Canadian women make up almost 50 per cent of the country's work force, yet a recent study found that last year only 14.6 per cent of executive positions in Fortune 500 companies were held by women, and growth at this level has plateaued. The following are 10 ways women can empower themselves in their jobs and make the work force stronger for everyone.
1. Embrace being a woman. Often the qualities and characteristics valued by organizations in order to be promoted are slanted to male behaviours because the business world was created by men, for men. Obviously, women do not react and behave exactly as men do. This should be recognized as a strength – offering a much needed, broader perspective to an organization or a team.
2. Build your brand consciously. Why leave brand-building to chance? Dress for work as if you could be called to speak on behalf of the company at any time. And remember that every interaction is important. You never know which experience, transaction or person may end up playing a critical role in your career path.
3. Network, network, network. Find a cause or organization that you feel passionate about and that aligns with your personal brand, and get involved. Focusing energy and attention externally provides important balance and perspective to your career and personal life, and in doing so, you will build a network of like-minded people.
4. Be open to opportunities. Don't wait to be perfect before accepting or asking for an opportunity. Men don't. They accept the opportunity and figure out how to make it work as they go along. When offered a role or project, it is because someone has seen something in you that perhaps you have not yet seen yourself.
5. Be kind. Don't assume there is a finite amount of success to go around. Be the leaders you wish you had, and be brave enough to share, promote and champion other women.
6. Welcome feedback. What you don't know can hurt you. Ask for feedback, and accept it graciously. Then, most importantly, learn from it.
7. Take up space. Be aware of your body language. Stand tall, speak clearly and project confidence, even if you don't always feel that way. In doing so, you'll empower yourself and command attention.
8. Don't be afraid to be different. I have always been entrepreneurial. Operating with a creative independent view within a large corporation can be a lonely and challenging experience. But different views and ideas for doing business are valuable to an organization. You may have to over-deliver to prove that your vision is valid, but it's this work ethic that will set you apart from the rest of the field.
9. If you choose to be a leader, lead. Don't be a "super-doer." Your role is to ensure your team is as successful as possible. Work on becoming comfortable giving clear, constructive regular feedback. Your success is delivered through the pillars of your team.
10. Recognize that men can and should help. Gender equity will not happen without men's support and attention, and substantial change must be generated from the very top of organizations. A recent Bloomberg article stated that stocks of companies with women on the board perform better than those that are all-male. How can we fully exploit this potential if we are not championing women early on in their careers and ensuring they understand that C-suite positions are attainable and within their scope? We should all want to access the broadest and deepest talent pool possible for our organizations.
Carrie Kirkman is the president of Jones Group Canada, and sits on the advisory board for G(irls)20, an international non-profit that works to mobilize young women for economic advancement.