50 Things I wish I’d truly understood (as a WOMAN) when I started my corporate career

A lot of times I get asked questions around what it takes to be a career woman in the corporate world. Invariably, my answers vary based on whom I am speaking to. Simply because a lot of things make up that elixir – Desire to work (or need to work for some women), Passion, Dedication, Commitment, Hard-work, Experience, Qualifications, Personal Brand, your professional networks and advocates and the kind of person you are.

While a lot is written and discussed on this subject, some critical points often get missed out. In this post I am sharing 50 things I wish I’d truly understood when I started my corporate career, albeit many of them are less spoken! While I have burnt my fingers many times on many of these points, the aim of writing it is to probably help you / some working woman in her career journey.

1)      The word CAREER starts with CARE. So take full responsibility to CARE for yourself, your professional growth and success

2)      Have career goals and objectives – Both short-term and long-term. You will go and grow only as far as you want to!

3)      Plan your career in line with your goals and objectives. Have a Plan A. Plan B. And Plan C. Many women are guilty of having no real career plan

4)      Know yourself – Discover your strengths and weaknesses. Be aware of them, accept them (including the fact that you are a woman) and find ways to improve and improvise.

5)      Believe in yourself. If you don’t there’s a chance that others also won’t

6)      Value yourself if you want others at work to value yourself

7)      Learn to say NO – at the workplace and at home. And No means NO. Make sure you understand it, and those around you understand it too

8)      Find a mentor. Having one early on in your career can sometimes be the only factor in determining how long your career will span, and how far you will go

9)      Invest in professional networks. They will hold you in good stead on the rainy days.

10)  At work – Show up. Own up. Speak up.

11)  You are the “CMO” (Chief Marketing Officer) of your work and career. Promote yourself and your work. Again, a lot of women lose out because they don’t get due credit and visibility for what they’ve done

12)  Read the news / Know what is in the news – General knowledge is always good

13)  Invest in your physical health and wellness – This will be one of the most important variables if you are serious about a long term career

14)  Learn to use technology for your benefit. Make an effort to know what you need, understand the power of technology and find ways to make technology work for you.

15)  Stay relevant in your field – read, take examinations / certifications, participate in community discussions, etc.

16)  Build your personal brand image – At work and out of work. Brand YOU should stand for something unique and reflective of you

17)  Communication is critical to success – Invest in enhancing you oral and written communication skills. This can sometimes be the most critical aspect of your career growth

18)  Presentation skills – Both creating presentations and making presentations is a must-have skill. Invest in learning

19)  Learn to negotiate. It does not come naturally to most women, but it can be learnt over time

20)  Learn to ask for help . It is OK to ask

21)  Make a personal resolution to learn something new periodically. Learning is one of the best ways to love yourself

22)  Find ways to improve productivity at work and home. Small things make a big difference

23)  To have a fair chance at success as a working women, learn to prioritize your work

24)  Knowing when to shut-up and when to speak-up is a personal asset. Speaking when you shouldn’t and not speaking when you should can become a liability

25)  Choose your battles wisely – at work and at home. You have finite energy and time, and not every battle is worth a fight

26)  When in doubt, use common sense, presence of mind or the Buddha Expression. They almost always work!

27)  Every now and then ask yourself the difficult questions. They will burst your bubbles and show you the clear picture

28)  Develop a daily routine and stick to it. For at least 3 months before you make any changes.

29)  Periodically, think and measure your ROTI (Return on Time Invested) for the things that you do – at work and out-of-work. If the returns don’t justify your time and efforts, pause and reflect and change course

30)  Give yourself some “ME Time” – every week to do at least 30 minutes of something you love. This will rejuvenate you

31)  Understand that while emotions define most women, control on your emotions will define your career path and its longevity

32)  Have “genuine” interests outside of work. Cooking, Dance, Writing, etc. Whatever! Find something and do it every now and then

33)  Have friends out of work. They will be critical to keep you going through the rough tides, and will provide the much needed ear, shoulder and perspective on those dark gloomy days / nights

34)  At work, it is about business. Don’t take / make everything personal

35)  Office politics is real and here to stay. Find a way to deal with it

36)  If you are at cross-roads / in a tough situation at work, make sure you speak up and share it with the right audience at the right forum. Even if it does not directly help you, it will indirectly help all the women who may face a similar situation in the future. One small voice can be the start of positive change, right?

37)  While earning is important, managing your finances and investments is even more critical. Save regularly, invest wisely and review your personal finances periodically. If you can’t / don’t have the time, hire professionals to do it. It is a worthwhile investment. Again, a lot of women are guilty of being clueless about where all their money went

38)  “The most important career choice a woman makes is who she marries” BY Sheryl Sandberg. This is 100% true. Understand its depth and accept its reality

39)  Work-Life Balance is elusive, and somewhat of a misnomer. Bottom-line, it is your work, your life and your balance. If it works for you, then all is well

40)  There is great inspiration and power in the “All women social networks”. Find one or two that interest you and become a member. Listen, Express and Share.

