There is much talk today about how bad discrimination is against women in the workplace. Whether it’s the kind of work we are expected to do (like being asked to make the coffee for the team), or being passed up for a promotion in favor of a man that was “equally qualified,” we still see very little practical information about how to overcome these situations.
Many have focused a critical eye on the state of women in the workplace, but how prolific are potential solutions to this situation?
My concern is that we are more focused on talking about the problem than we are talking about solutions. And further, that somehow women are only victims in this situation, with no power of their own.
One thing is a constant…life includes adversity. So why not tap into our innate female strengths and overcome the adversity of gender discrimination? Why not bust through gender discrimination instead of screaming about it or shrinking from it?
I believe the end to gender discrimination comes when more women start to realize that the answer is within them. The reason I don’t like the discussions about gender discrimination is because the focus seems always on why we can’t, instead of how we can.
I was able to overcome gender discrimination again and again in my career – and if I can do it – any woman can do it.
The key to overcoming gender discrimination is building strong relationships with people that can help you advance; and utilizing your God given female strengths to create those relationships.
Women are inherently good at this!
Even so, many women don’t think to use their strengths strategically to advance themselves. Some think that promotions should only be based on merit. And some think they should not have to have those key relationships to get promoted. And maybe that is true.
But I am focused on what we can do, not what we can’t do. Let’s change our focus.
To overcome – to stop gender discrimination, we have to stop focusing on how things “should be” and start working with how things are. From there, we can put together a strategy to overcome.
So here’s what we can do about it…
We can use our innate female strength of giving to build strong, trusting relationships with key influencers that we can later leverage when needed to advance, get an idea heard or be accepted into a higher level sphere of influence.
Rarely do we discuss our strength of giving strategically. In fact, some women have a hard time when I suggest that they should be strategic about giving at all.
For those of you in that camp, let me put it to you this way. A healthy relationship is a two-way-street. If we are giving to anyone (other than for philanthropic or care-giving reasons) and it’s not reciprocal, then it’s not a healthy relationship.
It’s okay to expect a return on our giving investment. There’s no other way to have a good relationship. So why not have good relationships with influential people that can help us?
Giving strategically to influential people that can help you advance is exactly what you need to do to begin the process of overcoming gender discrimination.
To start, we have to do some planning. First of all, you have to sit down and think about who the key influencers are that can help you.
Who makes the decisions about hiring? Who has influence over them?
Who is the “E.F. Hutton” of your industry…someone that everyone listens to when they talk?
Who does everyone want to be friends with, or be like?
Who does everyone agree is the “go-to” for wisdom or problem solving?
Think about people that, if they were on your side, could help you achieve your goal.
Who, with a phone call to the right person, could get you promoted?
Who has influence over someone that you need on your side?
Who, if they were on your side, would draw in others to be on your side just because of who they are?
These are the kind of key influencers you want strong relationships with, because once you have an established relationship with them (which comes from giving to them first), you have a foundation in place to have them reciprocate.
Make a list of these people.
If you’ve reached high enough, you probably have some people on your list that seem untouchable. And maybe some of them are. But don’t discount them yet. There are likely people on your list that you can access by developing a relationship with someone that has access to him or her. That’s a “key influencer influencer.” (I know…clunky, but it’s accurate.). So, add the “influencer influencers” to your list too.
I recommend making a list of all the key influencers you can think of and then picking 3 to 5 to start planning a way to build a relationship with them. You only have so much time, so you have to pick a few to start. I would recommend having an untouchable on your list along with a couple more that are easier targets for you.
Yes – this is a longer-term strategy. You may or may not be able to strike up an influential relationship right away – in fact, likely not. The important thing is to start the process of building now.
So how do you start?
Start by doing some research on each of your key influencers.
It’s a well-documented fact that people respond best to people that are like themselves. This gives us a clue to part of the puzzle.
So how do we convince people that we are “like them?”
We give them something they value, and thereby show them we value the same thing.
When we do this we identify ourselves as like them, and they think, “Hey, this lady get’s it!”
So do your research first.
Ask yourself “what does my key influencer want?”
What do they value?
Who do they look up to?
What are their goals?
What makes them happy or unhappy?
What have they accomplished and do they seem to like recognition?
What is most important to them? (family, travel, work, leadership, philanthropy?)
What are their interests? (golf, photography, chess, surfing?)
What events do they go to that you might be able to attend and “bump into them?”
This is your starting point. Write the answers to these questions and any others you can think of for each of your influencers.
You want to write down as much information about them as you can because this is how you are going to figure out the best way to connect with them.
