Co-authored by Beverly Wallace, the vice president of executive development, talent and capability at Prudential.
The advancement of female talent is a multi-faceted, many-phased journey. While much attention is rightfully placed on changing corporate culture, attacking unconscious bias and moving away from the “old boy network” paradigm, there’s comparatively little focus on the needed shifts in attitudes and behavior by women themselves.
In our decades of working with major corporations in developing their female talent, we have pinpointed five career-thwarting behaviors women need to jettison. While women themselves must choose to shed these behaviors, success depends on the help and support of their managers, mentors and organizational leaders. Women have to do it themselves, but they can’t do it alone.
Perfectionism is a career derailer that starts early and stays late, especially for achievement-oriented women. It sabotages success by keeping women turned inward, rather than expanding their horizons to focus on customer and organizational needs. Perfectionism also stops women from seeking roles and assignments for which they have many, but not all, qualifications. Here are some ways women can turn away from perfectionism.
- Leverage your networks to better understand customer and organizational needs. Then meet those needs with excellence.
- Reach out to key leaders and decision makers to increase your understanding of business objectives and prioritize accordingly.
- Broaden your perspectives by asking for advice from peers and superiors.
- When reviewing new opportunities, consider how to create impact, rather than focusing on having all the requirements.
In general, women have different organizational expectations than men. They tend to be the nurturers and the peacemakers. As a result, they can be reticent to “tell it like it is” for fear of not being liked or being viewed as too hard-nosed. There is certainly a need for women’s culturally-supported behaviors in the workplace, but not always. Just like their male colleagues, women leaders must motivate their team to achieve goals and objectives, and that calls for a variety of techniques and strategies. The following approaches have proven effective in helping women balance being liked with being effective.
- Give honest feedback to both men and women team members.
- Handle negatives in a sensitive and straightforward manner.
- Be ready to make tough decisions about hiring and firing.
- Develop a communication style that is strong and effective, and find ways to be heard that are impactful and memorable.
3. Trying to do it all
As we work with talented women, we see the toll that trying to do everything takes, especially for mid-career women. This failure to set boundaries is the main cause of women abandoning their organizations at this career stage. As a result, the diverse talent pool that corporations desperately need is being drained and women are missing out on advancement opportunities. It’s never easy. However, these strategies have an excellent track record of easing the burden and the stress.
- Set boundaries. Saying “no” is an important antidote to stress and burnout. Sometimes going on that business trip is the wrong thing to do. Sometimes putting in a 60-hour week is contraindicated. Putting themselves first is something women need to get better at, for their well-being and the well-being of those around them.
- Learn to prioritize. Focus primarily on activities that help advance corporate objectives. Gain a better understanding of what really needs to be worked on and when.
- Delegate. Delegation is a time management tool, a team-building tool and a way to be strategic about developing individuals’ skills and talents. In acknowledging they don’t have to do all the heavy lifting themselves, women will become more effective, more productive and less burned out.
4. Failing to connect with mentors
Numerous studies have shown that women are not as adept as their male counterparts at forging relationships with mentors. Mentors are coaches and sounding boards, providing women with vital insights into aligning their career advancement with corporate goals. Both women and their organizations need to take steps to improve the mentoring experience.
- Organizations need to provide formal and informal opportunities for women to find and nurture mentoring relationships, from early career through senior management.
- Women need to seek out mentors, understanding it is not a numbers game, but a quality game.
- From the start, women must steer the relationship with their mentors, actively looking for advice and honestly assessing suggested changes in behavior and attitudes.
5. Not helping other women get a seat at the table
The failure to shed the other four behaviors is largely the cause for this one. When women are focused on being perfect, making sure they are liked, doing it all and doing it without a corporate-aligned perspective, there is little time or energy to help other women achieve success. Additionally, by clinging to these career-stymying behaviors, women are less likely to reach the leadership levels where they can be most effective in advancing female colleagues.
Achieving sustainable diversity is an “all in” game. Until women at every level broaden their focus to include other talented women and understand the wider corporate landscape, the number of women in leadership roles will continue to disappoint.