What advice do you wish an older, wiser woman shared with you along your career journey?
The working title for this new collection is 5 Things I Wish a Woman Told Me, which centers on my career and work/life lessons learned along the way. While the book’s chapters are still in flux, I have distilled my close-to 35 years of working and career-ladder climbing into five primary themes or lessons. Lessons I wish a woman had gently shared with me along my career journey. Lessons I wish I was open to learning earlier. You may also know that I am in the process of interviewing hundreds of women of all ages and backgrounds for additional perspective, and to share broader trends and “advice”.
Maybe you have had similar experience, and share part of my story. I’ve held a job ever since I was 14 years old. I started working weekends as a coat check girl, and literally fought my way to and through managing director with a large international bank, and landing as an entrepreneur and business owner at age 50. Bus girl, car hop, waitress at a truck stop, office assistant, research assistant, runner on an exchange, and through several individual contributor roles and formal management and leadership positions. I tell you all this not to toot my career-path horn but to share my story, because I’ve been there, and I’ve likely experienced many of same things you did. And the stories I could tell you – I have to find courage to talk about them, because many are truly humiliating (but also pretty funny!)
When I first officially joined the workforce after college, I had heard about gender gap issues, glass ceilings and so on, and frankly thought it was a lot of crap. I didn’t pay much attention to cultural gender bias, pay inequity, or how few women there were in leadership positions (although I did notice how few women there were). Maybe my biggest career regret is that I didn’t take up gender equality as my cause sooner. Even so, today there is ample contemporary research on the matter, and you will find concrete evidence that there still exists a real and persistent chasm for women in the workplace. So, it isn’t too late for me to actually do something about it, even though I am no longer in the management ranks of a large corporation. Thus, I write and I coach.
While I am still very early with my original research and interviews, one emerging trend that I’m seeing is this. Older women have learned self sufficiency; we have learned that no one cares more about our career than we do, and we have learned to self-develop, self-promote, and nudge our way to the big table where important conversations are had. Older women are happy to help younger women (mentoring, coaching, sponsoring), but we’ve learned that you have to ask. And so we wait for younger women to ask. Younger women, on the other hand, recognize that they need and want help from women who’ve blazed the trail before them, but there are so few women at high levels, younger women don’t necessarily have access to them, and if they did they wouldn’t know what to ask for, or even how. They are anxiously waiting for that seasoned female colleague to show them what to do.
We can talk all day long about the gender gap and cultural bias differences between women and men. Research says that it will take us anywhere from 25 to 100 years to achieve female-male parity in executive and board positions, and compensation. I’m learning, though, that there is a pretty wide generational gap among women. True equity can be achieved sooner if women like me (the “older crowd”) proactively reach out to mentor and coach our younger women counterparts. That’s how I see it anyway.
Up next – networking, mentors and sponsors: stay tuned for Part II.
Copyright 2016, IMAG(in)E Life Coaching, LLC. All Rights Reserved.