Advancing Your Career As A Professional Woman

Career Woman

If you’re reading this blog post, then you are a professional woman, one of the hundreds out there, committed to advancing your career. I’m sure, however, that you have a variety of motivations for doing that. I asked two groups of women who did a workshop with me on “Advancing Your Career”, why they wanted to advance their careers. Here are some of their responses:

“I know I have talent, expertise and potential and I want to develop it and use it.”
“I’m ambitious, and I have a vision for my life and goals I want to fulfil.”
“I’m a bit of a trail blazer. The idea of breaking through barriers, for example, the famous glass ceiling, is a challenge that I find exciting!”
“I love the buzz of pushing the boundaries and discovering new challenges.”
“I want to prove to all the men in my family, who I don’t think really believe in my capabilities, that I have as much ability as they do.”
“I want to make a difference in my organisation. I believe I have a vision for it and the expertise to implement that vision and I want the chance to do it.”
“I want financial freedom to live the life I desire and that can only come with advancing my career and the income that goes with that.”
“I want the meaning, purpose and fulfilment that comes with living and working at my full potential.”
“My mother has been an inspiration to me in having a career many of her vintage never had. She was a real role model for me and I want to honour that.”
“I want the status that acknowledges my competence and the power that comes with it to bring about changes that I believe are important.”
“I want to open doors for other women.”

Advancing Your Career As A Professional Woman – What Motivates You?

Ask yourself that question – what motivates you? I found myself taking on board all of those motivations, except the one about “my mother”. My mother was a very intelligent woman, but she was also the eldest girl in a family of ten. She had to leave school at the age of thirteen to look after her brothers and sisters. I realised, after a surprisingly angry outburst at the age of 79, that she felt very deeply the loss of the opportunity for an education (and maybe a career). I suspect that it may have only been in her later years when she saw her two daughters advancing their careers that she allowed her real feelings to surface.

We know from the poor statistics on women’s involvement on boards and the number who have achieved CEO status in their organisations, to mention just two indicators, that it is often quite a challenge for women to grow and advance their careers as they would like.

What Are The Barriers To Advancing Your Career As A Professional Woman?

They are many and more often than not there are a combination of factors. If you can gain some clarity about what those barriers are, then you can sort through which are obstacles for you personally. There are always ways through, over and under those barriers, but everything comes at a price. Once you understand what’s involved, you can then decide whether you want to pay the price. You can also be inspired by those women who have found creative ways to be who they want to be and achieve what they want to achieve.

Let’s look at these barriers. I’m not going to examine them in depth here. That’s for another time.

Women Having Children and Caring For Them.

Certainly having children and caring for them is a significant issue for us as women. It does interrupt our careers and poses many challenges regarding work/family balance, especially if we don’t have a supportive partner, or an employer who offers us flexibility in balancing our work and our family.

Women Not Realising, When Seeking Employment, The Impact The Culture Of The Organisation Can Have On Their Career Advancement.

Culture is that intangible reality that shapes organisations. It creates the ethos, tone, spirit, energy, vibes and motivation that drives the organisation. It determines how things are done and achieved there. It is a powerful (yet invisible) force and personal success and fulfilment depends on whether we fit our organisation’s culture. If we do, then the organisation offers much potential for career advancement. The opposite is also true and one of the challenges we then face is having the courage to leave and find an organisation that values what we value.

Women Not Getting Themselves in The Pipeline.

Knowing what the progression is in our organisation or industry and getting in line, in the pipeline, is something to which many of us don’t pay sufficient attention. What has to be done to advance our careers is something men make a priority of knowing, often from the moment they join a company. They then commit considerable energy and time to making it happen. We, as women, often look on with either amusement or derision at how blatantly they do it, yet they get the promotions and we don’t! Women who are in the pipeline can sometimes lose their position because of their family commitments. Even three months maternity leave may see us miss a promotion because we weren’t there when it came up.

Women Not Knowing The “Rules of The Game”.

Growing and advancing a career is not always a clear and transparent process. It is a “game” and there are “rules”. If we do not know the “rules” and many of us don’t, or if we do know them but don’t like the compromise involved in playing by the “rules”, we’ll have trouble winning the game – and advancing our career.

Women’s Own Attitudes and Socialisation.

There are still ingrained attitudes out there about the way women should be and act. We need to be “feminine”, “nice” and “good”. Dr. Lois Frankel has talked much about this in her book “Nice Girls Don’t Get The Corner Office”. She says that as grown, educated professional women we can tend to act like little girls. We try to keep the peace; we don’t rock the boat; we want to keep everyone happy; we take on the caring and nurturing role; we try to please everyone; we try to fit in. This might make everyone like us, but it won’t advance our careers. As women we act like that because we don’t like the way many men promote themselves. As Lois Frankel says, however: “Success comes not from acting more like a man, as some might lead you to believe, but by acting more like a woman instead of like a girl…..All it takes,” she says, ” is acting like the woman you are capable of becoming than the girl you were taught to be.”

Women’s Styles of Communication.

Aligned with our attitudes and socialisation are some styles of communication that we favour as women that also don’t help us advance our careers. We tend to favour consensus in decision-making but often over-consult and are then seen to be indecisive and unable to make the hard calls. We favour team work and attribute the success to the team, making our leadership of the team invisible to those who make the decisions about advancement. We tend to be unassertive (confusing it with aggression) and ask permission and apologise often instead of assertively expressing our ideas and intentions. We express ideas as questions, rather than be seen to be putting ourselves forward. There are styles of communication that are highly valued in leadership and management today that women are very good at. We need to fine tune those styles and divest ourselves of those that are part of a past that is no longer relevant to the world in which we are professionally working.

Women’s Difficulty with Self-Promotion.

Many of us find it difficult to promote ourselves, our talents and our potential. Even highly successful women, when asked what challenges them most, have acknowledged that they find self-promotion difficult and are beset with imposter syndrome. We need to take much more seriously the importance of consciously building a platform, profile and reputation for ourselves. This is our personal brand.

Women Not Utilising Networking Both Within and Without The Organisation.

In my work with women over many years I have found that many women tend to believe that you advance your career and attain leadership positions by working hard, making a 150% commitment to your organisation, gaining qualifications, getting coaching behind the scenes to improve performance and giving loyalty.
Men, on the other hand, believe that your career is advanced by who you are close to, by knowing the right people. They devote significant amounts of time to developing these relationships through networking. They meet the “right” people, get the “right” introductions and belong to the “right” organisations. They take leadership positions on the “right” committees and build their reputation and profile in their industry or professional sector. Women don’t generally value the importance of networking to their career advancement and therefore do not utilise it well.

I don’t necessarily agree with all of these realities and I have great respect for the women who challenge them wanting to make a difference. There are significant structural and cultural issues in society that are often all but impossible for professional women to surmount. But things are begining to change. 2021 and 2022 here in Australia have seen women challenging the system and the way they are treated in the workplace, its gendered nature especially, and demanding change. As women we owe a great debt of gratitude to young women especially, women like Grace Tame and Brittany Higgins and I applaud their courage. I am inspired by professional women of all ages who are wanting to make a difference. I am privileged to support them in mentoring.

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  1. john furphy on August 2, 2022 at 4:56 pm

    great article

    • Maree Harris, Ph.D. on August 22, 2022 at 9:27 am

      Thanks John for joining the conversation. Great to see a man engaging on issues that affect so many of us women.

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