This is the 1st post in our Women of HR series focusing on career. Read along, consider the advice and we invite you to comment with insights of your own.
By 2016, women are projected to receive more than 60 percent of bachelor’s degrees, 61 percent of master’s degrees and over 53 percent of all doctorate and professional degrees.
The U.S. Department of Education says that women have been earning more degrees than men for more than 28 years.
And yet, the studies prove that women still aren’t moving up the corporate structure very quickly. Last year, Catalyst updated their statistics regarding women who sit on Fortune 500 Boards and found that the percentage (approximately 16 percent) is simply not changing.
While I don’t profess to have the answer to these challenges, I am fascinated by the profiles of women who reach the top. Few would say they got there on sheer luck, many would say they needed some help with settling into the environment, and most would say they were mentored and coached along the way. All of the women that I have worked with would say that feedback on personal style and communication would have been helpful sooner, rather than later.
Here are three of the most common impressions that may be preventing women from going to the next level, and suggested feedback for coaching women to overcome them.
Impression #1: I Can Do Everything.
Managers are often unsure of what to do with someone who insists on taking on every task. And, in fact, it doesn’t take long before this good intention can turn into the impression of someone who can’t delegate or who doesn’t manage others well. Women who try to do everything can get left behind doing all of the little things, rather than running the big initiatives.
Coaching Note: Women need to hone their skills and excel at something specific, not everything. It’s hard to quantify the impact you’ve had on a department or project if you’ve done a little of everything. Instead, if you’ve focused on one project and managed it from start to finish, it’s easier to align yourself with success.
Impression #2: Let’s Discuss!
Talking is as necessary as breathing for many women, and as exhausting as a marathon to many men. Women frequently approach business situations with a desire to talk it through and debate all of the ideas and options, which can translate to, “She talks too much.” Women who get bogged down in the details by their desire to talk things out can alienate male counterparts.
Coaching Note: The ability to talk things out is a trait that women actually use to their advantage when they are in roles to facilitate or lead discussions. But, it’s important to learn how to read an audience by listening first. Women should listen first and speak last but it isn’t always necessary to be heard on every topic. Your presence and non-verbal reactions often say more than your words.
Impression #3: I’m Tough as Nails.
Often, women feel as though they have to be aggressive with their communication in the workplace in order to get ahead and be heard. Men rarely challenge ideas in meetings; they tend to take debates out into the hall. When companies want fighters, they promote the football all-star or the Navy Seal. Companies need women to bring intuitive skills and warmth to a team.
Coaching Note: Aggressiveness is not a trait that most people like and it’s important for women to understand when they are fighting or pushing others away with their communication style. In many cases, I find that women don’t realize they’re being viewed this way. By becoming more aware of these types of impressions, women gain credibility by simply being who they are and projecting a sense of confidence about what they can achieve – all before saying a word.
Management consultants have said for years that women have natural nurturing traits that make them effective as communicators and team leaders. But, the statistics above make it clear; it’s still a challenge for women to get leadership roles. Becoming aware of how good intentions can lead to wrong impressions will help women make different choices in how they communicate, and ultimately improve their performance.
Photo credit iStockPhoto
About the author: President and founder of Sally Williamson & Associates (SW&A), Sally Williamson specializes in executive coaching and developing custom workshops. Her book, The Hidden Factor: Executive Presence, is a leading resource on developing Executive Presence.