3 Ways To Jump Start Your Career And Avoid Mistakes Women Often Make

3 Ways To Jump Start Your Career And Avoid Mistakes Women Often Make

There’s no question a gender gap in corporate America still exists.  The reasons why women haven’t reached parity with men are more dubious.  Since women are still running to catch up to men in terms of pay and opportunity, one thing is for sure – shooting yourself in the foot along the way certainly won’t help you win the race.

We often limit, even sabotage, ourselves at work without even knowing it. Here are three ways to jump start your career, and at the same time, avoid some common mistakes women often make.

Ask For What You Want

Statistically, men initiate negotiations and ask for what they want three- to four times more often than women.  Women are more likely to simply hope to get what they want.  When women do ask, instead of asking directly, we tend to use much-less effective tactics: we hint at what we want assuming others can actually read our minds; we ask for less because we don’t want to seem greedy or pushy; we work harder to “prove” ourselves, thinking someone will notice.  In short, we take a “good girl” approach…careful not to ruffle any feathers…and in so doing, we often end up with less.

According to Dr. Lois Frankel, author of the best-seller, Nice Girls Don’t Get The Corner Office, these and other girlish behaviors will quickly stunt your career growth.  Stop hinting and hoping, and go ask for what you want.  You may hear “no” a few times, but I think you’ll be surprised at how many times you hear “yes” and get what you ask for.

Focus On, And Talk About, Results

Are you producing results that make a quantifiable difference to your organization, or are you just doing a lot of work?  In today’s world, companies and bosses want results that make money, save money, or produce a better customer experience.  In fact, they want all three, and more!

Evaluate your work in terms of these three “buckets.”  If most of your time is spent on things you can’t directly align to some quantifiable outcome, you’re probably expending a lot of energy for little reward. If you can’t see and articulate the result of your efforts, neither can your boss.

It’s not enough to be able to produce great results, but you also have to be able to speak effectively about your results.  Talking in terms of results is easy for most men, but not always for women. Men are more direct, they state the bottom line first, and only fill in details if needed or asked.  They connect the “stats” to outcomes and reinforce “winning” in the way they speak.   Meanwhile, women generally give the details and facts before getting to the bottom line and we use a lot of words in the process.  So much so, a woman’s accomplishment or result often gets lost.  Dr. Patricia Heim attributes this difference to men being goal oriented and women process oriented.   (Catch a snip-it of Dr. Heim and her colleague discussing goal versus process at http://vimeo.com/52193008.)

Up The Ante – Set More Aggressive Goals

Women are great at multi-tasking and getting lots of things done, but we’re less likely to go for the BHAG’s – big, hairy audacious goals – than men.  Is it that women have a greater fear of failure, a sense of unworthiness or simply that many women are afraid they won’t live up to expectations?  No matter the reason, the fact is that aggressive goal-setting is more common for men.

A study of 200 Ivy League MBA graduates cited by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever in their groundbreaking book, Women Don’t Ask, found that the women who negotiated their starting salary received an average of 2.7% higher than the initial offer.  (Only 7% of the women actually negotiated their starting salary, the other 93% simply accepted the salary offered.) The men who negotiated received an average of 4.3% higher than the initial offer. (57% of the men negotiated for more.)  While 2.7% versus 4.3% doesn’t sound like much, it’s a difference of 59%.  If you compound that difference over a career and assume the men continue to negotiate for subsequent salary increases, it becomes an astronomical difference.  In their book, Babcock and Laschever point to one primary reason why women generally receive less than men in negotiations – women set lower targets.

Even when a woman has a specific target or goal, she is more likely than her male counterpart to accept less.  As women, we concede more rapidly and oftentimes feel unsure about what we actually deserve. Instead of accepting less, raise your expectations.

If your career is stalled or you’re not happy with your current job, I encourage you to figure out what it is you really want, then set a BHAG, focus on results and ask for what you want (and need) along the way.  You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain!

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Passionate advocate for the advancement and empowerment of women. Prior HR exec and co-founder of Ask Ajna - helping women find their voice in the workplace.

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