As a woman working on the actuarial side of insurance, I started in what was definitely a male-dominated industry. I was one of only four women in the actuarial class of about 40 or 50 students, and of the four, only two of us fully qualified on the exam. It was tough, but I was successful.
Despite my achievements in school, once I moved into the workforce, I experienced numerous situations and barriers that were demotivating. For example, I remember working as a consultant early on, and reporting to a male superior. During meetings, the company president would ask my boss questions, to which I would answer, yet he insisted on speaking directly to my male boss while referring to me as "dear."
I have experienced this to varying degrees since and, fast-forward to today, it still happens. Recently, a friend who had just returned to work from maternity leave was disgruntled when a senior leader at her company commented that her recommendations for the following year probably didn't matter because she'd likely be off having another baby by then anyway.
As a woman, it's important to me to help empower other women to progress throughout their career. Here's a few tips I'd like to share.
Find a mentor
Whether you're an entrepreneur with a start-up or a professional in the corporate world, finding and getting the right mentor can make the biggest difference to your career. They can provide valuable career advice, and open doors to new opportunities and paths you couldn't previously access.
When asked, most people will be open to becoming a mentor. Don't limit yourself to a someone in your field; choose a person whose career you admire and whose passion inspires you.
Believe in yourself
There will be plenty of people who will say or do things to demotivate you along the way, but the key is to stay strong and believe in yourself.
I was told my small-stature would be detrimental to being taken seriously
I was told my small-stature would be detrimental to being taken seriously. Compared to a man, especially a tall man, I had to work harder to walk into a room and be able to establish my presence right away.
Among a mostly male sales force, it took years to build credibility, but I was able to accomplish this by being very knowledgeable and calculated in my communication, which gave me the confidence and ability to go toe-to-toe with anyone in the room.
Don't drink the Kool-Aid
One young woman I know is quite happy in her current role as the location and nature of her job allows her to be closer to home and look after her young daughter. However, her employer is suggesting that her career prospects could be jeopardized if she doesn't accept other positions further from home.
Part of believing in yourself means learning and gaining valuable skills no matter where you are, and never selling yourself short. A career move is only good if it's right for you — not for anyone else. When you excel at what you do, there will be other opportunities even if they're outside of your current organization.
A key to any successful relationship is the ability to be authentically you, no matter what. I have built trust with others because I don't pretend to be something else, and that translates into strong bonds.
My boss knows I would never give advice that's not in his best interest, and trusts that I'll always have his back. Understand what people care about and what their agendas are so you can meet their needs.
Observe the management styles of your peers and superiors to see what you'd like to incorporate into yourself, be it polish, assertiveness, confidence, communication style, etc. Just make sure that it's a natural extension of yourself; it won't work if you end up coming across as inauthentic or affected. There are also a number of resources available, from books to online leadership advice and career coaches on LinkedIn.
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If you always have the good of the organization in mind, eventually someone in a position of power will help you grow. And that's how I see my role — lifting my entire team along with the organization, not just myself. I can take the passenger or backseat, but either way, I'm still along for the ride.
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