No matter how tenured we are in our career, one thing remains constant – men and women approach career advancement very differently from one another. Making the case for what we want in our career is no different. In the strategy work I do at the organizational and professional level, I see this unconscious bias occur all the time. And it isn’t just external forces behind the bias. Often, we are the culprit of creating our own limitations to advancement.
For many of us women, we were raised to follow the rules, play within the boundaries and if we worked hard and “made it happen” our efforts would be recognized, and we’d be promoted. The reality is this plan isn’t working and we see this reflected in the dismal number of women in the executive pipeline where the biggest gap between men and women occur early on, where women are 21% less likely to be promoted than their male counterparts out of entry-level roles and into management positions (McKinsey and Company 2018 Study).
In the strategy work my firm focuses on, I meet a lot of amazing female leaders who are highly effective in their roles yet not promoting as quickly as their male colleagues. It’s left me wondering why is it that we can make the case in our organizations for a new hire that wasn’t in the budget, investment in a new technology that wasn’t a part of the plan or convince our team to adopt the direction that’s just come down from the top? Yet when it comes to making the case for our own career advancement, we often don’t approach it with the same level of clear intention or confidence as we do the responsibilities of our work. Why is that?
A 2014 HBR article, “Why Women Don’t Apply for Jobs Unless They’re 100% Qualified“, sites a Hewlett Packard report that found the following: Given a posted job description, men applied if they were only 60% qualified, and women applied only if they were 100% qualified. When I first heard that statistic, I was shocked. Stop and think about that for a moment. If a woman believes she needs to be 100% qualified to apply, that means she is opting herself out before she’s even had a conversation with someone to express her interest or explore her skills and fit. It also means by those numbers, men are putting themselves out there more frequently and essentially getting more “at bats” to advance than women. It means they are more prepared for interviews, receive more feedback, and show more interest, more often. And when that perfect job comes along that we are finally ready to apply for, the odds aren’t in our favor.
The reality is being highly educated, smart and competent is only part of the equation. The real difference will be made when we become confident in our abilities and intentional in making the case for what we want in our career. The following three steps are the starting point to make this happen.
- Reflect and Gain Clarity: Take time to reflect and gain clarity on the traits and talents you bring into your role today. Think of the characteristics that define your unique abilities and write them down. Feeling stuck? Ask 9 people you associate with professionally to state three words that describe traits reflective of how they see you excel in your profession today. These may be things like great at problem-solving, excellent communicator, or pressure-tolerant in high-stakes situations. It’s great to have a mix of people that you work with in different capacities for this activity so don’t choose only your close associates for this exercise.
- Assess Your Skills: One of the most impactful ways to see the breadth of your own talent is by making a list of your accomplishments and skills by category.
As a starting point, write down these five categories, then below each write down what you’ve been able to achieve in each: Navigating Complex Situations, Demonstrated Leadership (by influence and action, not necessarily by title), Innovative Problem Solving, Lessons Learned, and Collaborative Projects. Add to these categories specific themes that are relevant for your professional function. This exercise is also great in helping generate real scenarios you can reference during an interview.
- Formulate Your Plan: Once you’ve taken the time to gain clarity and have assessed your skills, it’s time to formulate your plan to make the case for what you want in your career. Include what you want to ask, who you are asking, and why you are making this ask as part of preparing your plan.
Remember, to be successful in making the case, recognize no one will care about the outcome of your career goals more than you. Accept the reality that just because you have the capacity to do more, it doesn’t mean you should, especially if it isn’t aligned to the clarity you’ve gained around your goals. And realize you are more capable and ready then you think. Now it’s time to act.
Want to take this work a step further? Learn more about the strategic work we do with individuals and companies to advance women leaders and prepare them for their next role. Ready to have a conversation? Click here to schedule a complimentary consultative-coaching session.