women in the workplace

Clear Steps to Advancement

You’d be hard-pressed to find a CEO at odds with the concept of equal pay; nevertheless, we’ve yet to reach complete gender parity on the compensation front. While executives do their part to ensure equal pay, women can fight the fight from the other side, actively preparing for and pursuing promotions. Here, she outlines 10 strategies to help women climb the corporate ladder.

On April 15, 2018, 60 Minutes aired a segment entitled “Leading by Example to Close the Gender Pay Gap.” Hats off to CBS for showing how unequal pay between men and women remains a persistent problem in the U.S. and how Salesforce, a tech company with 30,000 employees, has decided to do its part to change that.

Salesforce reports $10 billion in annual revenue, and Fortune just ranked the company as the number one best place to work among big companies. That helps explain why founder and CEO Marc Benioff was surprised when the woman who runs his human resources department talked to him in 2015 about equal pay.

As Benioff explained, for many years, CEOs have publicly embraced the concept of equal pay, but then complained about how hard it is to get there. He recalled the prediction that it’ll take 100 years to get to pay parity, but then explained that there’s never been an easier time to make this change. CEOs, with one button on one computer can pay every man and every woman equally. They have the data. They know what everyone makes. There’s no excuse. Everybody can easily do this now.

Benioff and well-intentioned CEOs like him can do their part to bring about gender equality in pay, but will that be enough? My experience tells me it won’t be. When I coach women for advancement, I see them repeating mistakes their male counterparts have made and making some mistakes that are unique to women. Here are the top 10 things every woman and most men should know about getting promoted.

  1. Be smart. Come in the door with a degree from a decent school where you studied something that will help you land a job and get promoted. If you decide to pursue a degree in philosophy awarded by an online university, you’ll be able to get a good job at a mall—just as you could have if you hadn’t gone to college. Instead, think of majoring in one of the STEM—science, technology, engineering, math—degrees.
  2. Learn finance. Even if you majored in a STEM degree, if you don’t understand how to use that knowledge to make money for a company, you won’t get promoted. Handle a budget as soon as someone will let you, and then request P & L (profit and loss) responsibilities.
  3. Learn business development. How often I’ve heard the cry, “But I was hired to be a psychologist/scientist/engineer/builder/analyst/hospital administrator, not a salesperson.” It doesn’t matter. To advance in most organizations in most industries, people at the top must understand what their customers expect of the company and how to build relationships with them.
  4. Follow orders. Most of my clients don’t run democracies. They may have a democratic leadership style, but those at the top control decisions. If you don’t learn to follow orders, no one will give you the chance to issue any.
  5. Eschew victim mentality and righteous indignation. You can read all the “Ain’t it awful” literature about how women have been discriminated against, but you won’t be better off. Instead, study ways you can improve your skills and leadership and then figure out a way to let others know they can rely on you to utilize your knowledge.
  6. While you’re about the business of eschewing, ignore unsolicited feedback. Certainly, seek feedback from trusted advisers, and embrace feedback from your boss. But don’t listen to those who want to show their superiority by “showing you the ropes.”
  7. Don’t try to be macho. The same behaviors that work for many men don’t work for most women. One female client confided that a male peer suggested she yell and swear more to get others’ attention. I encouraged her to forget that advice and to capture attention with silence. It has a much more dramatic effect.
  8. Make yourself indispensable. Most people find being the smartest person in the room really hard, especially if the company has done a good job of hiring the best and brightest. But anyone can learn to be an expert in some area.
  9. Get into sales and operations and out of HR and IT. I don’t see evidence of glass ceilings in any of my client companies, but I still see glass walls. All the CEOs I have helped select came from sales, operations or finance. I have yet to work with one who had a background in a support function.
  10. Dress the part. Recently I picked up a bottle of nail polish called, “I’m not a waitress.” It occurred to me that if you have to tell people you’re not a waitress, something might need changing. Women should wear business attire, even when their male counterparts can get away with business casual. Always dress for the job you want, not the job you have.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, a woman made 60 cents for every dollar a man made in 1960. Forty years later, in 2000, that gap had been narrowed by just a dime. It has taken nearly two decades more to shave another dime off the gap. Today, women still make 20 percent less on average than their male counterparts. No sense in waiting 100 years for pay parity. Why not start today to make it happen for you?

Linda Henman

Dr. Linda Henman is one of those rare experts who can say she’s a coach, consultant, speaker, and author. For more than 30 years, she has worked with Fortune 500 Companies and small businesses that want to think strategically, grow dramatically, promote intelligently, and compete successfully today and tomorrow. Some of her clients include Emerson Electric, Boeing, Avon and Tyson Foods. She was one of eight experts who worked directly with John Tyson after his company’s acquisition of International Beef Products, one of the most successful acquisitions of the twentieth century.

Linda holds a Ph.D. in organizational systems and two Master of Arts degrees in both interpersonal communication and organization development and a Bachelor of Science degree in communication. Whether coaching executives or members of the board, Linda offers clients coaching and consulting solutions that are pragmatic in their approach and sound in their foundation—all designed to create exceptional organizations.

She is the author of Landing in the Executive Chair: How to Excel in the Hot Seat, The Magnetic Boss: How to Become the Leader No One Wants to Leave, and contributing editor and author to Small Group Communication, among other works.

Dr. Henman can be reached at [email protected].

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