The International Consortium for Executive Development Research (ICEDR) recently released a special report “Taking Charge: A roadmap for a successful career and a meaningful life for high potential corporate women leaders.” The report emphasizes that while companies are responsible for putting the right practices in place and fostering an environment that enables women to advance, the responsibility ultimately rests on women to take charge of their careers.
After interviewing 60 senior-level women executives from 20 companies in 19 countries, ICEDR found that successful women executives explore what matters to them, own their decisions, and repay support they received while making it through the ranks. Lauren Ready, the report author and Director of Marketing at ICEDR, provided the following insight that is relevant at all career levels:
Explore your strengths and weaknesses and likes and dislikes. Be self aware, know your personal style, and showcase your personality. Determine your personal definition of success, what you want to achieve, and the legacy you want to leave.
Know that there are various career paths, and there will likely be obstacles along the way, so be flexible. Those twists and turns can make you stronger and actually help you land in a better place, even if it does not seem that way at the time.
Take ownership of your personal and professional life, determine what work/life balance means to you, and be prepared to make tradeoffs. Decide what you can take on and what you need to take away. Be known for a few things – stop trying to be everything for everyone, focus on key priorities, and learn to say no.
Men put themselves forward and women need to as well. Be an advocate for yourself, speak up about your accomplishments, and go after what you want. In your job, do not just provide a point of view – also provide a solution.
Give back to other women and give back to the community. Mentor and sponsor other women, have candid conversations, and give candid feedback, such as how someone presents themselves. Help other women think through situations, understand what is coming ahead, and move forward.
Also make sure you reach across the aisle and help other senior-level women. Stick together and do not contradict each other in meetings – talk out differences after.
An Executive’s Perspective
President of Pfizer Latin America and Huffington Post author Adele Gulfo, who was interviewed for the ICEDR report, said “Women need to know what they want, gain P&L accountability where they own and show they grew a piece of business, go after general manager and operations roles, and raise their hand for challenging assignments.”
Pfizer developed an internal “Raise Your Hand” program after seeing women were not applying for senior level roles at the rate men were. Raise Your Hand educates women about specific leadership roles and helps them understand what it is really like to be in the
role. Gulfo said “Some women fear they will completely lose “balance” in management positions, but you actually have more control in those roles and get work done through and with others.”
“It is really good to have strength in one discipline when aspiring to be a General Manager, and then look for roles that generate revenue for the business,” said Gulfo. For example, Gulfo was a research scientist, then took on a marketing role within her field of expertise (pharmaceuticals), and eventually became a President/General Manager at Pfizer.
“Make choices that stretch you. With high risk comes high reward,” said Gulfo, who suggests one should:
- choose a diverse, inclusive and innovative organization
- build your network both within your organization and externally
- seek out mentors and sponsors
- go for the risky roles
As the ICEDR report states “Recognize that you have the ability to craft your own unique journey.” Engage in self reflection, develop a plan knowing that things may change along the way, empower yourself to exceed your goals, be proactive and take action, and help others along the way to achieve career success!
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