Women in Leadership: Advice for My Younger Self
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- Career women who have made it to the top would give their younger selves some important advice.
- They would say: Find a mentor, collect skills, and always negotiate your salary.
- In addition: Trust your gut, ditch imposter syndrome, and be solution-oriented.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nearly 1 million young women between 20 and 29 earned their degrees and entered the workforce in 2021, poised to become a new generation of leaders.
That's good for everybody: Research has found that managerial teams with high female representation deliver 34% greater returns than those without.
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And employees fare better, too. According to McKinsey & Company's 2021 Women in the Workplace report:
- Women leaders do more to support the well-being of their teams, reducing turnover.
- Women leaders do more to manage the workload of their teams, reducing burnout.
- Women leaders are more active champions of DEI initiatives, increasing belonging and psychological safety.
Even so, today's young women can still expect to battle gender-specific challenges as they climb the ladder. According to the Rockefeller Foundation, women in business continue to face bias, fewer opportunities for advancement, and limited access to professional mentorship in the workplace.
With that in mind, we asked women in leadership positions across industries how they would mentor themselves at the start of their careers.
Here are eight things they wish someone had told them back then.
1. Focus on Collecting Skills
"If I could do it again, I would tell myself: There is no magic path to the perfect career. So take on jobs that will teach you the skills you want to develop. Move on when you are no longer learning new skills that help you grow. Along the way, pay attention to the things that give you joy — and look for roles that will let you do more and more of those things."
— Molly Baron, PMP, President and Founder of Projects By Molly
Related: 8 Skills Employers are Looking for in 2022
2. Collect Good Career Karma
"Industries are small. The people you work with in your 20s are your future direct reports and bosses. Keep your network warm. Make connections for people when there is no explicit gain to yourself. Show up for things that matter to your coworkers. It will all come back to you tenfold."
— Kerri Mason, Vice President of Integrated Marketing, Red Ventures
Related: Don't Feel Connected With Your Work Team? What To Do Next
3. Ask for the Money You Want
"Negotiate your salary. Negotiate your salary. Negotiate your salary. Many women told me to be grateful just to have a job or to receive 'such a good offer' in a tight market. No man ever gave me that advice. People might say no. People might counter. But you won't know unless you ask."
— Lisa Valente, Senior Editor, Healthline
Related: Didn't Get the Raise You Wanted? What To Do Next
4. Weigh Opportunity Costs Carefully
"I wish that I had balanced my career and my husband's career differently. I paused my career for a year so he wouldn't have to pause his. It paid off in one respect: He got the promotion he wanted and continued to get promoted. But in retrospect, I wish I had pursued alternatives to putting my own career on hold."
— Beverly Gearreald, Physician, Consultant, and Community Manager at Transizion
Related: How to Return to Work After a Career Break
5. Be a Solutions Person
"Make sure that if you're pointing out problems at work, pair your observations with ideas for solutions that you're willing to help execute. Well-meaning observations can come off as complaining or making work for others. Now that I'm in a leadership role, I realize how much I value that solution-oriented quality in my reports."
— Noelene Clark, Senior Manager, Editorial for TV Guide and Cord Cutters News
Related: 8 Habits Found in Valuable Employees
6. Some People Won't Like You. That's Okay.
"As a woman of color in the workplace, you're always going to be too loud, too opinionated, too fill in the blank for some people.
But you're here because you're qualified to be here. So stop making yourself smaller and quieter for the comfort of other people. Stop adjusting your boundaries to please other people. Being a people-pleaser never gets you where you're meant to be — it really only hurts you. Pursue your goals with confidence."
— Fariba Arabghani, Marketing Content Manager, Carrus
Related: Obstacles Women Face at Work
7. You Don't Have to Know Everything
"We're all winging it. There is no such thing as a person in a leadership role who knows exactly how to do everything. Initiative and problem-solving skills are the most important things you can acquire. Once you have those, you are just as qualified to solve problems as anyone else."
— Allison Blackwell, Director, Red Ventures
Related: Feel Like a Fraud? Here's How to Ditch Imposter Syndrome in Your New Career
8. Everything in Moderation
"Never have more than two drinks at a work function. Ever."
— Laine Plummer, Senior Vice President of Content, Red Ventures
Related: Owning Up to Your Mistake at Work