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04 May 2010

Everything a Woman Graduate Needs to Know (But No One is Telling Her)

Bonjour everyone,


I’m heading to Amsterdam tomorrow to meet with our Dutch diversity team and New York later this week on a (somewhat impetuous) personal trip to visit my best friend and see one of my idols (hint: her name starts with an “O” and ends with a “prah.”)  If I have any gender agenda “Aha! moments,” you’ll hear about them right here. 


 In the meantime, Selena Rezvani (yet another social networking connection) has contributed a guest piece aimed at the slew of women preparing to graduate from universities around the world.  As I told Selena, I believe that much of this advice is germane not only for soon-to-be grads, but all working women early in their careers.  I think you’ll find it to be very practical and encourage you to share it with an upcoming grad or working-world “newbie” in your office or in your life. 


 And to the global graduating class of 2010 around the world – a huge congratulations on your academic achievements.  Welcome to the working world – come help us make it even better…



Selena Selena Rezvani is the author of The Next Generation of Women Leaders: What You Need to Lead but Won’t Learn in Business School.”  Selena is on a mission to propel more women into top leadership roles, a goal she achieves through the consulting and coaching practices of her firm, NextGenWomen, LLC.  She holds an MBA from Johns Hopkins University and an MSW from New York University.  I follow Selena on Twitter @NextGenWomen. 


“When I hear that women are graduating with the majority of bachelors and advanced degrees, I get butterflies.  Surely, the advantage of educational credentials will give the next generation of women leaders a running start, right?  Top degrees are important and needed, but not enough.  In order to truly move from newcomer to leader, there are a number of practices we need to engage in on the job.  What’s more, if you ask nearly any professional woman, she has a list of things she wishes she’d learned sooner about the work world. 


Here are the top 6 lessons intended for the newcomer, shared by the women I interviewed for my book: 



1. Proactively Learn the Culture
So many people passively ignore the culture of their organizations and then wonder why their ideas aren’t embraced.  Pay attention to how people at your firm liked to be communicated with, where and how people get information, how successes and failures are handled—even the formality of dress.  Doing so will help you package your message in a way that people can readily accept, thereby improving your chances of winning support.

2. Don’t Qualify Your Ideas
When offering an opinion, give it affirmatively—knowing your ideas won’t be accepted every single time.  Never, ever qualify your ideas with phrases like, “This might be a silly question…,” “I’m sorry if this is off-topic…” or “Someone may have already said this…”  In business, be prepared for people to take you at your word; if you tell people your ideas are silly, that’s exactly how they’ll see them.  A hallmark of a leader is standing confidently behind her opinions, rather than voicing her comments as questions or stirring up doubt…about herself.

3. Learn to Negotiate Now, Not Later
A budding leader will need to negotiate on the job often: for a vendor to come down on their prices, for an important stakeholder group to see value in a new initiative, and certainly for promotions and raises.  Seek out trainings, books, advisors, and coaching on this art now and you will refer back to it over the length of your career. 

4. Show your Entrepreneurial Side
One leader I interviewed advised, “We’re all put in boxes within our jobs….  Make sure the lines on your box aren’t too defined.”  Meaning, if you want to be considered for an incredible opportunity 2 departments over, don’t promote the message that your boundaries are rigidly defined.  Participate in cross-functional projects, volunteer to spearhead a corporate taskforce, and take advantage of rotational programs.  Become known by those other than just your boss, showing that you’re open to growth opportunities in other areas.

5. Don’t Underestimate Mentoring
While Gen Y is famous for not wanting undue oversight, mentors can collapse your learning curve, helping you quickly get where you want and need to go.  Look for people with outstanding reputations and whom you have an organic connection with.  Most of all--don’t fall into the trap of looking to one person to fulfill all of your needs.   Assemble a personal “board of directors” to advise you on all aspects of your career including image, technical skills, presentation, and contacts.

6. If You Can’t, You Must
Unless you’re in the business of building bridges or performing heart surgery, go ahead and take risks!  In fact, the women executives I interviewed in my book said that they continually took risks before they felt ready for them.  Consider what the organization could do to facilitate your success, if a training could boost your confidence, or if your board of directors could support you.  The important kernel is to take risks and accept stretch opportunities, not that you go it alone.  Re-evaluate what you’ve been talking yourself out of pursuing on the job, and take a baby step toward it.”


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Great post and glad to see you are spreading the word for women's advancement.

The best professional development methods, for both men and women, are mentoring and stretch assignments that facilitate risk-taking accompanied by learning. At the same time that women ready themselves, cultural obstacles to advancement have to be addressed and women who "make it" to top leadership roles are critical players in doing so. For uncommon practices that crack the glass ceiling and an engaged discussion on advancing women go to http://bit.ly/crackglass and please raise your voices there as well.

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