8 Tips to Help Women Take Over the C-Suite
Corporations who insist on maintaining a good ol’ boy network are making (and keeping) themselves stupid. You’re probably thinking that is an extremely inflammatory statement, especially considering many of those same organizations are amongst the most profitable in the world. But consider this: a 2011 Harvard Business Review study found that adding more women to a group increased the collective intelligence of that group. Adding more men? No increase in intelligence.
What does this mean for women in today’s business world? Well, Vickie Milazzo suggests, it’s time for women to rescue the traditionally male-dominated business world from itself.
“There is a legendary story that as CEO of Hewlett-Packard, Carly Fiorina (now former CEO of HP) stuffed her pants with socks for a male-dominated meeting,” says Milazzo, author of the New York Times bestseller, Wicked Success Is Inside Every Woman. “Her message was clear: ‘I have everything it takes to compete.’ Today, the need to play down femininity is a thing of the past. In fact, following the financial crisis, many felt that a Femron or Lehman Sisters wouldn’t have failed. And even some men say too much testosterone led us into the recession.”
Milazzo argues that every corporation can benefit from a touch of estrogen and the feminine qualities associated with it. The almost constant changes to the way we communicate, interact, innovate, and do business are setting up an opportunity-filled future for women—no socks required!
“Women should absolutely take advantage of the changing tide,” notes Milazzo. “No wickedly successful woman ever got anywhere waiting for her big chance to be given to her or for women to suddenly become as valued as men in the workplace. And that’s not going to change anytime soon. However, it’s also true that a growing appreciation for collaboration, participation, and relationship-building have created a perfect storm for women who want to rise through the ranks.”
Read on to learn what you can do to take over the C-Suite at your organization.
Don’t act like a man. It’s undeniable that the more masculine command-and-control way of doing business is on its way out. Increasingly, corporations are coming to value more feminine qualities including engagement, collaboration, and an appreciation for the greater good.
“Be yourself,” Milazzo instructs. “No one (men and women included) wants to work with a bad imitation of a man. And no successful woman ever got anywhere waiting for women’s equality in the workplace to ‘happen.’ Instead, use your innate qualities to shape and fuel your success.”
Collaborate. Intelligent women know what they don’t know and when to seek answers. Smart women appreciate that what works today won’t necessarily work tomorrow, and that aggressive learning is a competitive advantage to achieving any desired goal, especially when that goal is to upset the accepted, male-dominated norms of the business world. A key element to aggressive learning is collaboration.
“I find that women excel at connecting and collaborating to solve problems,” says Milazzo. “The success that comes from this process provides sanity, support and genius solutions. It’s only when we come together and engage in conversation that we raise new questions and think of possibilities at a collective level we would not have considered on our own. Inside every woman is a natural collaborator. That’s a wicked advantage we have as women, an intellectual edge we can leverage for using our genius at the highest possible level. When you collaborate, everyone involved benefits.”
Be a smart networker. More than 60% of people find jobs through networking, and you can bet that most successful referrals didn’t come from the bottom of their organizations’ pecking orders. Successful people spend time with other successful people, not with novices and low performers—and they limit their exposure to individuals who are at a similar level. “So if you’re looking to shake up the C-Suite at your organization, start forming strategic alliances,” suggests Milazzo. “And remember, whether or not it’s ‘right,’ It’s not what you know, it’s who you know is a truism that is still alive and well in the corporate sector.”
Don’t underprice yourself. Let’s say you’re in the running for a promotion and raise within your company, for example, or that you’re in the process of negotiating your salary after receiving a job offer. I’d better not ask for too much, you reason. This isn’t what I was hoping for, but if I get too pushy I might be passed over for one of the other candidates. I should just be grateful to have made the cut. Back up, says Milazzo—you’re making a big mistake. Settle for less than you’re worth and you’ll lose credibility…and maybe even the opportunity.
“Many women mistakenly think they’re doing their employers a favor by not pushing for more or that they’ll be more appealing if they don’t ask for what they’re worth,” she explains. “However, you should know that like many CEOs, when I’m hiring, I weed out candidates who underprice themselves because I assume they won’t perform at the level I expect. When you ask for a certain salary, you’re saying you can handle the responsibilities that come with it. And if you want to move up the corporate ladder, that’s exactly the message you need to convey to avoid getting passed over when opportunities arise.”
Put together a power team. It is highly unlikely that you’ll be able to work your way into your organization’s C-Suite without some guidance and advice from those who’ve been there and done that. And when it comes to seeking this kind of advice, the more the merrier.
Milazzo has always said she doesn’t believe in having just one mentor or taking advice from just one person. Everyone you meet has the potential to be a mentor. The big advantage today is that a mentor doesn’t have to be a physical person. There are tons of books, websites, blogs, podcasts, etc., out there providing great advice. Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter make it easy to connect with people far and wide who know what you need to know.
Bust out of the stereotypes of what a powerful woman looks like. Stereotypes of women leaders are numerous and contradictory. Women leaders are overbearing. Women leaders hate men. Women leaders aren’t tough enough. Women leaders are too tough. Women leaders aren’t confident. The list could go on and on. If you want to bust into the C-Suite, you’ve got to bust out of these stereotypes.
“A key step in not getting overshadowed by others’ stereotypes of what a woman leader should look like is confidence,” says Milazzo. “Don’t underestimate yourself, and certainly don’t do it in front of power players. Confidence is a prerequisite for moving up, and you should have plenty of it. Think about it this way: Women are masters of juggling numerous balls without dropping any of them. We manage careers, households, meals, shopping, and more, day after day and year after year. Adding professional growth to that list doesn’t mean you’ll be advancing into new territory; it simply means you’ll be honing a skill you’re already more than proficient at.”
Don’t make mass assumptions about men. Just as you want to avoid stereotypes about women, you should check yourself before making stereotypes about men. Sure, some of the men you encounter on your path to the top may underestimate you or try to block your path. But many others will recognize what you bring to the table. It’s up to you to do the same.
“Smart people, whether they’re men or women, recognize when mutually beneficial relationships can be formed,” notes Milazzo. “If you find that you work well with a man at your organization, don’t second guess it. Don’t distance yourself because you think he’ll get a promotion over you. You’ll do better work through that relationship and the same is true for him.”
Don’t be a commodity. Commodities are easy to obtain and easy to replace. And that’s certainly not how you want to be perceived at your job. Don’t shrink into your chair and become the invisible employee. Instead, make your presence count in every meeting, brainstorm and project. That’s the only way you’ll be seen as necessary and indispensable.
“Women in general, and mothers in particular, are good at putting others’ needs and interests before their own,” Milazzo points out. “They’re also good at making sacrifices to keep the peace. Stop doing that, at least when you’re on the clock. It’s better to articulate a dissenting opinion than to ride on the back of everyone else’s. At least people will know that you are thinking.”
“Despite the changing times, good ol’ boy networks are alive and well in many corporations across the country,” says Milazzo. “As women, we shouldn’t wait for these good ol’ boy networks to let us in. We may have to push our way in, and that’s fine. What’s important to remember is that if you’ve made it far enough to tap on the glass ceiling blocking you from the C-Suite, you certainly possess the ability and intelligence to break through it.”
Vickie L. Milazzo, RN, MSN, JD, is author of the New York Times bestseller Wicked Success Is Inside Every Woman. From a shotgun house in New Orleans to owner of a $16-million business, New York Times best-selling author Milazzo shares the innovative success strategies that earned her a place on the Inc. list of Top 10 Entrepreneurs and Inc. Top 5000 Fastest-Growing Companies in America.