Career stuck? 10 steps women of color can take to move up

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I swear, columnists are getting on my very last nerve. I would pull my hair out if it weren’t too short for me to grab.

Once, while I was waiting to get my hair cut, I read yet another list telling me what women of color need to have or do to progress in corporate America.

Not surprisingly, having a sponsor topped the charts. You know sponsors: the people who advocate for you when you’re not in the room. Clearly, sponsors are a critical need, but columnists and sundry reports also say that women of color don’t have great networks or access to challenging job opportunities. Those observations are true as well — and important. So what, you may be asking, is my point?

My point is the lists we keep seeing are necessary, but not sufficient. There are other behaviors, mindsets and experiences we often don’t discuss, but which are important for our corporate progress. So, I’ve come up with my own list. I call it the "Managing Ourselves, Our Lives and Our Work So They Don’t Come Together in One Big Mess List.” I realize the name’s a little long; I’m working on that, too.

Anyway, here’s what I think is missing:

  • Believe in ourselves. Society sends women of color endless messages saying we are less than just about everyone else. And those messages, subtle yet effective, can seep into our self-esteem and cause serious damage. We have got to mute those messages and truly, deeply believe in ourselves, particularly if we want others to believe in us.
  • Advocate for ourselves. Speaking up for ourselves and being professional are not contradictory. It’s important that we believe we are worthy enough to advocate for ourselves. If we don’t speak up for ourselves, others are less likely to speak up for us.
  • Be willing to trust. If we see everyone as untrustworthy, we create a world in which we can’t succeed. If you have difficulty trusting others, ask yourself if your feelings are grounded in fact or in your own mindset. If it’s the latter, then reflect on whether your attitude is helping or hindering you.
  • Manage multiple cultures. Juggling our personal community and culture with our work community and culture can be stressful. Get with someone else who else is doing the same balancing act and see if you can support each other. Determine if there are places or people who can cross into both. Don’t view inhabiting multiple worlds as a problem, but rather as a gift that offers a rich set of experiences.
  • Fearlessly looking at ourselves. Don’t be afraid to look at yourself critically. Our group and individual strength lies in true self-knowledge. Accept yourself and work on those aspects that need improving. None of us is perfect, and that’s okay, but we’re pretty darn good, and that’s a fact.
  • Shed old baggage. See if there are long-held belief that are holding you back. For example, work to release yourself from messages that say you’re not as good as others, that you don’t deserve success or that you shouldn’t strive for more. Don’t carry burdens given to you by others.
  • Manage family commitments. Our family commitments may be different from those of our white colleagues. Perhaps we’re the most educated person in our families or the one who speaks the best English. We may be the one who helps other family members interact with doctors and lawyers. If so, learn the unwritten rules about work about family commitments and take steps to ensure that poorly timed telephone calls from family and periodic absences to aid them don’t undermine your reputation. When possible, with your family to organize medical and other visits so you can schedule around them.
  • Reach out. Women of color often informally associate mostly within our own groups. Reach out. Make friendships outside of your own group. Invite some of these new friends to your home. You may be surprised at how rich your life becomes and how broader relationships help you at work and socially.
  • Judge your leadership style by different standards. Our approach to leadership may not be the same as that which is commonly portrayed in the leadership literature. That’s okay. Lead in the way that is most authentic and effective for you. Believe in yourself and go with your strengths.
  • Define success for ourselves. Determine what success means for yourself and don’t get caught up in others’ definitions of who you should be.


Blog Author Bio

Ancella Livers is senior faculty member and executive coach at the Center for Creative Leadership. The author and leadership development professional has worked with thousands of managers and executives.

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