41)  If and when you become a mother, there will be a time-period (ranging between weeks to 3 years or more) when there could be a career break / you need to apply the career brake. That’s OK! If you are serious about a long term career , positive and objective, things will fall in place over a period of time

42)  Focus. Flow and Flex are the three foundational pillars for a working mother’s career continuum. They all play their role in the career graph of a working woman

43)  Once in a way, take up the cause and help another working woman. Just imagine the difference it can make if 1 working woman supported 1 other working woman for sometime

44)  No matter how complex, formidable, complicated and unique you think your situation is / maybe, remember that there is at least one other woman in the world who has faced a similar situation and found a way out of the adversity. So it is possible. Believe in it

45)  Every now and then, connect and speak with a working woman who is finding her way amidst the jungle for her spot in the sun. Personally, I always take away some wisdom, nuggets or insights from every such interaction, and they help me tremendously

46)  Try to stay positive no matter what! It does you more harm than good, and easier said than done. But worth a try!

47)  Have an open mind to try out unchartered territories at work.

48)  Age and Karma almost always catch up on you – no preferential treatment for women here J

49)  Your happiness is in your hands. You are the “Chief Happiness Officer” of your life. Play the part, and play it well J

50)  Thank (often and in your own personal way) your parents, your education, your teachers, your friends, your colleagues, etc. who all played their bit in shaping your career. Nothing takes you from good to great as fast as gratitude.

On that note, Thank you for reading me. And have a great day and a long prosperous career ahead.

Originally published here

What is the most IMPORTANT CAREER CHOICE a WOMAN makes?

I was in a quest for answers to the question “What is the most IMPORTANT CAREER CHOICE a woman makes?”…

In an attempt to find the answer I did some research – both primary and secondary. So I read several publications on the subject and even several blogs which directly / indirectly covered this subject. More importantly, I put forth this question to the women in my network – irrespective of their age, background (education and otherwise), profession, ethnicity or where they currently resided.

And along the way, I found several “RIGHT ANSWERS” and discovered that there was no “ONE RIGHT ANSWER”

Here are the words of wisdom from the wise, experienced and successful woman….
Be driven by passion and purpose rather than paycheck and pension. Security is important but satisfaction and significance secures us far beyond the 9 to 5.” BY Angela Maiers, Founder and President of Maiers Education Services
I feel that the best career choice is the one which allows you to make peace with yourself. I am in my third career avatar for a reason. It is the eternal quest for doing work that is meaningful to me..” BY Dr Tanvi Gautam , Managing Partner of Global People Tree.
“’The Most Important Career Choice You’ll Make Is Who You Marry‘” BY Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO

As anticipated, the answers were diverse. However as I analyzed the responses I observed that the answers varied significantly based on “THE PHASE OF LIFE A WOMAN WAS IN” and there were 4 distinct groups here:
Group 1 – Single
Group 2 – Married
Group 3 – Married with young kids (Less than 5 years old – i.e., Prior to formal school)
Group 4 – Married with older kids (More than 5 years old – i.e., Once they start formal school)

In this blog, I have listed the key responses based on absolute majority or something which was very unique that it was worth writing about.

The idea of this blog is to share a woman’s view on what she thinks / feels / believes is the most IMPORTANT CAREER CHOICE that will determine the course of her career and life

Group 1 – Single
* The choice of the profession itself especially in answer to “Why am I in this profession?” – Is it her choice OR rather the lack of choice that brought her here.
* The education she pursued and her performance in education because this has a huge bearing on the start she receives in her career in terms of the organization she is employed with, the role and the starting salary – These have a huge bearing on the way her career turns out!
* The organization she is employed with especially in terms of the salary, the kind of colleagues / people she interacted with and the policies with respect to gender equality and diversity
* The kind of work exposure she has early in her career and the opportunities she pursued
* The kind of boss she worked with – More importantly, in terms of his / her own personal ambition, leadership style and the power / authority he / she and the nature of influence on her own career path and growth
NOTE: In fact many women in this category did not appreciate the emphasis to the word “WOMAN”.

Group 2 – Married
* Whom she married because this determines if she will have a career at all and also how far she can go in her career
* Organizational policies which enable a woman to make career changes / transitions to settle into life after matrimony. For e.g.: Transfer to a new location, etc.
* The kind of boss she worked with – More importantly if he was willing to guide and mentor her at a phase of transition in her life (This was not something which a woman can choose, but in hindsight many women felt it makes a huge difference in the learning, thinking and how your career spans out)
* To define success independent of external influences. And the simple choice is to listen to that little voice within ourselves – it knows BEST what you want the most.

