It was my dad’s dream, not mine, for me to be a ‘career girl’. I think the main motivation for me to enter the corporate world right after college was to earn my own money to buy clothes and bags and go on trips with. It’s been a long time since I started working, but I still remember clearly how demanding the magnitude of the shift was, not just on that first job but on every single change in role I’ve taken since. Before I knew it, a bunch of years have passed and I have turned out to be, as much as I hate to admit it, a bona fide career girl. I don’t know exactly when all this adulting happened, but since I like to flatter myself and think I’ve actually been successful at this, I’ve made a list that might be able to help women reading this cope and thrive at work, whatever stage you are at.
- Grin and bear it. It’s not going to be easy when you start, and honestly it never will be. All that stuff about ‘love what you do and you’ll never have to work a day in your life’? Yeah, that’s not always the case. You will need to start at the bottom, and that means, despite your Latin honors, top notch schools and whatever other accolades you’ve received in your scholastic years, you will do many menial, administrative tasks that you thought you were too good for. It is not a waste of talent. These things will teach you patience, humility, and will help you appreciate the work of others. Do your work to the best of your ability, no matter what task was given to you—but keep an eye out for opportunities to improve processes, and don’t be shy to share your bright ideas. Ideally you will earn more and more meaningful responsibilities and do less and less non-value adding stuff over time.
- Think. It is not enough to robotically do all the tasks given to you, like simply crossing out a checklist as quickly as you can. You were hired to think. When you are given an assignment, be curious enough to fully understand it. Read about it. Talk to people about it. Be critical enough to ask questions that will help you, like what the overall objective is and why it is important, how this project can be sustained, etc. Get other people’s opinions and insights. Involve others. In other words—the goal is not necessarily to be fast and efficient, it is more important to be effective.
- Use your strengths. Not all the roles you will ever perform will fit to a T with all your talents and abilities, but find a way to weave these into your work. In this fluid, ever changing world, there will be lots of opportunities to do so. For example, your role is in finance but you also love to write. Is there a way to summarize financial reports into a digital digest that will be easy for executives from other functions to appreciate? Volunteer to do it! Yes, it is extra work but it is also an opportunity for you to put your strengths to good use, and hopefully will shape the course of your current and future roles.
- Be authentic. There are so many books that have been written to use tactics to manipulate others into liking you, buying your products, believing what you say, or doing what you want them to do. Are these techniques effective? Maybe some are, and maybe for a while. But people are generally not stupid and can read through the intentions of others. What I’ve learned over time is that everyone responds so much better to those who are authentic and honest. Take the time to get to know your workmates and build a good foundation. If you are in a leadership position, treat your team as human beings with real feelings and fears and motivations. Be honest about what you think about things, whether or not others agree with you, but at the same time be willing to consider opinions that do not match your own. No need to be a star. No need to show off. No need to kiss ass. No nonsense. All genuine. And if you ever find yourself in a place where you need to do all of these things just to get ahead—get out of there fast.
- Be willing to go the extra mile. There will be times when the work required of you will go well beyond what you signed up for. Stop whining and consider it a good thing, because an expanded scope, higher volume or more complex work are indicators that your leader thinks you can do more. If you show you can consistently handle it, you will eventually move up. Or, let’s say in a scenario where the work required of you is too easy and you find yourself with lots of free time, volunteer to help others out, and grab opportunities to work with new people from mixed departments. You never know what you’ll find.
- Keep learning. Learning should be intrinsic to what you do. There are so many different ways to learn that there is no excuse to remain stagnant. Of course there are workshops and specific trainings, but if you are pressed for time and budget to do these, then do research instead. Read articles. Observe others (they call this shadowing). Talk to coaches and mentors. Understand new concepts, even those not directly related to what you are doing right now. Carve out time to consult your boss about areas for improvement. Yes, you are so busy with work—just like everyone else. But at meetings or even informal conversations, a person who takes the time to learn will show up far differently from one who does not.
- Find a mentor. Jack Ma said one of the first things you need to do is find a good leader. I have been very lucky in that respect, but I know that not everybody is happy with the bosses they encounter. So perhaps it is more important to find a mentor you can learn from. A mentor is someone more senior who has a higher level of expertise (preferably not your boss) that can help you navigate your own journey through advice, personal experience, etc.
- Be a problem solver. Instead of running to your boss for every single problem needing a decision or a solution, come up with your own options and recommendations instead. By the time you present the situation to anyone, you would have already analyzed it and given them options, which show depth and effort instead of simply waiting for instructions.
- Develop others. When you become a leader, it stops being about you and it becomes all about your team. How can you develop others to be better than you at what you do? If you unselfishly teach, take the time to explain, delegate important tasks, trust and empower them to make decisions, you will be rewarded with a fully functioning, highly performing, and highly engaged team. That also allows you to focus on more strategic matters, or possibly prepare for a new role.
- Listen. Possibly the most important thing you can do in the workplace is to listen. Before prescribing solutions, products, services or programs, find out what your customers need first (whether these are external or internal customers). Listen to their stories and see things from their perspective. Listen to your leaders and understand what they expect from you. Listen to your colleagues at meetings more than you speak. Do not be in a hurry to make a point or appear all-knowing. If you practice listening more and more, you will be able to better anticipate what people need, and by the time you open your mouth to make a recommendation, it will be far more solid than whatever your initial thought was.
I encourage all of you Kikay working women to push forward and break whatever glass ceilings still exist in the world. It’s time!