Shared from Forbes, written by Nancy Wang. Original article here.
For every woman who achieves a director-level or higher role, 1.8 men do the same, according to a LinkedIn study. The gap only widens as professionals move up the rank.
The impact of the gender gap can be seen played out on the Fortune 2018 list of CEOs, which with only had 24 women, which shockingly is a25% decline compared to 2017.
Why the drastic drop-off? Where do the women go?
The gap, from multiple studies done on this topic, is two-fold: one, women plateau at a certain level in their career, (‘the glass ceiling’ phenomenon) and two women leave the workforce, attrition. If the root of the problem is spelled out for us, then what can companies and organizations do to fix it?
Taking a deeper look into retention and promotion, one finds a common thread – successful execs, whether male or female, have a wide network of peers both inside and outside their own companies – or what I like to call their tribe.
A 2018 HBR study focused on the impact of having such a community had on executives and their career trajectory. The study revealed that executives who were successful at building their ‘brand’, or being known for their strengths, were more likely to move ahead compared to their peers. Sylvia Ann Hewlett from the Center for Talent Innovation asserts that “cultivating your personal brand is one of the best ways to attract a sponsor — and professionals with sponsors are 23% more likely than their peers to be promoted.”
Sponsors and community are correlated with career upward mobility. This is not surprising news. It’s also why the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (GHC for short) is such a crucial event for women in technology. Established in 1994, it is a gathering of the best and the brightest minds in diversity & inclusion (D&I), tech, and education policy. GHC draws tens of thousands of technology professionals and educators every year and given the increased attention toward D&I in recent years, GHC and its host organization, AnitaB.org. continue to grow and have become the annual mecca for women in tech across all levels.
A key component of what makes the GHC an enriching and inspiring experience is the focus on breaking down barriers for women across the tech industry by offering a variety of opportunities for professional development and community building. This year attendees were able to participate in the Senior Leadership Summit (SLS), a two-day gathering with leaders like Cathy Polinsky (CTO, Stitchfix) and Jackie Bouvier Copeland (COO, AnitaB.org), shared their career journeys and challenges they faced. As a women leader, being part of programs on how to hire and retain diverse teams, as well as attending invite-only receptions hosted by Google and Amazon to help women foster their relationships, is critical to building a community among women in leadership and growing professionally.
How to move up the career ladder
Anyone moving up the career ladder will quickly discover that to keep advancing you will need to learn more skills in less time. For example, an entry-level cloud developer only needs to complete a very discrete task per sprint, whereas a recently-promoted engineering manager must not only complete their own work but also make sure their team is producing work to reach their final goal. . It takes years to build industry expertise, and even more time to build a name for yourself in that arena. For this reason, women in leadership should not only have allies or supporters within their organization, but also have key allies outside their immediate organization to speed up career opportunities that might take decades to achieve, or perhaps never materialize.
So along with busy work schedules and competing non-work priorities, how can executives successfully build their brand and external network? Here are four strategies to help you create your own tribe.
Decide what you’re good at
Knowing what you are good at might sound easy and straightforward, but often professionals consider themselves a ‘Jack of All Trades’. This may be due to their own wide-ranging interests, organizational chaos, or any number of reasons, but identifying what your niche is will help you advance in your career Even though leaders at the very top, CEOs, board directors, may have a wide remit thus requiring them to be generalists, it was almost certainly a specialty that helped them get to that position in the first place. To keep moving up the ladder, decide what your special niche is in your industry, and spend the next few years honing that skill and building your tribe in this area.
Know your ‘tribe’
Once you’ve identified your niche, the next milestone is understanding who you click with professionally. Just because two people work in the same industry does not mean they are in, or would want to be in, the same tribe network. Many professionals attempt a ‘spray and pray’ mentality allocating their time and effort indiscriminately across many potential contacts. ‘The spray and pray’ method may cultivate acquaintances, but you need to find true sponsors who know you enough to refer you for your next role.
Tech leaders, like Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg are the new superstars. In this new era of leadership, it is simply not enough (if you want to be an executive) to have a small community of friends and close acquaintances who know you are good at something. You need ‘to be known’ for that something. With Medium and other publishing platforms it is easy to self-publish and build a following around your expertise.
This generation is drastically different to others before it because working at the same place for several decades does not translate to a senior leadership position. This is where having a robust external network also helps because nowadays, being ‘known for something’ can apply to your passions that transcend your career. My advice for women in leadership roles is to find or plan events that offer collaboration skill-based training, mentorships and networking opportunities to continue building your tribe and forming true connections.
Women in the workplace face many challenges and barriers but organizations and events, like Grace Hopper can help empower our community, so our tribes can continue to grow. The work of communities such as The Wing, Operator Collective, and the Advancing Women in Product Ambassador Community, are crucial in building and supporting the current and next generation of women leaders in industries across the board. Through these organizations and events women can connect with mentors and peers to form their own tight-knit tribe – whether that is a team, community or ecosystem – that will end up reshaping the workplace for women as a whole.