Next ask yourself, of their interests, goals and values, what can you give them? Do a brainstorming session with yourself and come up with a number of ways you can approach the initial contact based on the research you’ve done.
One common approach for key influencers that pride themselves in handing down their wisdom is to ask for a meeting and utilize it as a mentoring opportunity.
Take the information you’ve researched on them and ask them questions about their path to success or something they care about. During that meeting, ask them to advise you. Once you’ve demonstrated respect and sincerity, you may even be able to get them to mentor you. Mentoring is a commitment and probably not a good “first ask,” but keep it in mind, because after you develop a relationship with them, they may be willing to guide you as a mentor.
Many leaders love to be asked about their path to success. When you ask, you identify yourself as someone who “get’s it,” just by asking questions about their success and what they care about.
This has to come from a place of sincerity. You cannot fake your way through this. What I am suggesting is that you develop a genuine interest in your key influencers, so that when you interact with them, that sincerity comes through.
Another approach is to look at what they want and see if you can give it to them.
I used to work in public policy, and I had a strong social media presence. As it turns out, elected officials love it when you share their posts with your sphere of influence. That is something I gave regularly to my key influencers in my last job. Then, when I’d see them in person I’d comment on one of their recent posts. Their faces would light up. It got me noticed, and I was able to take it to the next level with the people I needed on my side.
You can also use more sophisticated methods of recognition to gain the attention of your key influencer.
An example of this in my experience with how I got the attention of a professional sports executive.
I had been emailing this person for months. One day, there was a newspaper headline about a new, high profile player the team had acquired. I knew I had something to give that would be of value.
I emailed my influencer (again) and congratulated him on the acquisition of this player. I made sure I understood the impact the player would have on the team by calling a few of my sports enthusiast friends first and asking them what this would mean for the team.
When I was confident in what I should say, I sent that email congratulating him on the acquisition of the player, talked a bit about how exciting his unique contribution would be to the team, and signed off with “high five!”
I got an immediate response back.
Because I gave him what he values – on a topic that carries emotional weight with him. I celebrated something with him that he was celebrating, and I did it in an authentic way – I really was excited for him. At the same time, I came off as “like him.” He could see that I was valuing what he valued, and that got me noticed.
The team became a huge sponsor of my organization over time, and that was my goal.
When we give people what they need, emotionally or professionally, we can start to help them see our “alikeness” rather than how we are different.
We give them a reason to like us, and when people like us, they are more likely to help us.
In this way, we can start to break down the idea of “differences” and foster “sameness” in their heart, building that vital human connection that we all crave.
Think of it this way…
It’s our job to create “eye opening moments” for the people we need to support us.
Creating relationships based on giving gets our foot in the door. Then we can focus on creating “eye opening moments” for them that help them see we are worthy, talented, amazing – worth supporting!
A relationship is a two-way street, so why not invest in a relationship that gives back to us over time. This is what men have been doing for decades, and this is what we can do to advance in spite of gender discrimination.
To give strategically, you have to select people that can help you achieve your goals.
You have to look at what they can do to help you, and then start building a relationship with them that can grow into a two-way, reciprocal relationship.
When you feel your relationship is more developed, you can start talking about your hopes and dreams, your ideas, your desires and ask for their help. It’s always best if you can frame what you want in terms that they understand, from something you may have learned from them.
It also helps to ask for their advice on how you might accomplish a goal or promotion. They will likely have sage advice for you and if you follow it, you can likely count on them to mentor you through the process – again, showing that you “get it.”
At some point your key influencers will either support you naturally, because you’ve aligned your communications with what they care about – or, you’ll be able to ask them to support you in some way, get their advice and terms under which they would support you.
Throughout your relationship building process, look for opportunities to create “eye opening moments” for your key influencer. Look for ways for him or her to organically discover your brilliance and you’ll be paving the way for them to not only respect you, but support and sponsor you.
Does this always work?
Sometimes you find out that you’ve selected a key influencer that is closed off, not willing to build new relationships, or maybe just isn’t that great of a person.
One other scenario is that you pick someone that just doesn’t like you for some reason. I mean, look – I’m sure you don’t like everybody. So it’s unrealistic to suppose that everyone will like us. Sometimes it’s just not a match.
Plus, not everyone is mature and secure. Sometimes your brilliance is going to threaten someone.
So how do you deal with this?
How do you create “eye opening moments” to showcase your brilliance when the key influencer is a no go?
In these cases, creating an “eye opening moment” requires a different female strength, and that is the strength of leveraging.
Leveraging involves utilizing one person to influence another.
You figure out who the decision makers are influenced by. You figure out who they already value and honor, and you target those people to build a relationship with.
