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The SheCAN! Network - How to succeed as a woman

How to Succeed as a Woman

In a Man's World

By Peggy Sullivan

It's difficult to pick up a salary survey or business magazine and not reminded of the fact that, as women, we are still paid less than men who are doing the same work, and we still represent a smaller percentage versus men in the boardroom and on the executive team.

"Globally, women earn only three-quarters as much as men—even with the same level of education, and in the same occupation," says Christine Lagarde, the first woman to hold the position of Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund. Christine goes on to say, "Women also tend to be locked out of leadership positions, where gender seems to matter more than ability. Women make up only 5 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs. They account for only 24 percent of senior management positions around the world."

I spent the majority of my career working for manufacturing companies – a world historically dominated by men. I was fortunate to be promoted fairly quickly, earlier in my career, and often found myself to be the only woman in the room for many meetings. Though I quickly learned that there was an unwritten set of rules and skills, I needed to master if I was to survive in this male-dominated world.

Through the months and years to come, I learned how I could improve, better communicate, resolve conflict, gain consensus, and grow. I read every book I could get my hands on, attended any training I could fit into my schedule, and sought feedback from anyone who would give it to me. As a result, I compiled a healthy list of habits that are essential to succeed as a woman in a man's world.

Focus on the things within your control.

There may be times that you feel:

  • Discriminated against
  • Not heard
  • Not Valued
  • Not treated fairly

Don't waste your time pointing fingers or placing blame. You may, or may not, have an impact on what someone else is thinking, feeling or doing. You have a choice about the actions you take and the attitude you hold. Exercise your ability to voice your opinion and stand firm in your convictions constructively. Don't sell yourself short, and don't sell yourself out. If you don't have ethics and integrity, you don't have much of anything.

Be authentic.

You've probably heard the phrase, "Be yourself. Everyone else is taken." It's true. Always strive to improve, but don't waste your time attempting to be someone else. Take the time to truly understand your core values – what makes you tick – and honor those values in the choices you make and the way you conduct yourself.

Build a support network and use it.

It indeed takes a village, and you are not alone. Many of the men I worked with had wives who managed the responsibilities related to their home life. As a single mom of two daughters, I did not have that luxury. Utilize the resources available to you, including LinkedIn groups, professional associations, alumni groups, clubs, Parent Teacher Associations, friends, and neighbors. Find common ground between you and others in your business, your family, or your village. If I could give one piece of advice to my younger self, it would be to take the time to invest in relationships.

One piece of advice to my younger self - make the time to invest in relationships.

Believe in yourself.

If you don't, who will? Don't allow someone else to make you feel "less than." Own your power. Create affirmations that you say and read daily to boost your confidence, remind you of your greatness, and encourage you to do your best.

Find your voice.

Men often dominate the conversation. The solution to gain more airtime is not to become louder, more aggressive, or belligerent. The answer is to find ways to add value, build relationships, and create opportunities to speak outside of the meeting room. Then, enlist the support of a few trusted colleagues to bring you into the discussion. Also, be sure to communicate your career aspirations to your manager and those higher up. Men often get promoted over women simply because women don't express their interest in being promoted or taking on more responsibility. Don't wait for someone to ask you.

Trust your intuition.

Men tend to be data-driven and often ignore other aspects when making decisions. Gather the data, and then trust your gut. People drive success – data doesn't.

Know your value and own it.

Do your homework on this. Again, please don't wait for someone else to do it for you. Pull information from career guides and professional associations. Refer to your job description and performance reviews. Determine how you rate as compared to top performers in your company or profession. If you need additional skills or expertise, put plans in place to attain them. Meet with your manager and discuss the next steps to be promoted or otherwise recognized – and rewarded - for your current performance.

As women, we have the ability, the desire, and the potential to contribute more and to make a real difference in the world. Remember, it begins and ends with you. You hold the power. Choose you and invest in yourself. You won't be disappointed.

The SheCAN! Network -Peggy Sullivan headshot


Peggy Sullivan is the CEO & Founder of SheCAN!. It is her desire to help women step into their power and become the best versions of themselves through professional and personal development, networking opportunities and one-on-one coaching.

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