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Powerful Women Are Arriving

Take these actions to advance your opportunities.

There are now 23 women running Fortune 500 companies. These companies include General Motors, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Archer Daniels Midland, Pepsico, Lockheed Martin, DuPont, General Dynamics, TJX, Xerox, Campbell Soup, Yahoo, Gannett, KeyCorp, Duke Energy, and Neiman Marcus Group.

The important thing about this list is that they reflect substantial U.S. companies across many industries.

Women are occupying or have recently occupied the following leadership roles in the Federal Government: Chairman of The Federal Reserve; Majority Leader, U.S. House of Representatives; U.S. Secretary of State; and U.S. Supreme Court Justice.

Once again, these are top roles in substantial political bodies spread throughout the Federal Government.

Women Presidents occupy or have recently occupied the CEO roles of following leading institutions of higher education: Brown, Princeton, Harvard, MIT, University of Pennsylvania, and the University of North Carolina System.

Arriving Does Not Mean Arrived

Of course, women have not yet arrived with respect to workplace parity with men. But women are arriving at the elite levels of power at key U.S. institutions. This is not symbolism. Something in this country has changed.

We are reaching a point where the gender of newly appointed major corporate CEOs will not be newsworthy enough to be included in the first sentence of future WALL STREET JOURNAL stories.

Arriving does not mean arrived. Consider these sobering studies:

• In her study of 2,800 managers, University of Minnesota professor Caroline Cochran found women managers received higher ratings than the men in managerial competence at their current jobs, but men received significantly higher ratings than women with respect to perceived long range potential.

• The majority of one organization’s promotions of women managers were more accurately lateral moves, according to a study by Erin O’Brien of Personnel Decisions Inc. in Minneapolis. Overall, when examining a total of 800 promotions in terms of increased power and responsibility, 15 percent of the male managers had received “real” promotions. Of the women managers, only 9 percent had received “real” promotions.

Maryanne Peabody is co-founder of Stybel Peabody Lincolnshire and has some suggestions for female leaders:

If offered more responsibility, grab the opportunity. Do not accept vague assurances that you will be better positioned for future promotion. Insist on a title that reflects your new responsibilities. That title should be recognized in the wider marketplace. Research compensation information through your local trade/professional association or Insist on being paid at least at the 50th percentile relative to the job market for comparable jobs. If your employer declines to provide you with the title and compensation you request, quietly accept the new job and begin looking around outside the company.

If you ask your boss for a promotion, also be prepared to suggest the person capable of taking over your current job. Come prepared with a plan for teaching that individual. Your desire for more individual visibility will be better received if you are perceived as having a team-based perspective.

Insist on a Paper Trail

Carefully review your annual performance appraisals and insist on the boss writing the most glowing statements about your promotability. Such insistence establishes a tone that you have high expectations for yourself. Paper trails do matter if your boss leaves the organization or if the company is acquired.

If you work in a large company and feel stalled because of its rigid organizational structure, consider and seek a move to a smaller company. Smaller companies need professionals who are comfortable crossing functional lines. For example, the in-house attorney may gain experience managing human resources in addition to her legal responsibilities.

Consider further education to prepare yourself for increased responsibilities. Certification programs often require relatively little time commitment. Degree programs may require a gigger commitment. Attending such courses keeps you “up to date” with developments in your field while broadening your network of business contacts. Ask for tuition reimbursement if you fail to get the salary increase you expected.

Consider a volunteer position where you can gain new experience in an area. For example, through a volunteer position on a town planning board or zoning board, you can gain new contacts if you are in real estate development or law.

Barter is not the same as working for free. In exchange for your time and service, barter your expertise in exchange for future references and a title on your resume. Make the barter an explicit agreement at the front end of your work. Do not do the work and then "expect" to be rewarded on the basis of your past performance/loyalty. For example, an accountant who would like become a Finance Director in a nonprofit can gain valuable job-related experience, a title, and appropriate references in exchange for some labor.

Below are some of my recommendations:

School is Over

Grades in school are awarded to reflect past success on examinations. It is appropriate for students to complain to professors that their grades are “unfair” in reflecting past performance.

Compensation decisions in companies, on the other hand, are not really a reward for past performance. They are an incentive to remain in the company. Compensation is about securing the future rather than rewarding for the past.

Avoid discussions about the “fairness” of compensation relative to past performance. Focus on the future: “I believe that the message you are sending me with this compensation package is that it is time I look outside the company.”

Notice that the phrasing does not state you will leave the company. The phrasing focuses on your interpretation of the message behind the compensation. You are hoping that the boss’ reaction will be surprise and hurt. You should be prepared for a serious nod of agreement.

A second compensation issue is that some cultures expect leaders to look at the compensation figure as the “first offer.” It is your responsibility to make a counter offer. You will know when you are in one of those cultures or if the culture is “take it or leave it.” If you are not sure, ask colleagues about the type of culture it is.

When Recruiters Call

We do retained search. It is common for me to hear senior female leaders to say, “Thank you for calling. I have no time to discuss your opportunity. Goodbye and good luck.” My reaction is: “What a good corporate citizen. And what a bad career move.”

I seldom get the same reaction from male leaders. As busy as they also are, they are more likely to talk with me. And if they are not good job fits, they are likely to suggest candidates I should speak with.

I would recommend women spend more time with recruiters if recruiters contact them.

There is a cliché in business: the best time to talk to a banker about loans is when you don’t need the money; the worst time to talk to a banker about loans is when you do. In recruiting, this cliché’ can be translated as follows: the best time to talk with recruiters is when you are too busy with your current job. And the worst time to talk with recruiters is when you have time to look for that next job.

You are attractive to recruiters precisely when you are busy. And your marketability erodes when you are “in between” jobs.

Spending time with recruiters allows you to practice your interview skills. Job interviewing is like tennis: the more you do, the better you get. Years of experience on the interviewer side of the job interview table does not necessarily prepare you for the experience of representing yourself as a candidate. The physical distance between one side of the table to the other is trivial. But there is a psychological chasm that you cannot appreciate until you are a job candidate.

Spending time with recruiters helps you get a sense about the larger market for your skills, including compensation. Women can get so involved with their organizations, they fail to have external perspective. Speaking with recruiters does help.

Helping recruiters find appropriate candidates puts you top of mind for recruiters’ future opportunities.

In Summary

It can be quite stunning to watch television shows about the 1960’s and reflect upon the position of women in society then versus today. Perhaps women have not yet “arrived.” But they are “arriving.”

Being successful in a professional life requires more than doing a good job in one’s current role. The sooner you act upon the ideas expressed in this article, the sooner you too will arrive in power and influence.


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