I have “opened many eyes” through leveraging.
What I mean is, I’ve “taught” people to respect me or value my contributions simply by finding a way to demonstrate to them that there is another very important person that values me – and that person just happens to be someone they hold in high esteem.
For instance, there was one particular woman in my career that incessantly undermined me. She was never going to support me because she was jealous and threatened by me.
No problem. I simply build strong relationships all around her, especially above her – with people that influenced her. By the time I had an idea or project I needed support on from her, I asked my key influencers to make the ask, rather than do it myself.
It worked, and the hits against me lessened too when she realized that people she respected (people that influenced her) were actually on my side, liked me, and had a strong relationship with me. It nullified her influence on my success.
That’s how leveraging works.
And women are good at it.
Think back to when you were a kid. Was there any time in your childhood when you can remember asking someone else to make a request because you knew that if you asked, the answer would be no?
For instance, did you ever ask your dad if you could have a sleep over with your girlfriends because you were “daddy’s little girl,” and you knew he was more likely to say yes than your mom?
Did you ever ask one of your girlfriends to tell a little boy that you had a crush on him because you knew that if you told him yourself, you’d melt into a puddle of sweaty palmed, red-faced embarrassment?
That was leveraging.
We even do it as parents – asking our kids to make a request when we know they are likely to get an adoring smile in tandem with a yes answer.
We, as women, are clever that way. We’re creative when we are in a situation where we may not get the answer we want.
So why not use this strength for your own advancement? It’s in your DNA to leverage. Use it to advance yourself and your goals.
To overcome gender discrimination, we have to get the support we can from where we can.
We have to utilize our female strengths of giving and leveraging to get the support and sponsorship we need.
Then we have to create “eye opening moments” to allow people to see our unique talent, contributions, leadership.
That means sitting down with key influencers once we have developed strong relationships with them and sharing our vision, our dreams and our goals and asking for their input, feedback, support and sponsorship.
It means sharing what we have to offer in a way that they can understand, in their language, so we can highlight our sameness.
Always meet people where they are at; in their language; through their values and you will have the best chance to get your ideas heard.
The last message I want to impart is that sometimes we have to move on.
Sometimes the workplace is too small; maybe it’s family owned or the opportunity to influence your way to the top just isn’t there because it’s a two-person shop.
Maybe it’s a situation where you’ve made some mistakes or you’ve gotten into a rut and people are having a hard time getting past it and seeing you in a new light.
In these situations, I say – move on.
It’s good to experience new environments and sometimes we have to move on so we can have a fresh start – so that we have a better chance at being seen for our brilliance and talents.
I was passed over for a CEO position one time even though I was more qualified. Not only did the woman who got the job have stronger relationships with the Board than me (see above, giving and leverage), but also she was fresh.
She was new to the organization and people had grown to see me as the day-to-day implementer (even though I’d been a CEO before). They wanted change and they were associating me with the “status quo” even though I was absolutely a change agent.
It was a crushing blow, but I realized at that time – I’ve overstayed my welcome. They can’t see who I really am. I need to leave and be “fresh” to new eyes, and build myself from there.
That’s what I did and it was the best move I’ve ever made in my entire career. In fact, I enjoyed the biggest opportunities and successes of my entire career because of that decision, and the best key influencer support I’ve ever experienced by making that move.
Sometimes you have to move on because giving and leveraging are either going to take too long, or will have no impact at all, because everyone’s mind is simply “already made up.” They see you a certain way, and overcoming that is going to take too long.
Overall, remember…you are clever. You are smart. You have innate strengths to overcome gender discrimination.
Don’t think of it as being too hard or taking to long. It’s a matter of changing the world.
We NEED more good women at the top. The world needs your strengths.
Don’t make it just about you. Make it about all women. Make it about your daughters and granddaughters and how you can show them to empower themselves.
Take your future into your own hands. You have the tools you need within you.
As Nelson Mandella said, “Be the change we want to see in the world.”
BE a woman leader.
Deliberately strategize your giving and leveraging so you can move upward. Build those relationships that will challenge others’ assumptions. Create “eye opening moments” when the time is right, get the support and sponsorship you need, and through your own power and strengths, overcome discrimination.
The more of us that do this, the more of us that will ascend. The more of us that ascend, the more society will see women as leaders. Let’s use our female strengths to rise up, to claim our position in leadership and, over time, end gender discrimination for good.
Lacy Schoen is the CEO of Team Lead, Inc., and Founder of Real Women Real Success. She is an author, speaker and coach specializing in women’s advancement in leadership and entrepreneurship. © 2018 Team Lead, Inc. All rights reserved.