I'm a pretty typical guy, and as my wife frequently likes to remind me, what I know about women could be inscribed on the head of a pin, with room for at least one of Shakespeare's history plays after. But even I can tell that this has been an epic year for professional women. Our country has its first female presidential candidate. Social media is lighting up with conversation about women's health, safety, and perspectives on global issues. And the Inc. Women's Summit starts this Thursday.
Yet women in the workforce are still struggling to close the wage gap with their male colleagues. In fact, the World Economic Forum recently stated that it might take up to 170 years for women around the world to earn the same pay as men.
At a recent YPO Summit in Miami, I hosted a panel with respected business leader Susan Packard, cofounder of HGTV. In addition to her other accomplishments, she has written a book to share her years of accumulated professional wisdom with women at all career stages: New Rules of the Game: 10 Strategies for Women in the Workplace. As I want to see my smart, capable wife (and the other fabulous women I know) achieve their professional dreams, I asked Packard for her expert advice. Turns out she has a lot to say about what it takes to compete with the boys and make the big bucks.
1. Avoid dead end jobs in disguise.
Packard tells a story about spotting a PR vacancy at work that seemed fun, glamorous, and influential. She boldly asked her boss to consider her for the job, and he replied bluntly that it wasn't something that would ever get her into the C-suite. It was a great job with no path to further promotion. He told Packard to look for "line jobs" where she could hone her skills in sales and management, and to avoid "support jobs" that would keep her off of the front lines. Look for the line jobs, even if the support jobs seem more exciting in the short term.
2. Learn to play "Verbal Offense."
Don't worry--Packard isn't suggesting that women need to give offense. Instead, she urges you to speak up and ask for the things you want, especially raises and promotions. Be ready to explain exactly why you deserve it, using carefully prepared facts and figures to support your case. You can also use this to argue for additional training and education, which will help you increase your long-term salary potential.
3. Go beyond the basics of brinksmanship.
"Brinksmanship," the game of negotiating, is an important business strategy. According to Packard, women tend to be more risk averse than their male colleagues, which makes them more inclined to back down when they face resistance. You need to master four key gambling moves: The Walk Away, The Bluff, Sizing up the Room, and The Tell. Using these well helps with salary negotiation, closing sales, and negotiating contracts. You don't have to be mean or combative, just stand your ground.
4. Build your fan base.
Look for the people who will support you in your organization, field, or profession. Be the kind of woman they want to get behind: likeable, confident, capable, and ready for a challenge. This doesn't mean you have to be Miss Congeniality; in fact, faking or sugar coating your personality may drive potential supporters away. But you should be friendly, take an interest in others' lives and opinions, and pitch in willingly when your help is needed. Doesn't that sound like a person you would want to help succeed? Then be the woman you would go to bat for any time she asked.
5. Be a good sport, but stay a competitor.
If you lose the promotion or contract, it is important to show gracious acceptance and pleasure at others' success. After all, sore losers irritate everybody. But stay in the game. If you don't win this time, put aside your doubts and concentrate on coming opportunities. Start planning your strategy for the next open corner office or quarterly review. Did you make any wrong moves this time? How can you improve your own skills? You've seen the current winner's strengths. What are their limitations? Find the things that will give you and edge and do them.
6. Make sure the right team gets your "A" game.
You probably know that you need to bring all your skills and talents to bear every day. You work hard, look for opportunities to hone your skills, find mentors to coach you, and aim to be the best player you can be. But all that effort can only truly bear fruit if you're on the right team. Packard advises that women get to know company culture--can this organization provide the things you want? Do their current players complement your abilities and balance your weaknesses? Do their policies make room for the lifestyle you want to maintain? Is the chemistry good, or is it toxic? Aim to join the kind of team that helps you play your best and deserves your best.
7. Get support from your "home team."
Most us have a life outside the office that includes a partner, family, or close-knit circle of friends. You need their buy in and support to win at work. Keep your home team informed about the situation at work, because it will affect those relationships. Getting a big sales commission may mean putting in long hours; is your partner willing to handle childcare alone this month? Earning the bonus may entail extra networking or weekend coaching sessions; can your best friend bring lunch to the office instead of meeting you at the usual bistro? Agree on expectations. What extra support will you need? How will you keep up your commitments to them? Be ready to reciprocate when it's their turn at bat, too.