Like Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice, I too have hit upon a universally acknowledged truth. Mine is that, “at the beginning of every year, all men and women in possession of a good brain must be in want of a new year resolution.”
Literary jokes apart, I do believe that all of us use the coming of a new year as a stepping stone to revive our dreams, hopes, wishes-what have you-for a better year, a better themselves, and a better future. We all make new year resolutions to learn something new, do something better, achieve better health, have a more balanced work life balance in addition to better and greater professional achievements. The last two may be a little conflicting, but hey- this is our dream and our hopes- all is possible in this realm.
With that in mind, I too decided to start the year with some new and some recycled goals. One of them is to blog more often and read one bestselling book a month. I started of the year reading All the Light We Cannot See (May,2014), which I do recommend if you are interested in fiction, French countryside descriptions and some really beautiful and haunting writing. But my blog today is about my February’s read called Earning it- Hard-Won Lessons from Trailblazing Women at the Top of the Business World (Oct, 2016) by Joann S. Lublin, a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist and current WSJ editor. I recommend this book to all women as a must read and to men too if they want to admire and remind themselves how far women have come in the professional world and what they can do to support this positive journey.
The book interviews fifty women executives about their journey to success. Each one of those journeys is inspiring and has lessons for us all to learn from and apply in our own professional AND personal lives. Incidentally, the author’s journey is no less moving and message worthy and she delves into it as appropriate in her book.
Some of the women interviewed are more famous than others such as- Meg Whitman (one of my personal hero!), Carly Fiorina, and Sheryl Sandberg. Others I learnt about for the first time after reading this book but am equally enamored by, such as Anne M. Mulcahy, who was given pushback to success at every step of her career at Xerox but still by sheer hard work and determination rose to the top; Sallie Krawcheck (a new personal hero!), who is a wall street veteran and now heads a women-specific digital investment firm called ellevest.com; and last but not the least, Denise Morrison, who was always taught by her parents to aim big and make a difference. She and her sister both took that lesson to heart and went on to have very successful and inspiring careers.
The book chronicles each person’s rise to the top and delves on the struggles they faced and how they overcame the same. Some fights we are all aware of such as sexual harassment in the workplace, directly being ignored for promotions, not enough board, balancing work life situations, gender based pay scale but there are others that many in our generation take for granted which wasn’t always the case and we are where we are because of the fight put up by such pioneers.
After reading the book I feel a lot more aware of the professional world I work in and a lot more blessed too. Most importantly, I feel inspired and brave enough to face life challenges- it’s all part of the package called living it and loving it.
Below are some of the tips and practical inspiration I remember after putting down the book. The book is wonderful in that each chapter ends with bullet point lessons covered in that chapter, so here goes:
- Doors open with a strong push: Be tenacious about looking outside your comfort zone for an open door. That’s especially important when obstacles loom, as they invariably will. Confront self-doubts about your capabilities. Be willing to start at the bottom. If you are good, you will shine.
- Bloom when you are planted: Your experience with a bad boss can teach you how to become a better manager. Focus on your managerial strengths rather than weaknesses. View your career as a zigzag. Stand out on a trivial project by going the extra mile.
- Sexual Harassment never vanished: Seek justice on the job rather than individual revenge. Act as role model for your subordinates by enforcing standards of acceptable decorum in the workplace. Look for indirect influence so you can stand up for yourself.
- Pain of the pay pinch: Keep your boss well informed about your accomplishments. Hire an attorney to create a generous employment contract. Be willing to jump ship to achieve pay equity.
- Getting ahead sooner: Make sure you have a clear sense of how your boss defines success before you take a mission impossible. Close your knowledge gaps rapidly and focus on making a memorable impact. Get out of your comfort zone to develop leadership muscles. Have a “no-regrets policy” if it doesn’t work out.
- Getting ahead later: Be brave about taking high-risk roles. Pick team members who can help you thrive. Diffuse imposter anxiety by initially pursuing a small-scale assignment. Be receptive to criticism and use it to fix your mistakes fast.
- Manager moms are not acrobats: Keep your boss informed about your critical parenting needs. Adapt your supervisory style to every staffer. Practice workplace empathy based on your work-life crises.
- Career couple conundrums: Take a tag-team approach in deciding whose career takes priority. Alternate which spouse chooses the timing and venue for your next location. Ask your employer to assist your spouse finding a new job.
- Male mentors mean business: Look for mentors and sponsors where your professional relationship will benefit both of you. Being chosen as a protégé takes time and multiple small steps.
- Managing men well: View yourself as a confident leader, and your male lieutenants will do so too. Help men you supervise succeed and they’ll root for your success. Deal with subtle forms of gender bias.
- Spotlight on Executive Presence: Dress, talk, and act in ways that match the next job you seek as well as the high-level executives you want to impress. Don’t behave in an overly emotional manner. Make sure your body language reinforces the impression of strength
- Beating Board Bias: Find colleagues, suppliers, customers, and executives of target companies and ask them to promote your board candidacy. Develop specialized board talents that are in high demand such as expertise in cybersecurity and digital commerce. Anticipate repeated turndowns before you win your first success.
Bottom-line: I want to end this blog with two quotes from the back cover of the book which I thought are good summary sentences. The women interviewed here are at the end of the day “trailblazers who have showed great courage in the face of great odds” and the other quote that states “This book is a work of history, reminding us how far we’ve come in the past 40 years.” So, buy, borrow, steal and read it and then go earn it!