Finding a Job
Women Getting Ahead in Business
Earlier this week former head of GE, Jack Welch and his wife and writing partner, Suzy Welch, told a gathering of women executives from a range of industries at The Wall Street Journal's Women in the Economy conference that, programs promoting diversity, mentorships and affinity groups may or may not be good, but they are not how women get ahead. "Over deliver," Mr. Welch advised. "Performance is it!" This stirred up quite a bit of controversy and touched a raw nerve in the business world.
Regardless of gender there is always going to be a clear separation between those who are committed in their job, career and life success and are continually pushing for change, take risks and excel, and those who are waiting for the opportunities to be presented to them. One of the principles that Welch used to revolutionize GE was “control your own destiny or someone else will” and there are lessons to be learned here.
The fact that there is still gender inequality in the workplace (especially at the executive levels) is clear.
Currently there are 18 women CEOs of Fortune 500 companies—a record number but still just 3.6% of the total.
At the conference Mr. Welch said that, to get ahead, focus laser like on performance. Adding that Mentoring programs, are a bad idea; everyone on staff should be your mentor. Support groups, such as women's employee groups, can be likened to "victims' units," which the best women tend to avoid. And there is no such thing as work-life balance. There are work-life choices that have consequences you need to accept. To get ahead, he said, raise your hand for line jobs and tough, risky assignments, and take advantage of rigorous performance reviews, which are the best time to get coaching and address concerns about bias.
While we don’t necessarily agree with these comments verbatim especially the concept that all is fair in the workplace, there are some useful messages here.
We do believe that the best way to advance in your career is to embrace risk and volunteer for the tough challenges and assignments that everyone else is too scared to take on.
When it comes to work life balance people need to accept that there is no 100% perfect balance point, there will always need to be some element of trade-off. The utopian work life balance solution is clearly unachievable. Even though it might seem counterintuitive, the quickest way to be granted more leeway and flexibility is by excelling and showing commitment and independence through exceptional results. The recent coverage of Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg saying that “there’s nothing shameful about leaving work at 5:30pm every day to eat dinner with your kids”, is a classic example of how those that show commitment and drive in the execution of their job have the ability to apply that same commitment, drive and confidence to defining and sticking to boundaries and laying down markers that allow them to establish the level of work life balance that is right for them as an individual.
While the male dominated business world may wish to ignore it, gender bias remains prevalent across the board. We believe in the need for working women to help and support other working women, through support groups and mentorship programs, but agree that you cannot limit yourself just to these forms of support and mentorship
In a follow up article in the Wall Street Journal, How Women Can Get Ahead: Advice From Female CEOs , John Bussey interviewed a number of female CEO’s from Fortune 500 companies.
They provided some interesting comments in line with these points.
A few are included below and you can read the rest of them here
Angela Braly, CEO, WellPoint 'The most important factor in determining whether you will succeed isn't your gender, it's you. Be open to opportunity and take risks. In fact, take the worst, the messiest, the most challenging assignment you can find, and then take control."
"I have stepped up to many 'ugly' assignments that others didn't want," says KeyCorp’s CEO, Beth Mooney.
Along the career path, the CEOs say, pursue new skills relentlessly. Change jobs after you've mastered the current one. Be willing to tack sideways on the career track, or even backward, to pick up key expertise or command a business unit.
"In order to lead an organization, you have to be incredibly comfortable in your own skin," says Gracia Martore of Gannett, "and the only way to do that is to be confident in who you are."
Look for opportunities to stand out from the crowd and ask for what you want, the CEOs advise. And when you hit a goal, speak up and toot your horn. Don't wait to get noticed. "For a lot of women, they think the myth is true, that if they just do a good job and work hard, they'll get recognized. That's not the case," says Maggie Wilderotter, CEO of Frontier Communications.
Mentors were key in the careers of several of the CEOs. They endorse the idea of mentorship. Ms. Wilderotter says she regularly picked the brains of a range of senior execs. "I had many mentors, and they didn't know it."
"I don't disagree with Jack Welch that performance is the ticket to the dance," says Frontier's Ms. Wilderotter. "Unless you're delivering value, there is no right to move forward. I do disagree that all is fair in the workplace."
"My experiences with gender bias are probably the norm," says Ms. Bresch of Mylan. "What I found was that expectations of women were simply lower, and this resulted in being overlooked for certain opportunities. Now as a leader, I strive to create an environment different than the one I faced, an environment where good ideas can come from anyone—young, old, men, women, assistant, executive—and opportunities are open to everyone."
"The biggest myth that I'd like to set to rest is that women can't have a family and a successful career," says Ilene Gordon, CEO of Corn Products. "The skills that make a good business leader—organization, drive, trust, delegation and compassion—also go a long way to balance the responsibilities of work and family life."
"The myth," adds Ms. Braly, "is that women and their families don't have to make trade-offs to have an 'extreme career'; they absolutely do. How you prioritize your life and career is your choice. Once you make a decision, stick to it; don't always second-guess yourself."
The myth, continues Deanna Mulligan, CEO of Guardian Life Insurance, is "that you can have a 'balanced' life at all times."
That said, Ms. Wilderotter of Frontier believes women are better at multitasking than men. "We do it naturally. I see it in our organization. Men seem to be more asynchronous"—a tech term that means, among other things, starting a new operation only after finishing the last one. That asynchronous linear drive, if true, can be good for meeting a specific objective. But it may not leave much room for nuance that might shape that objective—or win over an audience.
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