Gender equality is a common topic in the news, but effective ways in which everyone can take part in this cultural shift are not often discussed, especially in the working world. At a recent Smarter Faster Revolution event, which provides insights into how students can better prepare themselves for the challenges of the evolving workplace, JPMorgan Chase’s Sam Saperstein sat down with Axios at the University of Pennsylvania to showcase the importance of gender equality in today’s workforce. They shared actionable steps that women can take to forge their own paths to success, while creating a more inclusive culture in the workplace.
During the conversation, Saperstein described Women on the Move, JPMorgan Chase’s initiative to promote gender diversity and advance women in the workplace. In support of women, both inside and outside of the company, Women on the Move aims to: empower female employees to grow their careers, help female business owners launch and grow their businesses, and improve the financial health of female consumers.
“We’re looking to prove that diversity is good for everybody,” said Saperstein. “And it’s not just because there’s a war for talent out there – which is true. It’s also due to the fact that our clients are looking very different these days, and the world out there is very different, so we need to reflect that shift.”
All over the world, women are shattering glass ceilings and proving that they have what it takes to be successful business leaders. Here is some practical advice for becoming a successful business woman.
At the event, Saperstein shared five key tips for women who are working to achieve gender parity in the workplace.
Preparing Yourself for Women Specific Challenges
Read about successful women.
There are many successful career women out there – in business and in other fields. Researching and learning about their background and career paths will help to motivate and inspire you. Reading their stories will give an idea of what the path to success looks like and what obstacles you might encounter along the way.
- The web is a great resource for researching successful business women. There are some interesting and insightful articles on websites such as Forbes and Harvard Business School.
- You can also read the memoirs or biographies of a number of successful women and gain an insight into their professional experiences – both good and bad.
- Sheryl Sandberg. An excellent example of one such memoir is “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead” by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. She discusses issues such as the low level of women in corporate and governmental leadership roles, the pay inequalities faced by women in the workplace and the difficulty of balancing career ambitions with raising a family. She encourages young, female graduates to “believe in themselves, raise their hands, sit at the table, take risks and support each other.”
- Anne-Marie Slaughter. Anne-Marie Slaughter is a Princeton professor who rose to prominence in 2012 when she wrote an article in The Atlantic titled “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” a frank assessment of her difficulty balancing her work as director of policy planning at the State Department for Hillary Clinton with her responsibilities as the mother of two sons. In the article, she argued for “changing social policies and bending career tracks to accommodate our choices” rather than expecting women to simply run themselves ragged in order to play by the current rules of the workplace.
- Hillary Clinton. Former Secretary of State and potential 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has long been an advocate of women’s rights. Clinton has emphasized the need to extend family and medical leave and to encourage women and girls to pursue careers in math and science. She says: “We need to empower women here at home to participate fully in our economy and our society. We need to make equal pay a reality.” Many will argue that Hillary Clinton is actually not a very good example. This is because not only is she not a business woman, but she is also under the threat of investigation.
Research women in your field.
No matter what field you’re in, there are sure to be successful women who’ve paved the way for others. Finding out about successful women in your particular field will give you a better idea of what a typical career path might look like and highlight some practical steps you can take to become successful.
- Research what schools the women in your field went to, what internships they did, whether they worked abroad, where they got their first job, and any other information regarding their career path.
- Figure out what these women did right, then use that knowledge to work out a career plan of your own.
Consider a field with fewer women in it.
Historically, women have been underrepresented in fields such as science, engineering, technology, mathematics and computer science. By pursuing a career in one of these areas, a woman may benefit from certain incentives designed to encourage more women to enter these fields, such as scholarship programs and grants.
Determine how to balance work and family.
Perhaps the greatest concern for women in the workforce is how to balance work and family life. Women are usually in their key childbearing years while simultaneously trying to advance their career and climb the corporate ladder.
- Surveys have shown that most women leave their jobs due to caretaking conflicts or workplace climates which are hostile to the demands of parenthood.
- The best way to ensure a balance between work and family is to find a company which offers a combination of parent-friendly policies such as paid maternity leave, company-sponsored childcare, flexible scheduling, family healthcare benefits and paternity leave.
Overcome pay inequality.
Despite making fantastic progress in terms of the number of women in the workforce and the proportion of those who go on to reach managerial and executive positions, there is still a long way to go, especially when it comes to equal pay. The frustrating truth is that women earn significantly less than men, for the same work. Although factors such as education or the decision to have a child can affect pay levels, the main problem is that women consistently undervalue themselves and fail to effectively negotiate with employers for higher salaries. In order to overcome pay inequality, you should:
- Do your homework. Find out what other people (men and women), with the same qualifications and in similar positions, are earning.
- Learn how to negotiate. Once you know your value, you should work on selling your qualifications, skills and achievements. Never undersell yourself. Don’t offer a salary figure first, and provide a salary range if you are pressed about it.
- Never say yes to an offer immediately. Think of the first number they provide as an “initial offer” and continue to negotiate if you feel you are being undervalued.
