NOT JUST FOR GIRLS!
And WHY you should never say you are BORED!
In gendered career fields – those dominated by men and operated in accordance with masculine norms, values, and expectations – women have always had a harder time advancing than men. Women are given fewer career-enhancing opportunities and are judged more critically than men. But now that many employees are subject to stay-at-home orders, women’s career advancement difficulties are only increasing. Managers with little or no in-person contact with their subordinates – contact that can make actual talents and capacities apparent – are far more likely to have their decisions with respect to assignments and evaluations affected by implicit gender bias. Therefore, if you are a woman working from home, here are four steps you should take to assure you can continue to advance in your career despite the coronavirus.
1. Stay Visible
Visibility – being noticed as a person of competence, confidence and the ability to handle the responsibilities of positions senior to your present one – is essential for career advancement. Simply keeping your head down and doing quality work will not move you up. Use every work-related interaction, whether by email, a messaging app, phone, or video, to present yourself as a person with presence, competence and warmth. These interactions, however, may not be making you visible to some of the key people evaluating your performance and influencing your compensation and advancement. So be sure to find a way to periodically apprise these people of your activities, accomplishments, and future assignments. Perhaps a periodic email summarizing what you are doing would be welcomed by your supervisors. Perhaps a dedicated channel on Slack, Jabber, or other messaging app would be more efficient and effective. Or perhaps just reporting on the completion of projects together with an assessment of your contribution would be preferable. Whatever the method of your communications or their timing, be sure everyone with influence over your career is periodically aware of your hard work, commitment, and accomplishments.
2. Stay Engaged
Now more than ever you need to be raising your hand. Volunteer for new assignments, be available for special projects, and seek out career-advancing opportunities. Of course, if you have young children at home and no help from anyone other than your partner (if you have one), you may not be able to handle your normal workload. If this is so, make sure your managers know your situation and provide them with a realistic appraisal of your present capabilities. Whatever they are, however, keep raising your hand to the extent possible.
Without in-person interactions and easy access to informal office networks, it can be difficult to know when new projects and opportunities become available. This means you need to regularly let your managers know of your availability, interest in new challenges, and desire to expand your skill set. Explore the best way to do this so that when they have important assignments to make you are top of mind.
3. Continue Networking
Just because you are out of the office does not mean you should let up on expanding your network. LinkedIn is one of the most effective ways to do this. Be sure your profile is up-to-date, join groups you find interesting, and comment on other people’s posts. Attempt to connect with people you may not know but whose work you admire or who hold positions you would like to have one day. With a thoughtful note of admiration and solicitation of career advice, you might be surprised at how well your overtures are received. After all, many of these people are also working from home and may welcome the opportunity for some (virtual) social interaction.
4. Keep a Positive Attitude
Perhaps the biggest challenge to career advancement while subject to a stay-at-home order is remaining focused, committed, and positive. Four qualities will help you in this regard: grit, a positive mindset, a coping sense of humor, and a confident self-image.
Grit is tenacity – your ability to sustain the effort to achieve a long-term objective despite adversity. And being subject to a stay-at-home order and having to deal with increased stereotype-driven gender bias is most certainly adversity. Take the long view. Plan and execute, and then if things are not working out the way you want them to, reformulate and execute again.
Grit is essential in these stressful times, but it can be difficult to be gritty unless you believe your efforts will result in positive change – you getting smarter, more skillful, and more resourceful. This means you need a positive mindset: a view of your intelligence, skills, and abilities as capable of development and growth, not as fixed or static. With a positive mindset, you can see stereotype-driven gender bias not as a career stopper but as a call to be more resourceful, innovative, and open to change.
Of all the qualities most needed in these unprecedented times, humor is at the top of the list. Physiologically, when you laugh or smile, endorphins are released into your bloodstream, reducing stress, increasing your sense of happiness, and improving your ability to manage challenging situations. With a coping sense of humor, you are more self-confident and less hesitant to expose yourself to potentially difficult interactions, performances, and projects. You don’t have to be a standup comic, but an amused “Can you believe what just happened?” or a wry smile can be incredibly beneficial in helping you deal with stress, frustration, and setback.
Grit, a positive mindset, and a coping sense of humor all affect the way you feel, but you also need to influence the way others feel about you. Career advancement depends to a significant extent on your being seen as a person of confidence, strength, talent, and control. In large part, this depends on your ability to project precisely this sort of self-image.
You can’t just tell yourself to project self-confidence, but you can boost your sense of yourself as strong, confident, and capable in two ways: mind priming – writing (for your eyes only) about a time when you felt particularly happy or powerful – and power posing – assuming and holding “power poses” like the Wonder Woman stance. Performing either of these exercises for a couple of minutes before an important call, critical presentation, tricky negotiation, or high-pressure task will significantly increase your self-confidence, sense of strength, and tolerance for risk and pain.
This Too Will Pass
There is no telling how long we will be working from home, but it will not be for the rest of your career. While it is happening, however, you should not let it stop your career advancement. Focus on the long term, don’t sweat the small stuff, and laugh as much as you can. If you do, you will emerge at the end of this terrible time wiser, more skillful, and better equipped to advance than ever before.
@ Andiekramer – I am a partner in an international law firm, where I have served on our Management Committee and Compensation Committee.