By Joan Runnheim Olson
For 20 years, Anja White, CPCC, MBA, successfully climbed the ladder in high tech manufacturing. She leveraged her experience working in a male-dominated industry and launched her private coaching practice. As a Manufacturing Executive Coach and founder of albaviso, she helps women be successful working in the male-dominated manufacturing industry and below she shares practical tips on how women can do just that.
Time and time again, I hear from female clients that they are frustrated because they do not feel heard or they cannot find a meaningful seat the table. By the way, this is not exclusively true for women only; there are men too who experience this. My sense is that women are more often bringing it up with the desire to change it. It is frustrating and demotivating. They are well educated and want to be more a more effective contributor in their organizations. So what is the reason? You are competent, you are successful, you work hard. You contribute more than some of your colleagues, yet when it comes to essential discussions, you are not heard. The very idea you brought forth did not gain momentum until someone else, very often a male colleague, presented it. You were hoping for a promotion, but instead Bob down the hall got it. Your annual review went very well, but the salary increase was less than you expected. John on the other hand got a big raise, you overheard it at the water cooler--and he is never here past 4:30. My perspectives are a collection of personal experiences and those I learned from clients. While each circumstance is individually different, there are some commonalities. Not all may hold true every time, they are meant to start a conversation and deeper exploration. What I believe to be true is that we fundamentally must subscribe to the idea that we have choices and options. Nothing productive comes from being led by our circumstances; we need to fall in love with and be passionate about wanting to lead and shape our circumstances. Waiting around hoping to be noticed rarely yields the results we aspire to. Hope is not a strategy. Only when we are clear that we want to be noticed and what we want to be noticed for will we be able to move forward with choice and intention, authentically and effectively.
1) Negotiation of title and salary. How did you show up at the very crucial hiring moment setting up your career path in this organization? What about that performance review? Many women do not negotiate what they really want in terms of salary and title; we don’t even ask! We seem to hold on to the idea that if we work hard enough then someone will recognize it and eventually we will get what we deserve. That may happen, yes. Yet here is one unintended consequence: by not positioning ourselves where we truly want to be, we are leaving the positioning to circumstance. I know personally that I do not like this aspect of work either. But what I like even less is feeling undervalued. You might think: I don’t want them to think negatively of me when I ask for more money or a certain title. I don’t want to come across bossy or bitchy. There clearly is a value that is important to you, honor it. I get that. At the same time, you will be thought of less effectively when you don’t negotiate. The very thing you are trying to avoid is going to happen. You want to be respected, and by showing up with confidence having your boundaries clear will you get that respect. Salary and title are business negotiations; to be respected in business you need to be able to negotiate respectfully, authentically and within your value system.
2) Just because you can does not mean you should. We often hear women work harder and do more than men. Women are masters at multitasking and getting a lot done in a day. We are also masters at wanting to be helpful and “doing what it takes” to achieve the organization’s goals. What do you want to be known for? There is a fine line between taking on tasks that are meaningful and tasks that are busy work and nobody else wants to do them so they look at you. The busier you get with tasks that you of course can do, but should not do, the less likely will you be assigned meaningful projects. And worse yet, you will be viewed as a master tasker, but not necessarily a meaningful and effective contributor.
3) Stop apologizing. Why are you sorry that the projector does not work or the lunch order is late? Why are you apologizing that you have to ask your team to work late? I hold the belief that our behaviors can shape our environment. We don’t have to, and should not, try to be men. We need to let our competence and confidence shine in as bright a light as resonates with our values. We do not need to try to be someone we are not, how about just being who we want to be and what we are meant to be? What if our courage inspires others? What are you waiting for?
Let me make one thing clear; this is hard work and I encourage you to find a coach that will support you, challenge you, champion you. It is uncomfortable, perhaps scary. But I will promise you: you will be heard! You might think: I can’t change how they think about me here. Perhaps. But you can change how you think about yourself, how you behave with grace, respect and authenticity. And how you show up will absolutely have an effect on your environment.