- Realize that you are entitled to ask for a raise. If you are already in a job where you feel that your contributions are undervalued, or you find out that a colleague is being paid more for the same work, don’t be afraid to ask for a raise. Just be sure to build a convincing case: do your homework and find out the salary range for similar roles both within and outside the company. Be prepared to talk about your positive contributions to the company including any recent successes or problems you have solved. Highlight any positive feedback you have received from others on your team
Having confidence in yourself and your abilities is essential in becoming a successful businesswoman. People will view you as you portray yourself. If you project confidence, people will believe that you are confident.
- Self-doubt is natural, but don’t let it overwhelm you. Remember that you are where you are because you’re good at what you do.
- Project confidence through your body language. You can do this by standing tall and keeping your head held high. Greet people with a firm handshake and a smile. Most importantly of all, make eye contact with the person you’re speaking to. Try not to glance at them before quickly looking away, remember to hold their gaze, as this is a sure sign of confidence. If you have to address a room of people, try to make eye contact with every person in the room for at least a second or two.
- If you’re having a bad day where your confidence feels shaken, try to reassure yourself using positive affirmations. It may feel silly, but looking at yourself in the mirror and repeating something like “I am great at what I do” or “I am determined to reach the top” can really help you to rediscover your confidence and determination.
One of the most enduring stereotypes about women in business is that they are weak and emotional. The best way to overcome these stereotypes is to disprove them. In order to gain respect as a formidable businesswoman, it is important to be assertive.
- You can convey assertiveness through both your speech and your actions – have confidence in your decisions and don’t second-guess yourself. Speak authoritatively, in a clear, confident manner and people will have no reason to doubt your decisions.
- When faced with criticism, try to be as rational and collected as possible. Consider what has been said and decide whether you can use the criticism constructively or whether you should just disregard it. Whatever you do, don’t let it be a trigger which causes you to doubt yourself and your abilities.
Handle criticism well.
The capacity to handle criticism and grow from it is a very important aspect of success. However, there is a big difference between constructive criticism and destructive criticism. You need to learn how to recognize and handle each of them.
- Destructive criticism is a comment or accusation designed to hurt your self-esteem. It is not intended to help you or allow you to see what you did wrong and improve on it. An example of destructive criticism would be a coworker saying “How could you be so stupid?” or “What were you thinking?” The best way to deal with this type of criticism is simply to ignore it.
- Constructive criticism, on the other hand, usually has a good intention behind it. It is intended to help you to improve and should be viewed as a positive. An example of constructive criticism would be: “Thanks for your report. It was a good effort, but I think it could benefit from more statistics to support your findings.” The best way to handle this type of criticism is to thank the person for their feedback and to use their comments to improve your work in the future.
Follow your curiosity
You don’t have to follow a traditional career path—every woman’s path to success is different. It is worthwhile to follow not only your passions, but also your curiosities. “Don’t strive for perfection. Perfection is the enemy of good,” said Saperstein. “You have to get out there and make things happen, take action, not study things to death, and be curious.”
Reach for more
Always strive to achieve more – and don’t settle. Today’s workforce is seeing a plateau when it comes to women in senior level roles. According to Saperstein, female employees are not leaving the company more than their male counterparts. “Attrition rates aren’t higher for women. In the industry overall, women are not leaving to raise their families – they are just staying at the same levels,” she said.
Companies and their employees, both male and female, need to do more to identify barriers to career advancement, create meaningful change, and propel women to the next level.
Saperstein recommends that companies analyze their promotion and performance data regularly to identify where women are most underrepresented and then commit the resources to address these issues.
Build a network, and use it
Throughout your career, it is important to build and maintain your network, and use those connections to uncover new career opportunities. “Be a collector of people. Find people you can interact with and keep in touch with them. You never know when things are going to come around and later in life you are going to want to get in touch,” said Saperstein.
Share a different perspective
There are many instances in which women may feel silenced in the workplace, which is detrimental to diversity of thought and promotes group think.
“You can play a role in driving an inclusive environment,” said Saperstein. “You can look around and say, ‘Do we have everyone represented?’ Are you actually soliciting voices all the time, asking the quieter people what they think? All of these things on a day-to-day basis can add up to make a more inclusive environment.”
Speak up often
Don’t be afraid to be heard. “If you are in a room with a lot of people and you are hesitant to speak up, say something early because it gets you in the door. It breaks the ice so you feel more comfortable and it establishes that you have a reason to be there.”
Creating meaningful change in the workplace starts with fostering an environment in which everyone feels comfortable coming forward and expressing their opinions. Women can better prepare themselves for a successful career by being confident in their abilities, transparent with their opinions, and active in encouraging a culture where everyone feels empowered to support gender parity in the workplace.
General Steps to Success
Find your passion in life and follow it.
In order to reach the top, you need to be passionate about what you do. Think about it. It’s so much easier to motivate yourself to work hard when you’re energized and excited by what you’re doing.
- The road to success is long and has its fair share of ups and downs. Working towards something you’re passionate about will give you strength during the tough times and added satisfaction during the good.
