August 09, 2010, 2:46 PM — Q&A: Selena Rezvani
The author of The Next Generation of Women Leaders discusses how women can get to the top in the workplace.
In the course of conducting interviews for your book, what did you learn about what women have to do to advance their careers? First, you can't be naive about the extent to which politics govern the workplace. The women I interviewed found ways to proactively learn the culture and political climate of their organizations, learning how people like to be communicated with, and how and when people launched initiatives that were successful. They solicited information from several parties as they accumulated information, never relying on just one.
Women who make it to the executive ranks also take professional risks before they feel ready for them. The day when we can say "Now I feel ready" is usually too late -- others have claimed the opportunity we wanted. Women executives make it a habit to ask themselves, "What do I need to be comfortable enough to do this?" or "What can the organization do to facilitate my success?"
I also learned that women executives communicate in a specific way. They use emotional intelligence to read people and situations, but they don't use emotions when making a case for something. When building your argument or making a case, said the executives, keep things fact-based, not innuendo- or hearsay-based, using phrases like "The data shows.." and "The facts are..." rather than "I feel...."
Perhaps most important, those women that make it to the top continually ask for what they want at work, rather than waiting to be noticed, rewarded or promoted. They're not afraid that their requests will inconvenience someone or that they will look pushy for asking. The best way to make a request is to figure out where you have leverage -- the value you bring to your employer and the extent to which you're relied upon for your skills.
How do those things differ from what men do? Boys are reared with more of an emphasis on risk-taking and being brave, whereas young girls tend to get positive reinforcement for being nice. As adults, we bring this into the workplace. And for women, it can mean that we're less likely than men to negotiate for what we want and to take necessary risks at work.