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In our “Leading Together” series, we’re bringing together women who carved out new career paths, harnessed their skills, and overcame the burnout of managing competing priorities. They’re sharing their insights and the tools women need to say “yes” to career advancement and “hell yes” to that next leadership role. Hosted live on the Booz Allen Facebook page every third Thursday of the month, tune in live, view previous episodes, or read our key takeaways below.
“If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair,” aptly remarked Shirley Chisholm, the first black U.S. congresswoman and first black person to seek the presidential nomination from a major political party.
Female leaders have long considered the idea of who has a seat at the table, who is “leaning in” far enough, and whether they’re competing for a finite number of chairs. The stats tell one story: Women make up 40 percent of the workforce for clerical jobs but only 17 percent of executive roles, potentially suggesting there is limited room for women at the top. But according to established female leaders Lisa Beaudoin, co-founder and chief customer officer at Perfect Sense, and Melissa McDevitt-Jiulianti, head of leadership, talent and inclusion at Capital One, that’s all a myth.
Lisa and Melissa joined Dee Dee Helfenstein, executive vice president and solutions business lead at Booz Allen, to debunk the theory of leadership seat scarcity, discuss how to break a competitive mindset, and learn how to position yourself for career success. Want to learn how they elevated their own careers while creating a culture where women can rise up? Here are some of their top tips:
Whether it’s a promotion, more money, or a new responsibility you want to take on at work, asking for what you want is key. If you’re nervous about having a conversation, prepare for the meeting and how you’re going to hold the conversation to help eliminate jitters. Melissa also suggests having notes on hand to help the conversation stay on track. Don’t forget to highlight what a new opportunity for you will bring the organization. “I stopped being nervous when I was prepared to tell them what they got in return,” said Lisa. If you bring your excitement and passion for your career to the table, people will rally behind you and support you in achieving your goals.
“When I start comparing myself to others is when I start to be the worst version of myself,” said Melissa. “If you find yourself in that situation, check yourself and ask what you really want. It’s not about what someone else is doing; it’s what you’re doing to fuel yourself.” If you stand in your power and worth, you’ll realize that “it’s not your value compared to someone else’s; it’s what you bring to the table,” Dee Dee added.
Women are often nervous to take time off for parental leave or other extended obligations, which can make it feel like you have to pick work or family. Melissa and Lisa say you shouldn’t worry about it setting back your career. “You’re still the same person you were before you left,” said Melissa. If you want to know where you’ll stand after you return from leave, “make sure you have those conversations before you go, and don’t be afraid to have the conversation.” Taking time off is not a sign of weakness. “If you’re doing something that is fulfilling one part of your life, you’ll likely come back stronger,” Lisa added.
Whether or not you’ve experienced competition among fellow women at work, there’s always an opportunity to create a pay-it-forward culture. Media can propagate the stereotype of a competitive culture, but Melissa said that “we have to be the one changing stereotypes.” She also suggested considering the type of culture your workplace breeds. Is it an environment where you have to be cutthroat to get ahead? If so, evaluate whether that’s a structure you feel comfortable in.