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During the last few decades, women have made great strides in the workforce. However, being a woman in today’s competitive job market can be daunting, especially for women pursuing careers in male-dominated industries such as engineering, construction, government contracting and technology. While women are generally perceived to be good collaborators, have strong problem solving skills, and are adept at analyzing issues, they are less likely than their male counterparts to receive promotions to executive positions. So how can young professional women get ahead in a male dominated industry?
Find a Mentor
Studies show that women tend to have a more difficult time finding mentors than men. While women make up almost half of the workforce in the United States, the number of women in top management roles remains disappointingly low. According to a 2016 report by McKinsey & Company, only one in five senior executives are women. As a result, young professional women have less access to women in senior leadership roles. However, finding a mentor can provide young women with the opportunity to gain knowledge about their business, build networks, and increase self-esteem. Try joining a women’s networking group or reach out to a woman you admire. Mentoring is a two-way street. As you advance through your career, give back by becoming a mentor because the benefits can be just as great.
Confidence is Key
Many young women new to their careers feel like their ideas won’t be taken seriously. Beginning a comment with a negative connotation such as “this may not be what you were looking for, but…” immediately distorts your message and undermines your credibility. In their book The Confidence Code, journalists Katty Kay and Claire Shipman investigate whether confidence is genetic or can be developed. Their conclusion – both! Shipman recalls how she had a habit of telling people she was “just lucky” when asked how she became a CNN correspondent in Moscow in her 20’s. For years, she routinely deferred to the alpha-male journalists around her assuming that because they were louder and sounded more certain, they knew more and had a right to talk more on television. Kay and Shipman warn that women won’t build confidence by simply thinking positive thoughts or faking it, but rather urge them to worry less about past mistakes, being perfect, and pleasing everyone which can foster more confidence.
Leave Your Comfort Zone
It’s easy to stay in your comfort zone because it minimizes stress and risk. However, if you want to advance your career, you have to take risks. One of my colleagues learned this recently. She had a good job that she loved. However, she was invited to interview for a position with another company that would allow her to expand her network, take on additional responsibility, and allow for future advancement. While it was a difficult decision because she valued the comfort of her current job, she ultimately decided to take the new job and excelled at it so well that she received a promotion within the first year. Leaving your comfort zone can be extremely rewarding – you’ll likely be more productive, you’ll be better able to cope with change, you’ll be more creative, and you’ll grow professionally Thinking back on your biggest accomplishments, were they in your comfort zone? Probably not. And when you fail (we all do), use it as a learning experience and move on.
Advocate for Yourself
One of the reasons men advance through their careers faster than women is because they have an easier time promoting their own accomplishments, skills, and potential. In contrast, many women tend to find it difficult to advocate for themselves because they don’t want to be perceived as pushy, egotistical, or crass. However, if you don’t advocate yourself, no one will. In a 2014 New York Times article, Dara Richardson-Heron, CEO of Y.W.C.A USA says that “women who are leaders need to advocate for themselves. That means communicating goals, but also setting expectations that they will lead.” Speak up and be specific when you ask for what you want. Come to performance reviews with a list of accomplishments from the past year and goals for the future. Leveraging self-advocacy can help young professional women have successful careers in any field.
With the majority of senior leadership positions being held by men, it can be intimidating for young professional women to speak up, leave their comfort zones, and advocate for themselves. Rather than feeling hindered by the gender gap, cultivate your strengths and develop leadership qualities. You’re likely to be promoted for your strong technical knowledge and good leadership skills, making your gender irrelevant.
Patuxent Valuation Group (PVG) is a boutique business valuation consulting firm headquartered in Columbia, Maryland that provides a full-range of valuation services to individuals and businesses across a variety of industries. For additional information regarding tips for young professional women, please contact Brienne Shepski at firstname.lastname@example.org or 410-418-9290.
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