Group 3 – Married with young kids (Less than 5 years old – i.e., Prior to formal school)
* The choice to have a career despite all odds on both the personal and professional front
* The choice of the profession itself and if it permitted some form of work life balance to be able to juggle between professional responsibilities and personal commitments
* The choice of the organization especially in terms of some flexibility in policies to help strike a balance between personal priorities and professional responsibilities. For e.g: Work from Home, Extended Maternity Leave to take care of your children
* The choice of the organization especially in terms of the openness to make career transitions based on personal priorities and needs, and yet has a meaningful professional career
* The tenure in the current organization, that is, really the effect of past career choices to stick to an organization – This has a huge bearing on the kind of flexibility you can exercise because you have proved yourself and your work is valued by the team!
* Whom she marries because this determines if she will have a career at all (especially after children are born) and also how far she can go in her career. Many women stated that they had to stop / change gears in their careers / change their careers itself simply because they did not have the required support system at home to help them through the initial parenting years. And then the sheer inertia or social pressures kept them away from work!
* To choose a career that gives her self-esteem, satisfaction and some financial independence
* To pursue an entrepreneurial journey and be on her own as this gives her the freedom and flexibility on her time, ambition, passion and growth
* To follow her instinct and do what she feels is right at that moment
* To invest in her own health and well-being as this determines which careers she can take and how long her career will eventually pan out simply because initial parenting years are demanding physically and emotionally. Add to that the mental pressure of professional work is sure to be a recipe for health issues, if she does not take adequate care of herself
NOTE: Most women in this phase of their life felt that the “choice of career” was actually a “life choice”. All women in this phase responded that the choice should be one which makes her happy, peaceful and content as only then she would be able to do justice to her role as a mother and a career-oriented woman.

Group 4 – Married with older kids (More than 5 years old – i.e., Once they start formal school)
* The personal network she is associated with because this greatly influences her thought process and how she perceives herself, her career and her contribution to the family, society and world at large
* Her own passion and desire to work and carve out a meaningful career for herself by doing work that she is passionate about
* Whom she marries (purely in terms of financial standing) because this determines if she can pursue a career she loves or needs to pursue her career to make money to contribute to the household
* The organization she is working in and the willingness / openness to accept woman at the top and in senior leadership roles (Many women said that there still existed a “glass ceiling” for women in senior positions)
* A career choice which leaves her completely financially independent. In today’s age, families don’t last but careers’ last!
* A career choice of something she excels at and brings value to the table as only then would employers or clients be willing to accommodate her requests for flexibility to manage personal and professional commitments.
* To NOT have a Career (This was a surprise for me – But there were some who wrote saying that the best career choice was to NOT have a career!)

In conclusion, I’d like to say that every woman makes her own choices in career and in life. There is NO right or wrong. It all ultimately depends on YOU! – Your choices, your priorities, your health, your circumstances, your passion, your purpose, your strength, your preferences, your desires, your interests, your family, your support systems…

Ending with something for every woman to think about:
1) Do you really KNOW what you want out of your career? Out of your life? – If not, think about it!
2) Do you really ENJOY your work? If not, think about why not?
3) Do you really think that your work and contributions are VALUED by those around you? If not, ponder over it!
4) Do you really put your BEST foot FORWARD in all that you do? If not, why not?

I’d like to hear your views on “What is the MOST IMPORTANT career choice a woman makes”? Leave a comment to let me know…

Why X did not get a career promotion?

X was denied a promotion to a senior level in the corporate ladder for reasons unknown… X is confused, unhappy, de-motivated and depressed…

And the only questions plaguing X are:
WHY NOT?
WHY NOT NOW?
WHY NOT AFTER ALL THAT I DID FOR THE ORGANIZATION?

If one looks  objectively at any organizational procedure for a career promotion, then usually the qualifying criteria are
1) X has played / is playing the right role for a career promotion
2) X has performed and delivered as per the requirements of the role
3) X is ready (Yes! I know of individuals who eve refuse a promotion if they believe they are not ready)
4) X’s boss considers X is ready (And yes! If your boss does not think you are ready, there’s an abysmal chance that you will get promoted)
5) X performs as per expectations in the procedure as defined by the organization (if any) – Could be an evaluation, assessment, interview, etc.

Because in X’s personal assessment the answers to the above questions are as below:
1) Yes
2) Yes
3) Yes
4) Yes
5) Yes

And also, X has a great profile, a diverse work experience in the industry, made significant professional contributions and has a stellar educational background and qualifications. X has been a star performer in the organization, created an impact which the sphere of influence and also made meaningful contributions in multiple forums within and outside the organization… Also, X wanted this promotion real bad and had worked really hard to honor all professional commitments – And really went beyond the call of duty in many occasions…

Obviously the Math does not add-up?

 So what could have possibly gone wrong?

• Was X visible enough?
 o Within the organization [With peers, those above X in the organization hierarchy, those below X in the organization hierarchy] and specifically with people who wield the real power within an organization
 o Outside the organization [In industry forums, independent bodies, etc.]
• Was the evaluation criteria objective, well-defined, standardized and right?
• Was the right panel evaluating X’s performance?
• Was X really playing the right role?
• Did X have a strong personal brand? in one / many dimensions as relevant in the organization context
• Was X really part of the right team?
• Was X’s work valued enough by the team and organization?
• Was X a victim of office politics?
• Was X in the wrong organization?
• Was X a victim of organization re-structuring?
• Was it an organization budget issue?
• Was it discrimination of any kind?
• Was it the law of karma?
• Was it just bad luck?

 What’s your view? Leave a Comment..