In my work as a leadership and career coach, I hear the struggles of many women who feel they are ready for their next career move yet do not feel confident asking for what they want. Sometimes they are immersed in organizational cultures that don’t make it easy for them to assert themselves. Many companies’ cultures penalize women from assertively pursuing their ambitions. Stereotypes also play a relevant role. Helgesen, in her book How Women Rise, points out that biases against women increase in the presence of ethnicity. African Americans could be perceived as having an attitude problem; Latin women could be considered over-emotional, and Asian women are sometimes portrayed as too shy. I recall a case of an African American colleague who was more than ready for her promotion. When she started presented her case, she found great resistance. She felt as she has to fight a battle for her promotion and work harder to prove that she was ready.
Women also struggle when their own beliefs and assumptions keep them from rising in the workplace. Many studies had revealed that women are less inclined to negotiate for themselves. Women tend to assume they will be rewarded and recognized for working hard and do a good job. They end filling disenchanted when they notice men are being promoted or given raises. These beliefs shape resistance to advancement that keep women stuck, such as Ambition is a bad thing, not disappointing others, and the expectation that women should always be role models for other women. For women to rise, they have to be willing to overcome their own biases.
“What is a limiting belief that is keeping from asking for what you want?”
Regardless of these external and internal barriers, women should seek to grow. When they succeed professionally, their workplaces, their careers, and their lives are enriched. A study from the Center for Creative Leadership revealed that women leaders bring to their workplaces more job satisfaction, more organizational dedication, more meaningful work, and decreased burnout. What about the women that don’t make it to leadership positions they are ready for?
According to Janey Zitomer, “When Certain voices are excluded out of consequential conversations, entire groups of people are negatively affected.”
“Overcome your fears and doubts.
Be willing to promote yourself, your accomplishments, and abilities.”
If you think you are ready to rise but do not know how to ask, it is time for you to understand what do you want, why you want it, and become an effective self-advocate. Whatever your reasons for seeking promotion are, be ready to present your case. Here are some steps you can follow:
Realign Your Mindset
Your beliefs about yourself might be the first hurdle you need to overcome when preparing a case for a promotion. Become self-aware of what self-limiting thoughts are keeping you from promoting yourself. If you don’t feel you are deserving of the recognition and growth, it will be difficult to assert yourself. Many women don’t feel they are ‘totally’ ready for their next step. Believing they need to be 100% ready keeps you from taking the next step. As Helgesen points out, your own beliefs might be holding you down. Be willing to get out of your comfort zone, challenge what keeps you from asking and get ready to stand for yourself. If you don’t do it for yourself, who will do it for you?
Define What Success Means to You
Sally Helgesen, in her book How Women Rise, points out the importance of clarifying what success means and how to achieve it. For some women, it’s about making a difference, expanding their levels of contributions. For others is having personally meaningful work that connects to their values and purpose. Others want a job that is enjoyable and meaningful, and that fits well with other areas of their life.
“Your definition of rising is going to be personal.”
Take the time to become more entuned with your values, passions, strengths, and life goals. Assess how your career fits in the complete picture of your life. Clarity is power. Once you understand where you are heading and why is important, you will become better positioned to articulate your vision to others, especially, those decision-makers stakeholders at work.
Know Your Worth
It would be difficult to self-advocate when you are not aware of your accomplishments and abilities. An important step is that you understand your strengths and the value that you bring. Define your contributions and the impact that you have created in your current role. Prepare achievement statements that clearly articulate your contributions, explaining when you exceeded expectations and why. Document financial goals that you’ve reached with the analytics of their results. Track your work accomplishments and accolades throughout the year, including past awards, recognitions, and major projects completed on time and the financial impact.
Performing in your current role will open up doors of opportunities and will help you create a solid reputation. Find ways to learn new skills that are important in your next step. Volunteer for projects. Create ways to provide solutions to business problems. Become a positive difference-maker.
Increase Your Visibility
Many of us tend to believe that others should notice our work and should give us the recognition we deserve for work well done. If you also share this belief, you might think self-promotion is counter-intuitive or even undesirable. Know that for you to rise, you need to let others know about your contributions and the value that you bring. You need allies at different levels of the organization that can advocate for your case for a promotion. Find Mentors willing to guide you and to provide you with meaningful feedback. Be willing to showcase your talents and elevate your level of exposure to decision-makers and senior leaders.
Realize that preparing and asking for a promotion is not a one-and-one discussion but a series of ongoing conversations. Express your overall career objectives with your manager at least once a year. Performance cycles are great times to interject career conversations about your aspirations. Ask your manager how can you expand in certain areas, and what projects or work assignments can help you become prepared for your next step.
“Remember, it’s not what you say but how you say it.”
Many women who had been passed over for promotion feel disappointed or even betrayed. Frequently, they let their feelings permeate in conversations, transmitting negativity. The opportunity is to transform these phrases into positive statements that will communicate what they want, not what they don’t want. Instead of saying I am tired of feeling stuck, they can say I am ready to rise.
Manage Your Brand
Create a personal brand that exudes confidence, enthusiasm, and delivers on the expectations. Be clear, consistent, and reliable, and manage your reputation with intentionality. You want to have solid credibility as both reliable, and trustworthy. Do you deliver on your promises? Does your brand align your firm’s brand? If you are aspiring to a leadership role, remember that your technical skills become secondary to your emotional intelligence and your ability to inspire trust in others, communicate effectively, inspire, influence, and your ability to manage relationships effectively.
Increase Your Confidence
Confidence and self-worth will motivate you to advocate for yourself, helping you to achieve your desired outcome. If you are experiencing low self-confidence, you can take concrete actions to improve your competence and self-image. When Amy Cuddy introduced her famous Ted Talk on The Power Pose, she made us all aware of the importance of nonverbal communication. Be aware of your posture, gestures, voice inflection, pitch, and delivery. Practice asserting yourself in meetings and presenting your opinions in ways that sound convincing and professional. Realize that your appearance is also an important factor that you should take into consideration. When you groom and dress nicely, you’ll feel good about yourself. This is important even nowadays when we spend our working days behind a computer screen, working from home.
Prepare for the Promotion Conversation
Preparation is the key to deliver a successful promotion conversation. Covering the basics involves responding to the what, why, who, when, whom. Think about the position you want and how it aligns with the objectives of your organization and manager. A good practice is to write a memo to clarify your ideas and your rationale. Make a case for the increased value you can bring to the organization. Document your proven track record, providing metrics and concrete examples of the impact you created. Make sure you understand the communication protocols in your company. For example, talk to your direct manager instead of skipping one level. Consider when is the best timing to do so. Be clear as to what you want to present your ideas concisely and confidently.
Realize that preparing and asking for a promotion is not a one-and-one discussion but a series of ongoing conversations. If you get a No as an answer, this doesn’t mean that you will not get your desired outcome. Stay with your vision and continue asserting your case in positive ways. If you get discouraged too easily you will be giving away your power and giving in. In the end, you will have to evaluate and weigh how long you are willing to wait, or if you’re ready to move on when a NO becomes a workplace deal breaker.
Keep your vision alive and realize that when women like you succeed in the workplace, not only do you benefit from growing but your team and your entire workplace.
Managing the structural barriers in your workplace and overcoming your own limiting beliefs is a worthwhile transformational journey.