There is an old song by Helen Reddy called “I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar.” It was written and sung in 1971 and the point of the song, one of the early pro-female rah-rah songs, is to encourage women to be confident, speak out, avoid being ignored.
Today it is nearly 50 years later, and we are still exhorting women to roar instead of squeak. So strong are those tendencies and social constructs that lead to women staying quiet, that getting women to be their own biggest cheerleaders or to actively use their voice for change remains a challenge.
One example: a recent article noted in the New York Times laid bare that women represent only about 25-33% of the people who write letters to the editor at the New York Times; as a result, most of the letters published are from men, and thus represent an un-diverse point of view. We have had some wins too: witness the massive female tide that rolled into Congress this year. These are clearly women who have learned that if you don’t ask, you don’t get and that no one is a better advocate for you than you.
But in healthcare, we still have a long way to go. A recent study by Oliver Wyman noted that:
• 80% of healthcare buying decisions are made by women
• Women comprise 65% of the healthcare workforce
• 30% of C-Suite positions are held by women
• 13% of healthcare CEOs are women
• It takes women 3-5 career years longer than men to reach a CEO role, assuming they ever do
As they so aptly note in the study’s report, “Healthcare, unlike other industries, does not have a ‘women in healthcare’ problem, but a ‘women in healthcare leadership’ problem.”
I bring this all up because I was recently asked by HIMSS to give a webinar on this topic and address some of the key issues that tend to hold women back. Entitled “Advanced Career Math: How Mentorship + Visibility = Career Growth,” the webinar focused on three key things that women don’t do enough and what they can do to start fixing that: find and use mentors, actively network, and build a personal brand to promote visibility.
Mentorship – Key to Advancement
Industry studies suggest that mentorship is key to getting ahead in the workplace and yet the vast majority of women surveyed in multiple studies say they have never used one or sought one out. Even the webinar audience bore this out, as more than 50% of the people in the session of over 150 attendees reported in an impromptu poll that they had not used a mentor to support their career advancement goals. This is a serious mistake, as men report that they readily use mentors and that this has made a real difference. In a LinkedIn study of 1000 female professionals in the US, the results showed that 19% had never had a mentor, that 52% had never encountered anyone appropriate and 67% of women who could mentor others had not because “no one ever asked.” Ironically, another study by global HR firm DDI showed that 63% of women never had a mentor at all despite 67% ranking mentoring as important to career success. Boo!
Why don’t women use mentors? There are a host of reasons, but among them are:
• I’m already high in the hierarchy so I don’t really need one
• The caliber of mentor I’d want is out of my league/unavailable
• My current mentor is just fine (even though they are just a peer/friend)
• I’m too busy working (…to invest in myself)
• I don’t know how to find a mentor or where to even start
And my personal favorite….
• If I work really hard, they’ll notice and promote me, so I don’t need an advocate
Haha, that’s a good one. I have a sign hanging in my kitchen, created and framed by my daughter who has heard these words so often she has probably pre-ordered my tombstone, that says: “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.” And that, my friends, is the god’s honest truth.
Mentorship has been so clearly effective in advancement that 71% of Fortune 500 companies have instituted formal mentoring programs to assist their younger managers to rise through the ranks. But the bummer is this: few such programs exist to help rising women leaders in large or small organizations after the middle management level. And if you are a senior woman at a large company, you have access to few female role models, limited privacy and many topics (like “how do I get the hell out of here and find a new job?!”) are off limits. When mentoring works, it increases job opportunity, reduces insecurity and even increases pay. Actually. A Catalyst study found that high potential women in the pipeline who have active mentors achieve 27% higher salary growth than women without current mentors.
For more on the importance of mentorship, read THIS.
Networking – Moving and Shaking with the Right People
Network is key to rising careers and yet it is hardly done at all by most professional women. Among the webinar participants, 88% of respondents said they dedicate less than 10% of their time to work-related networking. Starker even than that, 57% said they spend less than 5% of their time on this task. This is a big mistake. Networking is how you meet your next opportunity, your next mentor and your next client. In other words, networking is how you propel your career forward.
A big study of more than 30,000 people done by LeanIn.org and McKinsey found that women’s odds of advancement are 15% lower than men’s in part because of their failure to adequately network. Women tend to have small networks of deep relationships, which is great for somethings, but not for career growth. Sometime women are concerned that if they participate in networking events they will end up in #MeToo territory, being taken as too forward or there for reasons other than career. That just sucks.
Beside that one, though, women make a lot of other excuses for why they don’t network enough and the biggest one is not having enough time. I can completely sympathize with that one. Between bringing home the bacon and frying it up in a pan, and all that crap, time is a very scarce resource. But life is full of choices and it is worth figuring out how to balance the desire to be home and guilt about not being home with the dream of being a leader. Women also tend to be more introverted in a room and tend to look at networking from a more social point of view, seeking out networking events filled with people they already know or who are like themselves. This is fun, but not always productive. You have to wade into the abyss and meet new people and use the process of networking as men tend to do: to advance your own interests. If you can also have some fun and help others, even better.
For more on this topic, read THIS.
This quote really spoke to me: “In my experience, I’d say about 75%-85% of the time when you ask a man to speak, he will say yes first and ask for details later. When you ask a woman to speak, she almost always asks for details and some time to think about it,” Christopher Simmons, AIGA Design Conference Chair 2016.
Visibility is essential as it gives you the chance to solidify and give voice to your opinions. It helps you build your agency, credibility and authority as you get more comfortable, and thus helps you communicate more effectively even in small settings, such as client or internal meetings. Good speakers or writers are more effective influencers and inspire others to see their point of view. Yes, it means taking a risk, but what’s the downside? You stay stuck where you are already?
