Below are tips mid-career technical women can use to advance their careers. Increasing retention and advancement also requires that managers and leaders simultaneously work to make the company environment more inclusive. See the resources below for tools managers and leaders can use.
#1: Work on projects with direct business impact
Choose roles that are strategically important to the business and be clear about how your work fits in with company goals. Ask trusted advisors, mentors, and colleagues to help you understand how your work fits into the big picture.
#2: Seek out challenging opportunities — stretch yourself. Research shows women often are raised to be harsher critics of their work than men; this can discourage women from taking on stretch assignments even when highly qualified. Be on the lookout for these opportunities as they often arise unexpectedly. Remember you are expected to grow into a new role; you needn’t have all of the answers before beginning.
#3: Be realistic AND strategic about your time — be willing to say “no” and offer alternative solutions that work for you. Consult with mentors about the best way to say “no” to roles that do not further your career goals or that are not central to the business. It usually helps to explain your rationale or, if possible, offer a creative alternative that meets your needs.
#4: Develop a strong network and continually look for ways to diversify it. Ask yourself what kinds of skills, knowledge, or opportunities are missing from your existing networks. Participate in cross-functional, cross-organizational projects to diversify these networks in ways that close these gaps and accelerate your future opportunities.
#5: Seek out mentors and sponsors who have organizational clout. Mentors help advise you on your career and on company culture. Sponsors advocate for you, making sure that your work is visible to influential people in the company. Technical capabilities can only take you so far; you also need these key relationships to help your career continue moving forward.
#6: Know what you are good at and promote that about yourself. Research shows that often women are raised to think that it is immodest to “sing their own praises.” Consult with mentors, your manager, and other colleagues about different ways to “pitch” your talents. Develop a succinct way to describe your strengths in a variety of situations.
#7: Seek out feedback to continue your professional growth. Discuss your career goals with your manager, mentors, sponsors, and other advisors and ask for specific feedback on how to obtain these goals. Also ask for specific feedback in performance reviews; when given constructive criticism, ask for specific examples of how you might improve.
#8: Remember that you are not alone in your challenges. Use your network to find out how others have handled challenges you face. Be willing to talk with your manager or mentor about these challenges and different solutions that will advance your career goals.
#9: Ask for flexible work arrangements as necessary. Talk with your manager, HR personnel, and other colleagues to find out what options are available, how others have used them, and how these arrangements are viewed in the company. With your manager, devise a flexible plan and make sure your performance evaluation criteria are written in ways that will reflect your accomplishments.
#10: Serve as an internal advocate and mentor for others — both women and men. Junior women and men benefit from having male and female mentors. Mentoring also can be a rewarding way to grow professionally and to expand your leadership skills. Make mentoring a part of your performance goals so that you are recognized in evaluations for this contribution.