- If you’re not sure where your passions lie, think about going to see a career coach or a good psychologist. They will help you to identify your strengths and weaknesses and gain a clearer vision of your life goals.
- Remember that not everyone has a pre-existing passion, it may take some time to find yours. It is also possible to become passionate about a job, with enough hard work and dedication.
Success is the result of long-term planning and daily action. Good organization helps you gain control of your time so you can plan and complete the tasks needed to achieve your goals.
- Focus on what’s important. Remind yourself of your long-term goals and revise them when necessary.
- Learn to prioritize. Decide what your goals are each day, then set daily priorities in order to achieve your goals.
- Finish one task before you start another. Multi-tasking is overrated. Focus 100% of your attention on every task you set your mind to, whether it’s responding to emails or filling out paperwork. This reduces the chances of you making a mistake or overlooking something important.
Networking can be very helpful to your career. Networking is about making connections and building enduring, mutually beneficial relationships with other professionals. It enables you to find out about exciting career opportunities, learn of new developments in your field or discover the solution to a problem you face at work.
- Networking is all about communication — making phone calls, conducting information interviews, writing letters or connecting through online networking sites.
- Once you have made contact with a person, it is important to try to develop a relationship with them, to keep in contact with them and to help them with any requests or favors they might have. You never know what they might be able to help you with in the future!
- One of the best ways to network successfully is to do informational interviews. This is where you organize to informally meet with a senior colleague or other professional for lunch or coffee in order to ask questions, gain valuable information and insights and create business relationships. Once the meeting is over, thank them for their time, ask for a business card and try to stay in touch.
- Remember: no matter how hard you work, unless you’re aware of an opportunity, you’re not going to get a shot at it. Your network will open up opportunities for you and your career, both now and in the years to come.
Creativity is a word that’s thrown around a lot in the world of business. Employees are expected to “think creatively” and come up with “creative solutions” to the obstacles they face at work. But what does being creative really mean? Creativity is essentially whole-brain thinking – requiring the imagination and intuition of the right side of the brain, combined with the logic, strategic thinking and critical analysis of the left. It involves coming up with innovative, yet effective ways to deal with the problems you encounter and providing a unique perspective on the world around you.
- When faced with a problem at work, use a blank sheet of paper, start thinking about possible solutions, and write down anything that pops into your mind. Try to free your mind from the shackles of reality and practicality. Allow your brain to think freely and to make associations you wouldn’t normally make. Creative thinking requires thinking outside the box.
- Become more playful in your work. Use images and colors when writing reports. Use toys or props to stimulate creative thinking. Give a presentation from the back of the room. Break away from convention in order to think creatively.
Get a good education.
An education from a high-ranking university can be instrumental in getting you to where you want to be in life. Completing increasingly advanced levels of education shows that you have a drive and commitment to learn and apply information, ideas, theories, and formulas to achieve a variety of tasks and goals.
- Attending a good school will not only provide you with the necessary knowledge and skills required for your chosen career, it will also allow you to compete for the best positions on the job market. Some of the most prestigious positions will only accept graduates from top level schools.
- Attending a good school will also provide you with an excellent opportunity to make contacts and interact with the best people in your field.
Be willing to learn.
Don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t know everything. It is important to know where your weaknesses lie and to constantly seek to improve them. Even when you are confident in your abilities, you should always seek to boost your skills.
- Learn as much as you can from the people around you, read books to increase your knowledge and go to workshops to improve decision-making or interpersonal skills.
- Find a mentor. A mentor is someone, usually with a bit more experience than you, who knows the trade, offers advice, and helps you in your pursuit of success.
Be willing to work hard.
Regardless of how many opportunities come your way, how much experience or how good of an education you have, the number one key to success is hard work. Nobody makes it to the top of their game without putting in long hours and making sacrifices in order to reach their goals. If you’re finding it tough, just remind yourself that the rewards will be worth the effort.
- Stay away from distractions. It’s difficult to focus on work 100% of the time, but when you’re aiming for the top it’s important to minimize distractions as much as possible. It’s important to take some personal time now and again, but aim to be focused and efficient whenever you’re in work mode.
- Surround yourself with motivated and successful people. By surrounding yourself with other like-minded people you’ll be forced to set yourself very high standards and to work extra hard in order to stand out.
In order to succeed, you need persistence. You need to fall on your face, then get back up and try again. Success doesn’t come easy, it takes consistency and determination.
- Don’t be afraid to fail. Failure can be a good thing, if it helps you to learn from your mistakes.
- If you begin to feel demoralized, remind yourself of everything you’ve achieved already and how far you’ve come. Remember that your greatest achievement might be just around the corner!
Being a successful business woman means you have to constantly push yourself beyond your comfort zone, take risks and be fearless in pursuit of your goals. Each individual success will increase your confidence and encourage you to strive for more. Even when things don’t go as planned, remember that it’s not the end of the world and you can do better next time round. Be strong, confident and brave and you will soon reap the rewards