might find yourself behaving in certain ways because you believe that women are expected to display such behaviors. I’ve coached many women leaders who found themselves purposely not speaking up during meetings so that they aren’t perceived as too bossy or overly emotional, or they end up in the role of note-taker during executive meetings. Be willing to break out of those stereotypes and model strong leadership, even when doing so goes against stereotypes.

Sometimes fear gets in our way and becomes our biggest challenge to overcome. Our fears— whether about being taken seriously, being right, or balancing work and family—can hurt our self-confidence. Many women compensate by apologizing, which only serves to let the other party off the hook.

Begin by believing in yourself. You must define what success looks like for you and then work toward becoming the leader you want to be. Create and live that vision one conversation at a time, and “fake it until you make it” if you have to. Embracing that confidence will help women advance their careers and climb the corporate ladder. Sorry, not sorry.

  1. Grow your Network and Promote Yourself

As women leaders, we have to inform and support each other as we navigate our careers. Ask someone you respect and admire if she would be willing to serve as your mentor. You can use that time to engage in open discussion to learn from each other, share ideas on how to overcome workplace challenges, and ask for support from the organization.

Continue to find opportunities to talk about actions leaders can take individually and as a group so that they can leverage their differences to strengthen the organization. Collaborate with others to build formal and informal networks. Ultimately, you should be creating your own brand and looking for opportunities to promote yourself. Grab the spotlight!

Karen Triola is an Organizational Development Consultant with Caliper—an employee-assessment and talent-development firm—and has well developed expertise as a platform trainer and learning and development manager. Karen honed her skills in over 10 years of experience with leading organizations in the insurance and entertainment industries. She brings an in-depth understanding of HR topics, instructional design, and excellent presentation skills to her partnerships with Caliper clients.