Level the Playing Field: 10 Ways Women Can Move Up The Ladder

Business.com / Strategy / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

It's not easy to move up without stepping on others, and women are at a natural disadvantage. The key is to use everything at your disposal.

Women are still making less than their male counterparts, and it needs to stop.

Some of these tips might seem counter-intuitive, and a couple might sound insane. But if you want to get ahead, you need to break those bad habits holding you back. Figure out where you might be shooting yourself in the foot, and work to improve.

You'll need to break out every tool in your arsenal to move up on your own terms and for the right reasons.  Your career trajectory is in your hands. No matter where you are on the ladder today, there's always a next step or even a better job.

Moving up takes focus and an actionable plan.

1. Own Your Mistakes

Everybody makes them, and most people try to shift blame, either to a coworker or to circumstance. Don't be afraid to be honest. Admit your mistake, and then fix it. Better yet, put the fix in motion the minute you discover the problem. Then you can tell your boss, you messed up and already have a plan in motion to repair the issue. A good boss will respect that. A bad boss probably won't promote you anyway, so you have nothing to lose.

Related Article:Well-Rounded Leadership: The Nature and Nurture of Female Entrepreneurs

2. Stop Apologizing

Ok, I know I just said own your mistakes. That's not what I'm talking about. We women, tend to be so nice we apologize for everything. Know who doesn't apologize without good reason? Women who get ahead. Be businesslike, efficient, friendly, no-nonsense, and not the office doormat.

You don't have to say yes to everything or volunteer for tedious grunt work no one else wants to do. If your co-workers assume you'll say yes to extra work, you have an image problem that might be hard to shake without invoking the "b" word. Work on your image gradually, but don't be afraid of the "b."

3. Ask for What You Want

Another thing we tend to do badly, is negotiate. Women often underestimate their own worth. When you go in to ask for a raise or promotion, go armed. Research the going salary in your area for your position, and take a list of your accomplishments on the job to show how valuable you are. Be reasonable, but be firm and confident. Build your case on your accomplishments, your worth, and a solid market analysis. Close the deal by demonstrating how you can add even more value.

4. Improve Your Looks

It pains me to say this, but as a society, we're still far too dependent on looks. A new study by AiryHair shows that longer hair boosts income for women. In fact, the longer the better. Looking at five years of data, the researchers found that women with 30-inch hair extensions made at least $3,000 more per year than women with all-natural tresses.

Coincidence? Maybe not. Humans are still pretty fixated on appearance. If you're not a natural beauty, don't sweat it. Work on being stylish and confident, which is every bit as powerful as beauty. If you feel good about yourself, others will think you look great.

Related Article:Advice for Women Interested in Launching Their Own Business

5. Kiss Up to the Boss

It's always good to remember that the people above you are human beings with feelings. Don't go overboard, just be positive and friendly. Everybody appreciates a little boost of confidence at the right moment.

Quash any impulse to be a gushing fangurl; being ingratiatingly insincere is not the point. Instead, be specific “I heard you practicing, and your speech will slay the committee. Your proposal is very impressive.” And only kiss up to the person directly above you. Stepping on toes is definitely not the best way to further your career.

6. Scrub Your Social Media

Employers are watching. Be mindful of the groups you join, the photos you post (and photos people tag you in), and what you say. Think of it as building your personal brand. What do you want your boss to know about you? If you want to be taken seriously as a professional businessperson, an entrepreneur with a business plan, or even a waitress who'd like to be a manager, use social media to promote yourself as an intelligent, kind, responsible person with a lot of interests.

7. Have a Mean or Overbearing Boss?

Say thank you. I know, sounds crazy. But research says that people in a position of power respond to gratification. When your boss criticizes you or your work, tell them you appreciate their input and will work on whatever petty thing they're grousing about. In a nicer way than that. A positive attitude is contagious. Your boss and coworkers will see you as a go-getter, not a whiner.

9. Treat People Below You With Respect

When you're respectful and courteous people lower on the company ladder, you demonstrate your management skills. If President Obama can stop to bump fists with a janitor, you can be nice to a receptionist. People around you will notice and remember your personal skills.

10. Upgrade Your Friends

Women are so loyal. I'll bet you're still having lunch with your best friend from middle school, who is now a SAHM with four kids. Nothing wrong with that, but you also need to hang out with people who challenge you. Others in your industry who are smart and knowledgeable. While ever social gathering is not work-related (and shouldn't be), when you make friends with creative, intelligent people, you learn things, make contacts, and impress others with your own knowledge.

Related Article: No More Playing It Safe: Why Female Entrepreneurs Need to Take More Risks

Bonus Tip

Never stop learning. Take classes, attend seminars, read books, and expand your knowledge with every opportunity. The more you know, the more likely you are to earn that raise or promotion. And when you attend industry events, like speeches or seminars, you can also expand your network. Take business cards and introduce yourself to everyone.

Nothing can guarantee you'll increase your income, but you'll have a much better shot if you carry yourself with confidence, demonstrate your knowledge (without being a know-it-all, that's just annoying), and do your job better than expected. Successful people are positive, self-motivated, and always hungry for the next rung on the ladder.

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