After ten years of coaching thousands of women either in or aspiring to executive and management positions, I believe I am qualified to hold a couple strong opinions.
Firstly, that women make great leaders. There have been numerous studies in the past decade that discovered something that many of us have long suspected -- that women either equal or out-rank male counterparts in their competence at most leadership skills.
Secondly, that women don’t consistently do enough to clearly demonstrate our value as leaders.
Here’s an example you may relate to. I was speaking with a woman recently who said “I feel like I am the best-kept secret in my company”. She is highly competent in her technical skills, producing a high quality work product and adding value to her company every day, but her leadership potential is going unrecognized.
I call this the Perception Gap. You may have superior skills, experience, and work product, and yet the decision-makers in your company perceive you as being at a lower level than you in fact are. You’re a not on their radar. You’ve fallen into the Perception Gap.
As a result, your leaders don’t think of you when it they have a leadership opportunity or a high-profile projects, or promotions, and you get passed over.
One of the top mistakes women make while trying to advance their careers is working when they should be schmoozing!
When in school or in college, working hard and getting good grades is a direct route to achieving reward and recognition, but a few years after you enter the corporate workforce, this equation breaks down. Having a reputation as a hard worker no longer guarantees you will attract recognition! But I see many women who stick to the old outdated mode of seeking recognition, thinking “if I just work harder I’ll get noticed”.
The nature of the corporate workforce is that if all you do is put your nose to the grindstone and work hard, you’ll develop a reputation as a hard worker, and all you will attract is more hard work -- the thankless busy work that never allows you the opportunity to showcase your true leadership capabilities.
One of the easiest, and most effective ways to become more visible is to expand your network, so that key managers, leaders and stakeholders are aware of you, and what you do.
So today, don’t eat lunch at your desk. Go to the cafeteria and find someone there to talk to. Ask what they have been working on, then tell them what you have been working on. When you’re done, don’t just return to your desk. Walk the long way around the campus and see who you meet.
That’s networking: the number one way to recession-proof your career.
Jo Miller is CEO of Women’s Leadership Coaching Inc. which offers women’s leadership seminars and coaching programs. To learn more ways of recession-proofing your career, join Jo for a special session at the Grace Hopper Celebration in Keystone, CO on October 1, 2008.
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