An Open Letter to Working Women: We need to do more than "Lean In." We need to lead.

You may like me a little less after you finish this article...

* This post originally appeared on Beth's LinkedIn profile.

Study after study about women in the workplace tell me that you will label me "aggressive" maybe even "intimidating." And you may even use the b-word. That's right – "bossy." Apparently, the qualities that make us good leaders are not all that likable, at least not in women. So here is my plea to working women: it is time we stop caring so much about being liked, and instead embrace our inner b-word and lead.  

Too aggressive for you? I'm just getting started.

Per a 2016 Women in the Workplace study by McKinsey & Co. and Sheryl Sandberg's Leanin.Org, it will be more than a century before there is gender equality in the workplace. The cause, they say, has little to do with women opting out. The latest studies show that attrition is roughly equal between men and women. Instead, women are facing barriers to advancement primarily due to gender bias.

  • Women are negotiating as often as men, but face more push back when they do
  • Women get less access to senior leaders
  • Women ask for feedback as often as men – but are less likely to receive it
  • Women consider the climb to senior leadership far more steep than their male counterparts (because it is)
  • As an executive woman working in the male-dominated tech industry for 25 years, I offer several ideas to help women transition from leaning to leading.

1. Express your opinion

  • In her book "Lean In," Sandberg invites us to sit at the table. However, sitting at the table only works if you bring value to the discussion. That value starts with having an opinion that is rooted in preparation and facts. Do your homework and come to a resolute conclusion before you get to the table.
  • And then say it out loud.
  • Share your opinion openly and rationally, and then listen to what others are saying, show empathy and maintain an open mind.
  • Dare to be wrong.

Where opinions are at play, there is rarely a clear right answer. Nine times out of 10, you will find that someone else in the room agrees with you. Silence is often confused for consent, or worse, ignorance. Speaking up shows that you are confident, engaged and invested.

2. Promote yourself

  • Doing great work is critical, but it must be noticeable to result in advancement.
  • Establish a personal brand. Are you the "get-it-done" person? Everyone's "go-to"? The strategist? The executive whisperer? The Chief Listening Officer? You don't have to brag to promote yourself. Simply be your bad self, but make sure it is noticeable.
  • Prioritize projects that make your boss's job easier and ensures his/her success.
  • Know your audience. Align your priorities with those of your leadership. If you have multiple projects on your plate, make sure to do the one that serves your boss first and/or the highest-ranking person first.   
  • Include your name on the presentations and reports that you prepare.
  • Proactively provide your boss with a status update on your projects, and use the update to emphasize your achievements.

3. Cultivate relationships

  • Many decisions are made outside of the boardroom. Get out of the office. Have lunch, dinner, coffee or drinks with your colleagues, your staff and your leadership when you can.
  • If you are invited to a work event, especially those that include leadership, GO. Shake a few hands, introduce yourself, and get to know people. Do more than just network.
  • Travel to meetings to be in the room, and use the non-work hours to get to know your colleagues.
  • Ask questions. Engage in a conversation that isn't about work.
  • If travel is a challenge because of family, choose one or two trips a year that maximize your time with leaders who can help you learn and grow.

4. Find a Sponsor

  • Mentors are great, but sponsors are necessary if you want to ascend to a leadership position. A sponsor does more than offer advice. They become your advocate.
  • In most companies, VP-level promotions and higher require approval by leadership. Having an advocate in the room ensures that you have a voice.
  • Your sponsor does not need to be female. Given the lack of parity at the top, it is important to have both male and female sponsors.

5. Identify as a leader

  • Dress the part
  • Look the part
  • Be the part

Are you expressing yourself, self-promoting and cultivating relationships, but still not advancing? You may be sabotaging yourself. Along with my tips of things to do, I offer a second list of things to stop doing:

Continue reading Beth's original post on LinkedIn

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