What Every Woman Needs to Know to Build Power and InfluenceCategory: Personal Development
Sarah, a 56-year-old woman who has been working in Silicon Valley for more than 25 years, attended a recent Anita Borg Institute TechLeaders Power and Influence Program. During the final exercise, she turned to me and asked, “Have men known these things all along?” When I nodded yes, she frowned and returned to doing calculations on her tablet. When she was done she turned to me and said, “Not knowing this has cost me about $300,000.”
Sadly, I often hear this refrain repeated by the women I work with every day. Our studies have shown that many women believe that by working hard, they will be treated fairly and rewarded for their work. Often they don’t understand what it takes to move through the ranks to positions of power and influence. Women need to better understand what it takes to achieve the power and influence they desire, regardless of whether or not they decide to move into management. These tools and skills are available to everyone wanting to be recognized and rewarded for their outstanding contributions.
The following are some basic tools and skills that I’ve found to be useful for the thousands of women I’ve had the pleasure to get to know over the last ten years.
Network. The cliché “it’s not what you know but who you know” is still true. Networking is something you should do every day, not something you start doing the day you decide to look for a new job. Building your network means connecting with and establishing a strong positive relationship with women and men inside and outside of your organization. So when you chat with someone new at an offsite meeting, take the extra step: offer that person your card and ask for their card. Be sure to put that person in your contact database, and do a quick follow-up saying how nice it was to meet them. Web 2.0 tools such as LinkedIn and Facebook are good for networking because they can help you reconnect with people with whom you’ve lost touch.
Why network? Because most people find jobs through people they know rather than through ads. Former colleagues or employers often contact me when they are job hunting, and I’m always pleased to be able to help. But networking is not just a way of looking for jobs; it is also a way to learn. At our TechLeaders workshops, attendees learn skills but thrive on the networking. I still remember a dinner a few years ago where two of the attendees managed large research groups inside two different corporations and were grappling with many of the same issues. The tools and ideas that these two women shared with each other during that dinner have served them both well ever since. Many of the life-changing ideas I’ve incorporated into my career were suggested by colleagues and friends in conversations.
When job hunting, immediately reach out to your network and see who they know who is hiring. Because they know you, they can position you with a hiring manager, so that the manager is already positively predisposed to hire you even before you meet. A network is the most powerful tool you have.
Find a mentor. A wise and trusted advisor, a mentor can be a person inside or outside your organization. Mentors provide guidance and feedback, and act as a kind of coach. Finding a mentor takes work. You want to identify someone, not in your line of management, who you respect and who has the skills and knowledge you want to develop. A mentor can provide invaluable feedback on how you are perceived and give you advice on how to improve. It is not uncommon to have several mentors who provide you with different perspectives and offer different strengths. And over time your relationship with your mentor may evolve into a friendship.
Learn to negotiate. Many women make less than their male counterparts because they viewed their initial job offer as a fact rather than the starting point in a negotiation. Remember that in making a job offer, a company is purchasing your services and time and is trying to get the best possible deal. If you were selling your house, you wouldn’t accept the first bid; the same is true with salary negotiations. Do some research to find out what others in comparable roles are making, and be sure to look at the full compensation package, including benefits and vacation time. Determine what you are worth and negotiate. Preparing in advance and knowing what you are willing to take puts you in a position of strength. Most importantly, get the complete offer in writing. If the hiring manager asks you to take a lower salary in exchange for more paid vacation time, make sure that arrangement is stated in your offer letter. And remember to use these negotiation skills during reviews and bonus time. A great book to read on the subject is Women Don’t Ask by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever.
Find a champion. At a recent event, I overheard two women comparing their mentors and champions. One woman had two mentors and three champions, while the other had two champions and one mentor. So what is a champion? A champion is someone with power and influence at a higher level in the company who acts as your advocate in meetings you don’t get to attend. You build a relationship with a champion by proving your value, and often a champion is a former manager whose success is due in part to your work. A champion will help you rise in the organization by putting you forth to lead challenging projects in good times and defending you in bad times when layoffs are being discussed.
Always know what you want. Very successful people are keenly aware of their goals and what they are trying to achieve. If you want to be vice president of engineering, then look at the person currently in that position and determine what it is that helped them secure that position and what you need to do to reach that goal. If you don’t know what made them successful, ask. And remember, senior executives have a great deal of influence when it comes to naming their successors — so if you want to be the VP, see if the current VP is willing to be your mentor or champion.
Help others achieve their goals. Being aware of the goals of the people around you is also very important. Determining what people are striving for and finding ways to help them achieve those goals is a key way to achieve power and influence. If your manager’s goal is to decrease costs in the department by 10% and you share your ideas for achieving that goal, you gain power and influence in your relationship.
Your power and influence within an organization are developed over time and must be managed, just like every other aspect of your career.
Telle Whitney, CEO and Jerri Barrett, Director of Marketing
Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology