7 ways you can champion other women (and yourself)!

Are you a critic or a champion?

It’s no secret that the gender gap is real. Women are under-represented and underpaid in top leadership roles and this trend is consistent across industries and countries.

According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report (2017), the timeline to close the economic gender gap continues to grow. It’s now projected to be an astounding 217 years!

So what’s the key to closing the gender gap? The report suggested it’s putting more women in charge because “…when women are better represented in leadership roles, more women are hired across the board.”

While this is a bit of a Catch-22 (the way to get more women into leadership is to have more women in leadership), there are things we, as women, can do to promote each other.

But are we pro-actively supporting each other? Not always.

During a recent workshop, a participant shared her experience with a female boss who is undercutting her career prospects by being harshly critical of her and unsupportive of her career ambitions.

Sadly, this type of behavior – women preventing other women from advancing – is real. It even has a name: the “sisterhood ceiling”.

But by being brave enough to share her story with others, this woman sparked a conversation about how women can be champions for each other.

Here are seven ways you can help other women (and they’ll help you, too!)

  1. Mentor. Provide guidance and advice to someone else – at work, through a professional organization, or at your alma mater.

  2. Sponsor. If you’re in a more senior role, be an advocate for a high-performing woman and help her advance.

  3. Promote. Give recognition. In meetings, promote other women by crediting them for their ideas. This amplification strategy increases impact and influence.

  4. Connect. When networking, ask other women how you can support them. Share helpful resources and offer to make strategic introductions.

  5. Partner. One of the best ways to get more of your priority work done is to have an accountability partner. Set goals, strategize together, and hold each other accountable.

  6. Speak truth. This can be challenging because we often worry about hurting someone’s feelings. But honest feedback, given with kindness, is a gift that promotes growth.

  7. Befriend. There are times when what we need most is a friend. She’s the one who has your back, helps you get up when you’re down, and is there to cheer for your successes. Be the friend you’d like to have in your corner.

Be the strong, confident woman who builds other women up. Because:

“One woman can make a difference, but together we can rock the world.” – Maggie Lewis

Failure can hurt. But did you really fail?

How to use failure as the springboard to success

“I failed. I have to go back to the drawing board and start over.”

That’s what a colleague in the midst of a job transition told me after a recent disappointment.

She’d spent months working hard to land a new job and was closing in on what looked like a fantastic opportunity. After multiple interviews, she was feeling optimistic about the possibility of an offer.

But it wasn’t to be.

The company announced that the division was being sold and initiated a hiring freeze.

Frustrating? Absolutely. Discouraging? You bet. A failure? That depends on your perspective.

When you’re so close to achieving what you feel will be a great success that you can almost taste it, labeling it a failure when things don’t work out might be your default response. It can feel like all your hard work was a waste of time. You’re back to square one.

But is that true? It’s all in your point of view.

“It’s failure that gives you the proper perspective on success.” – Ellen DeGeneres

Here’s a different way to view this situation. The company’s decision to sell the division was something she had no control over. Any perceived failure wasn’t on her part. Looking at this through a different lens, you can see progress and success. Through her hard work and perseverance over the last several months, she:

  • gained clarity on what she wants (and doesn’t want) from her next career move
  • forged new relationships and significantly expanded her network
  • honed her job search and interviewing skills
  • polished her resume and LinkedIn profile
  • found a mentor who challenges and supports her

Now she’s buffing her resilience muscles as she re-groups and plans her next steps. Based on her demonstrated work ethic, the new clarity she’s acquired and the skills she’s sharpened, I have every confidence that she’s going to find a terrific opportunity.

What about you? When you experience a setback, how do you respond?

Here are 3 strategies that can help you avoid falling into the “I’ve failed” trap.

  1. Acknowledge your feelings. When you’ve worked hard to achieve a goal, it’s normal to feel discouraged or sad when it doesn’t work out. Take time to process what happened and feel what you feel. Denying your feelings leads to internalizing them. This can fuel your inner critic or cause resentment and anger to simmer. Treat yourself with kindness instead.
  2. Avoid catastrophizing. Once you’ve processed your feelings, take a look at what really happened. It’s likely not as terrible as it may have initially felt. What are the facts? By looking at the situation more objectively, you can determine what went well, what you learned and where you might take a different approach in the future.
  3. Think progress, not perfection. You can choose to see achieving your goal as a win or lose proposition. But this all or nothing thinking diminishes the real growth and learning that comes from working towards an important objective. By tracking your progress and appreciating the small wins along the way, your mindset focuses on success, not failure.

The next time you start to think you’ve failed and need to go back to the drawing board, remember this: what you learn from your setbacks can become the springboard to your success.

Are you afraid to let go of the familiar?

3 strategies to help you take charge of change

Did you set some goals or intentions for 2018? Perhaps you want a new job, plan to eat healthy and work out regularly or finally ask for that raise. We’re almost two months into the new year – how’s that going for you?

For most of us, taking action that requires us to show up and behave in new ways is hard.

According to a recent employee survey, almost half the respondents (45%) believe people generally prefer to remain in the status quo.

Change can be so uncomfortable that we unconsciously default to self-defeating habits and beliefs in an effort to stay safe. The result? We procrastinate and come up with very logical reasons why we haven’t taken that next step yet. And at the same time we feel discouraged and frustrated by our lack of progress.

This behavior reminds me of an old western tale about a bear who followed his nose to a campground where he discovered a big pot of stew simmering over a fire. The hungry bear grabbed the steaming pot and scalded himself badly. But instead of letting go, he squeezed the pot even tighter since this was his idea of defense. The more it burned, the more he hugged. What a painful, vicious cycle!

Sometimes we act a lot like that bear. Though we know change is inevitable, and we can see the real benefits of it, our ingrained self-doubt can override our own desires. As Deepak Chopra said:

“One way or another, we’re all caught between wanting change and fearing what the unknown might bring.”

Here are three strategies to help you slay your natural resistance to change so you can proactively make the shifts needed to achieve your goals.

  1. Notice. You can’t change what you aren’t aware of, so take some time for self-reflection. Step away from any distractions, take a few deep breaths and quiet your mind. Now ask yourself these questions: what is it I’m resisting doing the most? what do I think will happen if I do it? is there something in my past experience that is triggering these fear-based thoughts? See what negative scenarios and limiting thoughts surface.
  2. Challenge. Once you’ve identified the beliefs that are keeping you stuck, you can start to defuse their power by reframing your thinking. One of my unhelpful “stories” was: people will judge me if I say the wrong thing. This made me feel less competent so I rarely spoke up. By changing this thought to the more helpful mantra: “speaking up is an opportunity to get valuable feedback”, I gradually found my voice.
  3. Trust. Confidence is usually defined as a feeling of certainty or assurance. But it’s also an act of trust. It’s trusting yourself enough to take action even when you can’t be sure of the outcome. We don’t develop this kind of self-trust by relying on the approval of others to define our worth. It comes from finding the courage within yourself to take one small action at a time and viewing the outcome as a valuable opportunity to grow.

The next time you find yourself falling into old patterns that threaten to derail your progress, remember that burned out bear and drop that pot! Use that spark to ignite a positive thought cycle instead.

Does being criticized make you feel small?

5 tips to take the sting out of criticism

“You should speak up more.”

“You talk too much.”

“You need to speak with more authority – like a man.”

I was on the receiving end of all these comments. Did I take them personally? You bet I did.

How do you react when you get feedback you perceive as negative? If you’re anything like me, it’s likely to be in one of these ways:

  • go on the defensive and shift the blame to the other person
  • view it as evidence of your inadequacy and heap more criticism on yourself
  • get angry and push back
  • dismiss the input as untrue without questioning it
  • internalize your resentment and let it simmer

I’ve done all of these things at different times. None of them were helpful.

I now realize that these default responses were my brain’s instinctive way of trying to protect me from what felt like an attack. But in reality, these behaviors made me feel worse. They also blinded me to potential opportunities.

Here’s the truth: as women, we are more likely to get critical feedback.

In a study of performance reviews given by male and female managers, 88% of the reviews received by women contained critical feedback. 59% of the reviews received by men did. (“The abrasiveness trap: High-achieving men and women are described differently in reviews, Fortune, 8/26/14)

Learning to handle criticism with grace and an open mind is an invaluable skill. And though there may still be times when tough input makes you say “ouch!”, reframing it as an opportunity to learn can help take away the sting.

Here are 5 steps to help you shift how you think about criticism so you can use it to fuel your professional and personal growth.

    1. View input as data. You’re receiving new information which can be a good thing. Consider the nature of the feedback, who gave it to you and in what context. Are their insights helpful (even if at first they feel a little hurtful?) If the answer is yes, what can you learn from them? How can you address the situation in a positive way?
    2. Ask for clarification. If their comments are vague, ask for more information. Request specific examples so you’re clear on what prompted their feedback. By engaging in a calm, non-confrontational conversation you signal your willingness to understand their point of view and listen to their suggestions. Once you process all the input, create an action plan that outlines appropriate changes.
    3. Amplify your self-awareness. Have you gotten similar input from other people? Sometimes we have unconscious patterns of behavior that don’t serve us. Reflect on how your behavior is being perceived by others. If it doesn’t it align with who you aspire to be, this is your opportunity to make changes that will help you improve your performance and your interactions with others.
    4. Let it go. Not all criticism is constructive or well-intentioned. The person giving it may be under stress or feeling bad about themselves. You may be a convenient target for them to express their own disappointment or frustration. In a case like this, their comments say more about them than you. If you believe this is what’s going on, don’t engage with them or take their comments to heart.
    5. Say thank you. Honest feedback, given in the spirit of helping you do better, is a gift. Someone put time, effort and thought into giving you information that can help you improve your work, relationships and ultimately, your life. They may even have overcome their own discomfort to give you this feedback. Though it might not always be easy, express your gratitude with a sincere thank you.

Instead of letting criticism make you feel small, think of it as the breakfast of champions. Use it to get stronger, perform better and be your best.

Are you as confident as you are competent?

3 ways to communicate your competence with confidence

In speaking with accomplished women from a variety of industries about the value they bring to the table, they often mention their strong work ethic as a top strength. But sometimes, all their hard work brings surprising results.

“I can’t believe it! I worked late for weeks on that pitch, we landed the account and now one of my colleagues, who has a lot less experience than I do, is taking the lead with the client.”

“I had my eye on this conference since last year. It’s a fantastic opportunity to learn from and network with industry movers and shakers. But my boss told me he needed me to manage things at the office while he and one of my staff attend!”

“I put in years of hard work to make sure I’d have all the qualifications to manage my department when my boss left. I was shocked when I was passed over for the promotion. They gave the job to someone from a completely different team.”

Situations like this can feel so unfair and leave you feeling bruised, frustrated and demoralized.

After all, one of the lessons we learned in school is that hard work earns us top grades, recognition and confidence in our abilities. But in the workplace, toiling long hours and taking on extra assignments doesn’t necessarily guarantee success. Your diligence can actually have the opposite effect!

“Hard work makes women invisible: When women get noticed for how hard they work, one of two things usually occurs: they become indispensable (reducing their chances to be transitioned into a bigger role) or they become invisible.” (Women Leaders Breaking Through in Their Careers, Women of Influence Inc and Thomson Reuters, 2014).

What’s going on here?

The truth is, while you may have great skills, stellar accomplishments and the ambition to take on greater responsibilities, waiting for your boss to notice and tap you for advancement isn’t a winning strategy.

It’s up to you to know and communicate your value.

But here’s the kicker. Most women, even high-achievers, feel uncomfortable promoting themselves.

Here are 3 strategies that can help you communicate your value with confidence.

  1. Know your value. When was the last time you took an inventory of your skills, accomplishments, client satisfaction surveys, performance reviews, intangible assets and other feedback? If you’re like most people, you probably haven’t done this thoroughly since the last time you were in job search mode and needed to update your resume and LinkedIn profile. Going through this process will give you the information you need to create your value proposition and will also illuminate any gaps you may want to address.
  2. Think beyond yourself. Research shows that when women are asked to negotiate for themselves, they underperform compared to men. But when they are asked to negotiate on behalf of someone they care about, their results are equal to or greater than their male counterparts. To get more comfortable increasing your visibility and communicating your value, shift the focus beyond yourself. Demonstrate how your work and ideas create positive impact for others – your team, customers, organization and community. 
  3. Engage your network. My first rule of networking is to find out what’s important to the other person and ask how I can help. They typically respond by wanting to help me – a win for both of us. If you build a network of people you respect, you can support each other in a way that feels genuine. Female staffers in the Obama administration did this brilliantly by using the “amplification” strategy. In meetings, they repeated each other’s ideas, crediting the women who came up with them. Result: Obama started calling on and consulting with women more often.

Though increasing your visibility may feel uncomfortable, your special talents and leadership can make a much needed difference. Don’t be invisible.

Ready for a fresh start?

How to achieve more in 2018

Each January, millions of Americans make new year’s resolutions. This is the year they’re going to eat healthy and exercise more, spend less money, balance their personal and professional lives, take better care of themselves or make a career move.

Sounds great! We all want to change, improve and live happier, healthier and more productive lives.

I used to jump on the resolution setting band wagon, too. But eventually, I noticed a pattern. I often made similar resolutions year after year! Clearly, something about this process wasn’t working for me.

And I’m not alone.

A whopping 92% of people who make resolutions don’t keep them.

This can leave you feeling discouraged, frustrated and disappointed. And if you’re anything like me, your inner critic isn’t shy about pointing out all the ways you’ve messed up or fallen short. Ever been down this road, Jean?

If your ready to try a different approach, here are 5 strategies to help you achieve more in 2018.

  1. Take action – now.  According to research, we experience a phenomenon called  the “Fresh Start Effect” and feel more motivated to change at the kickoff of the new year (and other key dates). Called temporal landmarks, these transition times can highlight the contrast between where you are right now and where you’d like to be. This can inspire you to let go of what isn’t working and create new habits.
  2. Set realistic goals. One of the top reasons we don’t keep our resolutions or achieve our goals is that we make them too big. When you hit the inevitable setback, it’s easy to slip into all or nothing thinking. You’ve failed, you can’t do this, you might as well give up. The sweet spot is setting a goal that stretches you to  grow, but isn’t so aggressive that its sets you up to fail.
  3. Pace yourself. Another trap that can derail you is trying to do too much, too fast. We all love immediate results. But the reality is, when you over-extend yourself, your stress levels skyrocket, your efforts are fragmented and you don’t perform at your best. Break larger goals into smaller steps. You’ll score some quick wins that energize your progress, boost your confidence and create a track record of success.
  4. Rethink failure. Your attitude towards failure can be an anchor that keeps you stuck or a springboard that catapults you to greater heights.  Many women take failure personally and see it as evidence that they don’t have what it takes to achieve their goals. By viewing mistakes and setbacks as opportunities to learn instead, you gain valuable insights that can guide behavior shifts and strategy adjustments.
  5. Build positive habits. Goals help you accomplish specific objectives within a designated  timeframe, but they don’t always create change that sticks. Think: doubling down on your sales calls to nail a bonus, then reverting to your usual activity level. Shane Parrish says: “Habits are the processes operating in the background that power your life. If you want to make change that lasts, identify habits that are related to the goal you’d like to achieve.”

One of my goals for 2018 is to finish writing a book. The habit I’m developing is writing for an hour a  day. But I’m taking my own advice and starting small. My initial commitment is to write for 15 minutes 5 days a week and build my writing muscles from there.

With smart, strategic effort, you can accomplish your goals with more focus and less stress.

Though it may seem counterintuitive, less really is more.

Here’s to your success and happiness in 2018!

Do you know your value?

5 tips to identify (and own) your value

In speaking with clients, women in my workshops and colleagues – typically very accomplished high-achievers – I’ve noticed a recurring theme.

Despite their many achievements, credentials and successes, they honestly don’t seem to understand the incredible value they bring.

Case in point: my client Kelly is the most productive person I know. She can accomplish more in one day than most people do in three days. Kelly is super smart, knowledgeable on a breadth of subjects and has a real knack for technology. What an amazing skill set!

But Kelly is pushing herself relentlessly and it’s taking a toll on her health and her confidence.

“I want to do work I enjoy. I need to make more money. But I’m not getting many interviews. When I do, I don’t usually make it past the initial round. I’m so discouraged. This whole process is exhausting me.”

Her solution?

  • Work harder (she’s already putting in long days and working weekends).

  • Take more courses (though she has multiple degrees and certifications).

  • Chase every opportunity (time consuming and off strategy).

As we talked things through, Kelly started to recognize that she was holding onto some beliefs that were getting her in her own way and limiting her possibilities.

She’d bought into the myth that overwork, more credentials and being the “perfect” candidate would guarantee success.

But instead, these strategies left her frustrated, over extended and totally stressed out. Can you relate? (I’ve fallen into this trap, too!).

Kelly didn’t need to work more or get additional certifications. She needed to identify and own her true value, then communicate it effectively.

Here are 5 tips to help you do the same.

  1. Release judgment. This isn’t the time to downplay your accomplishments. A surprising number of women attribute their success to a lucky break, the team, or circumstances. It isn’t boastful or self-serving to own the role you played and the skills you mastered.

  2. Take inventory. There are many places where you can find information. Your resume, performance appraisals, input from colleagues, friends and clients. Include your results (quantify when possible), top skills, personal traits, credentials and intangible assets

  3. Assess your findings. What are your top strengths? Where can you improve? If you’re getting consistent feedback about something (even if you disagree), that’s how others perceive you. Address behaviors that don’t align with the person you want to be.

  4. Articulate your value. Write a short paragraph that captures the essence of who you are, the problems you solve, and the skills you bring. This serves as the core of your career strategy. Use it internally, in a job search or in developing your business.

  5. Communicate strategic impact. Don’t assume someone else will automatically recognize how you can help them achieve their most important goals. Connect the dots for them by indicating how you’re uniquely qualified to solve their biggest challenges.

So what’s next for Kelly? Now that she is clear on the full measure of her strengths, accomplishments, skills, and special qualities, her confidence is on the rise and she’s strategically focused on finding work she really wants to do.

Added bonus? She’s getting a lot more sleep.

Feeling stuck?

4 ways to shake things up!

Have you ever had a week or maybe even longer when things feel off and you’re not sure why? You feel bored, frustrated or dissatisfied with how things are going. You want things to be different, but despite spending hours thinking about it, the way forward isn’t clear.

When this happens, it’s easy to fall into the trap of being extra hard on yourself. You chastise yourself for not having all the answers and being able to whip up and execute the perfect action plan. This can trigger more self-doubt and second-guessing. The result? Your confidence takes a nosedive, progress eludes you and you’re stuck in this self-defeating mind muck.

If you’ve ever felt this way, you’re not alone. I’ve been there, too – along with most people.

66% of Americans feel stuck in a rut in their personal or professional lives according to a recent survey (GoDaddy).

 But here’s the good news: feeling stuck is a signal that you’re meant for more! You’ve outgrown something in your current situation and it’s time to take on new challenges. But how do you shake things up and get unstuck?

Here are 4 tips that can boost your creativity, increase your personal power and help you take action.

    • Give yourself a break. Beating yourself up because you don’t have an immediate solution can shut you down. Amp up the self compassion and change your inner dialogue. Instead of focusing on your perceived shortcomings, make a list of your skills, strengths and accomplishments. This will heighten your confidence and bring new energy to figuring out your next step and taking it.
    • Take a step back. As stress builds up, your brain shuts down. It’s hard to think creatively when you’re mired in a negative thought pattern that magnifies what isn’t working and all the reasons why you can’t get clear and get going. Identify the facts of your circumstances versus the stories you may be spinning that aren’t actually true. This can relieve anxiety, increase clarity and help simplify what was feeling overwhelming.
    • Try something new. Have some fun with this! Science says our creativity and problem solving abilities are amplified when we try new things. Watch a TED talk on a subject you know nothing about. Listen to new music. Explore a different route on your next walk. Go to a Meetup or an event that piques your curiosity. Take a new exercise class. Changing things up sparks fresh ideas and insights that can broaden your perspective.
    • Address what’s most dissatisfying first. What’s stressing you out the most? Pinpoint what this is and take immediate action to resolve it. Exhausted from overworking? Ask for help or say no to something. Resentful because someone is crossing your boundaries? Have that conversation you’ve been avoiding. By taking action – even a small step – you reclaim your power and heighten your risk taking ability.

As Einstein said:

“You cannot solve a problem with the same consciousness that created it. You must learn to see the world anew.”

 Let’s face it. Change isn’t easy. But the strength and resilience you gain through the process will empower you to think and act with new perception.

So the next time change comes knocking on your door (as it inevitably will), greet it as a teacher who has come to spur you on to greater heights.

Do you worry that people will judge you?

12 tips to help you speak up (even when it feels scary)

A few weeks ago, a reader shared a challenge that most of us grapple with at some point.

You have great ideas, something you want to say and a unique perspective to share. But when it comes time to speak up, especially in high stakes situations (meetings with senior management, important negotiations or difficult conversations with family or friends), your nerves kick in and hijack your brain.

All of a sudden, it’s hard to find the right words, remember the point you want to make or perhaps, to speak up at all.

Can you relate? I know I can.

Early in my career when I was a rookie junior account executive at an ad agency in New York, I was beyond excited when I was sent to cover my first photo shoot. My agency was creating an ad campaign for a client who was sponsoring a major women’s golf tournament.

One of the shots featured a smiling female golfer, club in hand, poised to strike the ball. But as the photographer snapped away, I noticed that something looked off to me. The right-handed model was wearing a golf glove on her right hand. I didn’t know that much about golf, but I was pretty sure the glove was supposed to be on her left hand.

Should I say something? It felt risky. I’d only be on the job a few weeks and I was worried about making a mistake.

Since I didn’t totally trust my golf knowledge, I called someone (who later became my husband) who was an expert at the game. He confirmed that a right-handed golfer would definitely wear the glove on her left hand.

With my legs shaking, I approached my boss and told him the news. He wasn’t happy about the extra time and expense involved, but the correct glove was produced and the pictures were re-shot.

Why was it so difficult for me to speak up? The truth is, I was afraid of how other people would judge me.

And my mind had quickly catastrophized the situation and the possible negative outcomes. I told myself: everyone here is more senior and knows more than I do – who am to say something? What if I’m wrong and my boss gets mad that I made the agency look bad in front of the client? What if I’m right and the client is angry because the pictures have to be re-shot? I could jeopardize a multi-million dollar account – and maybe even my job.

 If you’ve ever found yourself feeling hesitant to speak up, here are 12 practical tips to help you harness your nervous energy so you can speak your mind.

Prepare Mentally

  • Set a goal for the conversation
  • Plan what you want to say
  • Practice speaking up in lower risk situations

Get Physical

  • Take a few deep breaths
  • Stand tall
  • Smile
  • Keep your body language open

Be Present

  • Listen more than you talk
  • Ask clarifying questions
  • Communicate one idea at a time
  • Avoid words that convey lack of confidence (just, sorry, should)
  • Recap key points and agreements

The confidence to speak up is like a muscle. It gets stronger and more powerful with exercise.

 As Brene Brown said:

“What’s the greater risk? Letting go of what people think or letting go of how I feel, what I believe and who I am?”