According to a study conducted in February 2016 by Catalyst, a leading nonprofit organization dedicated to improving workplace inclusion for women, only 4.2 percent of Fortune 500 companies have female CEOs. This percentage will most likely remain stagnant, as the current growth rate is, at best, one new female executive every two years. The percentages are even smaller for women of color and other marginalized groups.
What do these statistics reflect about the inclusion of women in the workplace? Though success in the workplace does not necessarily mean acquiring a CEO position, the data suggests that women are likely to be excluded from the C-suite. To get the corner office, women have to work smarter and harder. Sadly, in 2016, the workplace is such that women must simultaneously play the game and change the game.
Women can utilize business strategies of success in multiple facets and stages of their life. From navigating interpersonal relationships to working an entry-level job, business training helps women feel powerful and in control of any situation. In many blue-collar industries, training and support for female employees are often limited or nonexistent. A few white-collar industries have developed coalitions and support groups for women, but to what extent do these coalitions affect workplace dynamics? Women need concrete skills and strategies for acquiring promotions and a satisfying career.
Behaviors that women adopt in girlhood, such as politeness, passivity, and the tendency to avoid confrontation, may haunt women throughout their careers. Sexist images and phrases are commonplace in the office, thereby enforcing girlhood behaviors. Expressions such as “the office b*tch” are troubling, normative labels assigned to strong women who do not fit traditional female roles. How can women succeed in the workplace and eliminate these labels?
The following seven negotiation and business strategies begin to address these questions:
1. Do not shy away from office politics
The workplace is a game, and though the game may be problematic, women must play the game to be competitive players. Understand the unwritten rules of the office and learn how to navigate them to best position yourself in the office.
2. Find both mentors and advocates
Mentors will teach you the rules of the office, the ins and outs of getting ahead, and strengthen your professional skills through frequent advisement and mentorship. Advocates will visibly support you when you’re up for a promotion. They will sway office gossip in your favor and help get others on your side. It is important to have both types of supporters in your tool belt.
3. Promote yourself like you would promote your best friend or your significant other
Do not downplay your accomplishments, qualifications, or skills. Modesty is not always the best policy. Being confident and assertive about your skills makes employers equally confident about your abilities. Cite examples of your good work to support your case.
4. Take a break
It’s great that you are a hard worker and always put in one hundred percent at work. However, working nonstop for hours on end can make you appear flustered or inefficient. Taking a break will improve the quality of your work and force you to focus. You can spend time furthering your career in other ways, such as socializing with coworkers, navigating office politics, or developing a working relationship with your boss. Get to know your employers and allow your employers to get to know you.
5. Do not feel guilty negotiating for money
With employers and employees all looking to turn a profit in a competitive market, it is natural to feel insecure about asking for a raise or asking to use company money for business travel. However, you must ask for what you think you deserve. If transportation to a business meeting is significantly easier via train, then ask the company to purchase a train ticket rather than a cheaper bus ticket. If you think you’ve earned a raise, ask for a raise. If you think you’re worth it, your employers are more likely to think you’re worth it too. Introduce third-party norms and benchmarks (e.g., the average compensation package for your role) to show the fairness of your request.
6. Speak up
Say something if you disagree with your coworkers or employers, but disagree without being disagreeable. Negotiate a better solution rather than complying with others’ ideas or suggestions. Your employer hired you for a reason. You are smart and you cannot be afraid to speak your mind. You can use phrases such as, “That’s how I see it. I’m interested in hearing other people’s opinions.”
Do not be afraid to build relationships and utilize your network as often as you can. Utilizing your network to secure a job or a promotion does not mean you manipulate your superiors into giving you the job or promotion. Rather, this indirect form of negotiation and influence capitalizes on resources that can help you secure a position that you’re qualified for. If you are not qualified, you would not be considered for the job or promotion in the first place.
For women, securing the corner office can involve confronting realities of social conditioning, sexism, unhealthy competition among fellow women, and other hurdles. These seven strategies do not suggest that overcoming such obstacles is easy or simple, nor do these strategies work for everyone. However, with more strategies, support groups, training and coaching, discussions, and policies, the workplace can become an inclusive space. And, the percentage of female CEOs can increase.