They were waiting to see me fail.
“And what, Charlotte,” one Vice President sneered, “is your analysis on the client’s current market opportunity?”
As the youngest person in the room – and a woman – I had to speak twice as loudly and provide information ten times more insightful than my male counterparts. It was just one of many lessons I learned to set myself apart and rise up into the highest position available for my role at the company.
I wasn’t alone.
“In one of my early jobs, I had a boss who treated me differently from the two men on my team – and not in a good way. He spoke to them with kindness and respect but belittled me publicly. I tried to talk to him, but that just made it worse. My two male teammates – right out of school themselves – stepped up and he stopped. “
“Even if you’re the most junior person in the room, you have power. Use it.” – Sheryl Sandberg
You might not be Sheryl Sandberg — yet. You might simply be getting started in your career or find yourself ready to quit, because you’re not getting the kind of recognition you know you deserve. Wherever you currently are, I’ve learned four key tricks from being in the trenches of working with predominantly men on multi-million dollar strategies and corporate environments that can ramp up your success in ways where women everywhere will be proud.
I have learned that no matter what the external circumstance, the more power you have within yourself and the more willing you are to use your voice – LOUDLY – then there’s nothing stopping you from getting where you want to go.
Are you a woman who’s dealt with mansplaining?
A minority who’s had to fight twice as hard to get seen?
A millennial who’s been talked down to again and again?
It’s time to create the kind of work environment, and world, you’d like to see. And it’s easier than you think! Follow these four steps for four months and see what a difference your work life and career opportunities will be.
1 – Become the elephant in the room.
As the largest land mammals on earth, elephants have to navigate a lot in order to become one of the longest living creatures in Nature. It’s time to apply what they do on a daily basis if you’re looking to get ahead in your work environment.
Elephants meander around obstacles in their territory — they don’t let anything stop them from getting where they need to go and they’re okay with being large and in charge. Get around your obstacles by getting into the rooms above your pay grade.
Become the person everyone didn’t know they needed. Make notes, proactively follow-up on the next steps are from the prior meeting, be the one who joins the dots between areas of the business and brings insights to the table that your bosses or peers have missed.
“Allow yourself to be the elephant in the room, where others wonder WHY you’re there, then show them why”
You’ve likely heard the saying, “Elephants never forget.” They must retain a substantial amount of information to survive. Be the one who uses your wits to ensure your survival by contributing more knowledge than anyone else around you.
Lastly, elephants adopt a matriarchal structure with a female in charge to ensure the clan thrives. Don’t ever underestimate the fact that these men need your unique input. As a woman, you have the ability to see the nuances many masculine thinkers miss. And, sometimes, it helps to remember the simple fact of biology: none of those men would be in the room if a woman didn’t birth them in the first place.
So, take up as much room as elephants do, and get seen to succeed.
2 – Make it so that all roads lead to you.
If you’re one of the only minorities or women in the board room, it’s important that rather than hide away in a corner, you actually become the epicenter, so that all roads lead to you.
Be your own greatest advocate and advocate for others. When the room falls silent with the question no one else knows the answer to, you need to be the one that either (a) knows the answer, (b) knows the person with the answer, or (c) is the one who problem solves on the fly to find the answer.
Once all eyes and ears are on you, amplify the impact of your ideas in the room.
The women on former President Obama’s staff realized that more often than not, their ideas were being coopted by the men in their meetings. These women banded together and amplified the female contributions by reiterating and attributing the ideas to the right people, so that there was no opportunity that the men could take credit for the ideas women delivered.
You can acquire advocates across the industry, business or peer level and rally them as amplifiers, much in the same way as online influencers do to quickly boost their perceived post rankings in social media algorithms.
3 – Be wildly you.
Yes, it’s important to be a good “cultural fit” when you join a company, but if you’re looking to really catapult your career, you need to know how to play the game — and when you think of what you’re doing as a “game”, you’re more willing to take bigger risks that have greater rewards.
From the beginning of time ever after, there will never, ever be another you.
So, capitalize on that. Be divergent.
Be the person in the room people recognize, because you’re clear on your objectives, you offer insights no one else is thinking about, and you have different ways than the status quo to get from where the company is now to where you’ve proposed they go.
Become the person that senior executives want to learn from, the one who knows the latest innovation in the industry and has really interesting ideas for how a business can benefit from cutting-edge techniques.
Speak up about off-the-wall, creative approaches to opportunities and threats, and don’t be afraid to take some of these ideas and run with them. Most businesses in 2018 are not culturally geared to support divergence, uniqueness or risk, but the learning curve that you will attain and the doorways that will open up for your career either in your existing company, or new companies, will be tremendous.
4 – Do meaningful work …
… and be financially focused.
The same way that a business needs a compelling strategy, a strong business model to drive profitability, and a bigger purpose in the world to engage customers… so does your career. Too many smart, driven and passionate female and minority entrepreneurs and employees feel they have to choose one or the other – purpose or profit — when what you actually need to be focused on are BOTH of these elements to truly catapult your career.
Let your peers and superiors know what you want to achieve, how you intend to get there, what your purpose in life is, and what you expect in terms of remuneration and the speed of your career progression.
Many people feel these conversations are incredibly difficult to have, especially if you’re in a minority group, because you’re already feeling as though you’re playing catch up, so you’re not looking to rock the boat.
“Do the opposite of what you would normally do. Set the expectations for what you want front and center for everyone, including your inner critic, to know.
Be bold with your statements and say them with absolute confidence.”
People believe in your own belief about yourself, so the more gusto you show up in pursuit of success, the more others around you rally behind your belief. Throughout my career, especially while in investment banking and consulting, I had to be adamant and vocal that I receive the projects I wanted and to receive the promotion I deserved. I’d start discussing my objectives months ahead with my superiors and spend the proceeding 4 – 6 months checking with them where on the trajectory I was and what I needed to do to guarantee the promotion.
Even at University, I went to my thesis supervisor every two weeks with a new draft and asked, “What else do I need to do to this for you to give me 100%?”. None of my actions guaranteed a 100% mark or a promotion at work, but I knew with full certainty that if I didn’t say anything at all, I wouldn’t get anything at all.
If your career doesn’t catapult after implementing these suggestions consistently over the long-term, then it’s likely time for you to move on to somewhere that will.
Remember, there’s a reason we love underdog stories — we all want the person with the most factors working against them to show up and shake things up. These are the best and most memorable stories, and they belong to the best and most memorable people.
Be one of those people.