Agata Laydon, VP Business Operations, Student.com
I’m a firm believer in meritocracy. Competence and achievements should be rewarded equally – regardless of your gender.
But unfortunately, in today’s world of work, bias remains prevalent. Progress is being made, albeit painfully slowly. According to Catalyst, women held less than a quarter of senior roles globally in 2016, a mere three percent increase since 2011. In order to make a significant difference in the gender divide at work, we need to equip young women with the skills to succeed early in their careers.
Having spent the last decade both investing in my own professional development and mentoring other young women along the way, I am optimistic about the prospects for women in the workplace. With that in mind, here’s my advice for young women starting out in their careers, or for those who would simply like a little extra guidance:
Have clear goals in mind
Whether it’s a project that you’re working on, your professional development or a new job opportunity – always have clear goals in mind. Without them, your manager, colleagues, or future employer won’t know what you want or how to help you along the way.
This doesn’t mean that your goals have to represent huge milestones or long-term ambitions. Simply breaking down what you want to achieve over the next year or two, into manageable targets, can help give you and others enough clarity to help you progress.
Part and parcel of having clear goals is having confidence when communicating them. Be vocal about what you want to do and why – it makes it easier for people to support you.
Make your opinion heard. If you’re unable to speak up at work then you run the risk of being invisible and ignored. Though it can be uncomfortable, be assertive! You can start small with people you trust, raising only the issues you care most about. By becoming more assertive over time, you’ll build up the necessary confidence to manage and lead others.
Strive to be the person who people want to work with. Avoid complaining – it’s toxic for the office culture and your reputation. Instead, stay positive and optimistic so that others enjoy working with you and are willing to help you when challenges arise. You will also have more energy and motivation to do a better job.
Start conversations, spend time getting to know people, and be approachable so that others feel comfortable talking to you. Whilst it’s important to have your own goals and agenda, try to find time to support your colleagues and lend help where it’s needed most. Being helpful doesn’t go unnoticed and will also help you develop confidence and leadership skills.
“You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do” is one of my favourite quotes. To build trust, your manager and colleagues need to know you’ll deliver your work and take initiative if you have a new idea or think something could be done better. This is especially important in startups, where new ideas must be continuously tested and improved in order to survive and grow the company.
The more trust you gain, the more risks you can take, which often means taking on bigger projects where you can punch above your weight and have more fun (if you like a challenge!). And you will likely be awarded greater responsibility, or perhaps your next promotion.
Take control of your own career path
And finally, it’s up to you to shape your own career. Never be complacent, or expect your manager to tell you where your career should take you. By taking responsibility for your own development, you can succeed and build a rewarding career.