As a senior professional in financial services — an industry with comparatively few women in the executive ranks — I've spent a lot of time thinking about why there aren't more women at the top-most levels of companies. I've read the studies and heard the theories that women don't network well; don't have the "vision thing"; communicate too passively; don't ask for bigger jobs and the top clients; and have fewer sponsors who are willing to use political capital to advocate for them the way they do for their male colleagues. There's a lot of agreement and repetition when talking about the problem. It's when discussing solutions that things get quieter.
As a mother watching her 18-year old college freshman daughter contemplate her summer job options and future career, I want her to be exposed to success stories — not to what women lack or haven't done or can't do — because I know these successes exist and we need to share more of them. If young women everywhere went into the workforce steeped not only in the message that "you can't have it all" and inundated not only with data on the lack of senior women, but armed instead with all the accumulated advice and wisdom of experienced women who have thrived in and enjoyed their careers, then they — and the organizations they're joining — would be much better served.
Here is the advice I'll give my daughter — and all young women like her eagerly anticipating building a career — as she starts to make decisions about her life. These are some truths that I know now, twenty-plus years into my career, but wish someone had told me earlier. And though I didn't always follow these guidelines, my career has been more successful — and I got to where I am today — because of them. Maybe my daughter will embody these early on and be ahead of the game.
- Be confident. I've watched you approach multivariable calculus class this semester with coolness and calm. Bring that spirit into the workforce with you. (For the record: I can't think of a single thing I've done in my entire career that approaches the complexity of multivariable calculus).
- You don't need to "know it all" on day one. And neither does anyone else, including that very confident-sounding guy in the cube next to you. Even CEOs ask questions.
- Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. It took me about a decade, if not longer, to figure this one out. It's easy to hold yourself back by thinking there is someone else out there who is more talented, more experienced, more skilled. You won't grow in your career if you won't venture beyond what you already are comfortable doing.