Women tend not to like to toot their own horn. When I surveyed the webinar participants and asked how many of them ever write or speak at a conference/event, 78% said never! Women tend to be more reticent about public speaking than men and let that damned imposter syndrome think for them. They sometimes think it is “tacky” to promote themselves and let the fact that the conferences are filled with men and manels hold them back – “they don’t want me anyway…” I have had women tell me they refuse to be the “token woman” on a panel. This particularly drives me crazy, because if you don’t start with one, you never get to two. And by being a great, smart panel contributor, you help break down the barrier for the next woman. Plus, you get invited back because you’re now a “thought leader,” whatever that exactly means. But seriously, you have to let people help you break the ice and not be too picky for fear the opportunity never presents itself again.
And public speaking isn’t the only thing. In this day and age, you have to put yourself out there on social media and, if you are so inclined, even write a blog or contribute to others’ writing. Yes, it takes a lot of time and can be a little hairy. But if you’re not visible, how can you be seen as a leader?
Too often women adopt a strategy of “intentional invisibility”, a risk-averse, conflict-avoiding approach to unequal workplaces, according to a study that appeared last year in Sociological Perspectives. Women hide behind the fear of being perceived as aggressive or self-promoting and in so-doing, disappear altogether. What we should be doing is investing in Personal Branding activities that help us shape the narrative about ourselves, rather than let someone else write our story.
For more on visibility, read THIS.
Well isn’t that all nice and special? I can hear you saying this, by the way. But what I really hear you saying is “how in the hell do I get started fixing all these challenges?” Well, I do have some ideas.
For starters, on the mentorship front, decide it matters and decide to commit and schedule time for it. Then go find your target. Ask your HR department, scout your professional organizations you may belong to and/or your college alumni network and ask friends if they know anyone who would be a great mentor for you. One avenue, not to be self-serving but hey, I’ll go out there and toot my own horn for a minute, is CSweetener, a mentor-matching nt-for-profit organization I started with Lisa Serwin to help senior women in healthcare find mentors. It’s a Match.com style thing and easy as heck to use. And there are several hundred female and male mentors hanging out waiting to talk with you! You can sign up for CSweetener by going HERE , clicking on “Find a Mentor” and paying a small fee. The feedback we have gotten from users has been tremendous. FYI, if you want to be a mentor on CSweetener, it’s free and you can sign up at the same URL and click “Be a Mentor.” Join us, the water’s fine!
On the networking front, let’s start with once again deciding it matters and picking an amount of time you are willing to spend. I suggest agreeing with yourself that you will spend at least one evening a week at some work-related networking event where you might meet people you don’t know. Assuage your mommy guilt by leaving pre-made dinner in the fridge or, even better, letting your partner just handle it. Then go search the web for organizations that relate to your business and sign up for some stuff. Then show up and have a goal: to meet three new people, to learn two new things, whatever. Women are great at being goal-oriented, so you can force yourself to stay because you haven’t yet checked the boxes you came with! If there is a list available before-hand of potential attendees, target a few and seek them out. Never use the opportunity to ask for a job; rather, use it to ask questions, listen well and maybe offer a connection or favor to those you meet. I have been amazed how true the adage of “what goes around comes around” is. When you listen to people without interruption, offer them a favor (e.g., a connection to someone they want to meet who you happen to know), and don’t ask for anything in return, they appreciate you and want to reciprocate. It may not be that day, but they are likely to respond if you ask for the favor of an introduction or advice later one.
With respect to visibility and personal branding, you really have to invest some time in two things: 1) thinking about and finding a way to really effectively describe what you’re great at and why your opinions matter; and, 2) finding avenues, whether it is conferences, press, blogs, podcasts, whatever, to convey those thoughts effectively. You can contribute to industry publications or seek out speaking opportunities at conferences or even internal events at your company. Volunteer for high visibility projects and offer to give a progress briefing to whomever wants it every week. The more you do this the better, as practice is absolutely the antidote to fear when it comes to public speaking.
In other words, think about your value, determine what sets you apart from others and decide on your voice, or how you want to be seen. A great asset, one I have found great value from, is a session with Joanna Bloor, who helps you learn how to introduce yourself with aplomb (aka, without boring people to tears). Worth the price, which isn’t really that high considering the value (find her HERE).
Write and publish on Medium or WordPress. It’s easier than you think. Then put whatever you wrote out there on LinkedIn and Twitter. If you don’t understand how to use social media, take a class – there are lots of them out there and you can do it online (HERE are some). Yes, it’s time-consuming, but the value is nearly immediate. Decide it matters. Schedule it. Commit. You don’t have to write War and Peace. You can cite an article that someone else wrote and add your two cents in two paragraphs. That’s good enough for a start and some people build entire blogs around that model. Go for it. You may not end up like Michelle Obama with 26 million Twitter followers and a book tour, but that wasn’t really your goal, was it? You just want to get ahead, a raise, credit for your achievements, opportunities you usually miss. You have a say in how these come your way.
Bottom line: few people get ahead by waiting for things to come to them. Especially if you’re female, you have to reach for it. Investing in yourself and raising your profile is a great way to move your ball forward. You are women. Get out there and ROAR!
FYI, the HIMSS Career Math webinar I led can be listened to in its entirety by going HERE.
And in the category of nice coincidences, Pixar put out a new short film TODAY about gender diversity – it’s the story of the first woman to join a firm called B.R.O. Capital. It is amazing – watch it!