It’s the little things that make or break your career. A young woman whom I greatly admire recently called me to talk about a stressful situation at work. She hadn’t received a reply to her email for 45 minutes. In those 45 minutes, a strong, bright, confident woman started to doubt her ideas and second-guess herself. I’ve heard similar stories from both men and women, but particularly from women in the workplace.
I’ve often wondered what holds us back. It’s not a lack of qualification. Women receive the majority of college degrees issued in this country, and we all know incredible women who have achieved remarkable success through hard work and dedication. Lack of intent doesn’t cut it either – women are just as interested in being promoted as men. I believe it’s the subtleties, the soft skills that can sometimes get in the way of career growth.
Learning and perfecting these skills often require a conscious change in approach. The key for me was owning my own path and lifting up others around me.
Take control of your career path. Many women work in public relations, but not many reach the top. In an industry made up of 60 percent women, the majority of senior-level positions are still held by men.
We are expert communicators, bursting with activity, excellence, creativity. We push clients to take bold steps, to break the mold. We advise them to be agents of change and to openly and directly advocate for issues they care about. Yet, we forget to be our own champions.
We hold back, women much more so than men. According to a widely quoted HP study, women only applied to positions when they believed they met 100 percent of the job’s qualifications. Men applied when they thought they met just 60 percent of the listed requirements. I’ve observed just as much throughout my career. Too many of my colleagues have held off on sharing ideas in discussions and meetings, overanalyzed the quality of their idea.
These micro decisions and assumptions matter. In “The Four Agreements,” Don Miguel Ruiz talks about the importance of avoiding assumptions as a key pillar to success. Assume good intent, avoid self-censure, take steps unconstrained by fear of failure—and the creative potential will be limitless. It will raise the collective level of the group. The only assumption worth cultivating is the belief in yourself and the value of your individual ideas.
Empower others. Beyond personal growth, we must also empower others. Our very own Lisa Kimmel, president and CEO of Edelman Canada, recently wrote about the exponential value of support. She is right. A recent study showed that compared with men, “women are less likely to receive advice from managers and senior leaders on career advancement, yet employees who do are more likely to be promoted.”
At Edelman, we’ve institutionalized programs to make it easier for our colleagues to support each other, share information and collaborate. We launched the Global Women’s Executive Network (GWEN) back in 2011. Through GWEN, we’ve tried to create a culture of mentorship and camaraderie. The goal is to empower women to move beyond limits, self-imposed or otherwise, and take control of their career paths.
The young woman, who happens to be my daughter Claire and who had called me about her bout of insecurity about her email, finally received a reply after those 45 minutes, and guess what: her colleague loved her idea. That lesson is valuable to all of us. You do your best work when you are your best self, so why second-guess yourself? Be an unapologetic, authentic version of you, and start from the mindset that anything is possible. If you’ve never failed, you’ve never tried hard enough.
Lisa Ross is president, Washington, D.C.