By: Mary Westrick, Former VP of Quintiles and Guest Lecturer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
The world is a wonderful place for smart, ambitious, hard-working women. But there are still prejudices and pitfalls. While sad, it’s true that women’s behavior is scrutinized far more closely than men’s. So always act professionally – both in the office and during activities outside the office. Above all else, abide by the Golden Rule – it has survived centuries for a reason. Be kind. Even if you are delivering bad news, be kind. You’ll be surprised how often even small kindnesses are remembered years later. It makes you feel good, and gives a lot of job satisfaction outside of your work assignments. But don’t let being kind lead to being used or walked on – you can be kind and strong at the same time.
In our pervasively electronic world, form relationships in person whenever possible rather than through conference calls, emails and texts. It’s so much easier to connect to another in person, and get the full measure of their character through body language, eye contact and facial expression. Make the effort to poke your head in the office next door for a quick chat about an issue rather than send (yet) another email. Make connections at all levels, from C-level to the mailroom.
There may be times when you are the only woman in the room. Don’t be intimidated; remember you have valuable insights, analyses and opinions to offer. Be respectful, but insist that your voice be heard. Women still have to prove themselves in many companies far beyond men. While not “fair,” rise to the occasion and excel. Don’t succumb to taking all the scut work for every project because you are female.
Our world is a wonderfully diverse place – embrace it. But remember, that even those people who share your educational background, ethnicity, geography, etc… may not embrace the same standards and work ethic as you. So always make your expectations clear. That will help avoid disappointment on your end and surprise and disillusionment on their end.
Plan your career with common sense and self-awareness of your current strengths and areas for development. Work on the areas of development, and take objective feedback without defensiveness. As Grandma always said, “If 5 people tell you that you look sick, go lie down.” Don’t be so rigid in your career plan that you pass up other positions with interesting and maybe even scary opportunities. Take the risk; you’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish and what new skills you can acquire.
Seek out a senior woman who can act as mentor and role model and from whom you can get advice or use as a sounding board. She doesn’t have to be in your department, or even your company. In the same way, as you progress up through your profession, take time to mentor others. It’s a huge source of pride and satisfaction to see someone you’ve advised and nurtured succeed and thrive.
Work hard, treat people well, give back to the next generation and you can’t go wrong.
Andrea Wilkinson says
Why limit yourself to selecting senior women as mentors? Seek out people who demonstrate the kind of leadership you wish to emulate—regardless of sex. Smart men will see your desire to learn and encourage it. While not all men are good at mentoring women, things are changing. Take the opportunity to be part of the change and seek mentorship in all capacities of your life—philanthropic, educational and professionally. One can never have too many mentors.