WOTC: How To Position Yourself For Your Future Career

Having It All

Women in the corporate world -- including the channel ecosystem -- often struggle to strike the right balance between outside responsibilities and staying competitive in their careers. During a career discussion at The Channel Company's Women of the Channel West event in Napa, Calif., on Monday evening, speakers asked attendees a simple question: What are you doing today to prepare for the career you want tomorrow?

Recent studies from The Channel Company’s Women of the Channel initiative and the Korn Ferry Leadership Institute identified barriers women face at work, as well as a set of strategies that women -- regardless of where they are in their careers -- can use to set themselves up for success in the future.

Luanne Tierney, senior cybersecurity marketing executive for Proofpoint, Sunnyvale, Calif., and Wendy Beecham, managing principal at Korn Ferry, a Los Angeles-based leadership and talent management consulting firm, identified the top six skills that women looking to get ahead in their career should work on, and shared the eight game-changing career moves that can help build these skills.

The Top 6 Career Skills

According to Beecham and Korn Ferry's research, there are six skills that those who want to succeed in the workplace and grow their careers need to have. All of these are fairly typical skills that those in executive managerial roles need to have, she said. For women in particular, these skills are:

-- Negotiation

-- Strategic thinking

-- Financial understanding

-- Strong communication

-- Confidence and leadership

The last quality that women should strive to have is important experiences, which could mean working in a different department or taking on an international assignment. Men, more often than women, have access to relevant and important experiences, which is often a Catch 22, Beecham said, because the aforementioned skills are gained through these experiences, Beecham said.

What's Holding You Back?

There are several reasons that hold women in business back from building out their managerial skill sets. According to Beecham, women professionals who were surveyed listed four main reasons they saw as holding them back when compared with their male counterparts:

-- Management not providing visible assignments

-- Lack of sponsorships

-- Lack of promotional opportunities

-- Juggling family and work

As an unfortunate result of the perceived roadblocks, some women choose to opt out of managerial and senior roles, she said.

Strategy 1: Building Self-Awareness

Self-awareness leads to leadership success, but self-awareness is more about the impact you have on others, Beecham said.

To gain awareness and learn to adapt to people and situations, she challenged attendees to identify what they are good at and what they enjoy doing. To do this, women -- and men -- can't be afraid of getting feedback from others.

"A lot of times we are nervous about hearing what others might thing of us, but how can you learn something new if you don't get that feedback?" she asked attendees.

Strategy 2: Boost Your Communication Skills

"Every time you go to a meeting or open your mouth, you are being judged," Tierney said. "One of the top things employers look for is the ability to communicate -- to articulate your ideas and to speak up."

The ability to have difficult conversations and speaking in a clear, concise way are important skills for any women to have in her arsenal, she said.

Negotiation skills are also important, and something women often struggle with, she said, noting that while women are used to negotiating on behalf of family members, children or their company, negotiating for themselves is a skill that doesn't come naturally for many women.

"Write it down, practice and ask for more than you think you'll get, and it will pay off," Tierney said. "Pretend to be negotiating for someone else," she suggested.

Strategy 3: Develop Your Brand

Developing your brand is a great way to get promoted or gain access to a new opportunity, Tierney said.

She suggested that women identify three things they want to be known for, and then determine what they are doing online and offline so others will recognize these traits.

"Be consistent and be thoughtful with your online presence," she said. "Make sure people know who you are and what you do."

Taking advantage of social networking sites like LinkedIn are also a great career move, Beecham added.

Strategy 4: Find Visible Assignments

Women are more likely to opt out of a new assignment if they don't believe they are qualified or have the right skill set.

A few reasons women often aren't as comfortable taking on new assignments is a fear of publicly making a mistake, not knowing where to start, or not being confident they can handle the assignment and their existing workloads, Beecham said.

"As women, a lot of it has to do with what people will say or how we will be perceived, but the men just say, 'I'll figure it out,' and we should be more like that," she said.

Tierney encouraged women to be creative in seeking out new assignments, like helping out with the marketing strategies for a new product launch, or doing research on breaking into a new market.

"The main thing is to let people know you're interested," she said.

Strategy 5: Build Your Network

Spoiler alert -- your next exposure won't be through a friend, Tierney said.

While men tend to be more "transactional," and often network easily, women should also be taking steps to build their networks every week, she said.

"People with good networks and strong mentors have greater career satisfaction -- it's really about being intentional and doing more than just handing out business cards," Beecham said.

Tierney told attendees to have the courage to talk to anyone, and not be afraid to use your network to help you build your skill set.

"Almost all the time, people will say yes to a conversation, or a coffee," she said.

Strategy 6: Nurture Those Connections

In order to nurture the relationship and build recognition with a new connection, use email, phone calls or in-person meetings, using one mode of communication monthly.

To transform those connections, Beecham suggests two face-to-face meeting out of office. To maintain these connections, she suggested "two to three pings a year."

Nurturing connections can be as simple as sending someone a link to an article that might pique his or her interest. "It takes two seconds, and you're staying in touch," she said. "Find things like that to do over the normal course of business."

The difference between men and women is that men maintain their connections during work hours, while many women feel like they need to do it outside of work hours but then can't fit it in.

"Make it work for you in whatever format you can," she said.

Strategy 7: Having A Mentor Or A Sponsor

Mentors talk to you, sponsor talks about you, Beecham said.

Mentors can be chosen based on an interaction you’ve already had -- like if you've done a project together, she said. Sponsors are typically senior executives who have seen you accomplish visible assignments and can speak to your strengths.

"You have to be thoughtful about picking a [mentor or sponsor], it's not always going to be your boss. There might be someone else even in your own organization that can help you get ahead," she said.

Strategy 8: Self-Care

Research has shown "over and over" that women have a hard time giving themselves permission to do things that will ultimately increase their job satisfaction and over happiness, like finding the time to mentor, or even go to the gym, Tierney said.

Women should work on pinpointing when they have the most energy and what tasks can be outsourced to others.

"If you don’t feel good, you can't do things we talked about," Tierney said. "No one can give you permission to do these things -- the only person that can give you permission is yourself because no matter how great your boss is, no one will ask you how you are spending your time or taking care of yourself,"

And this behavior is great role modeling for your team, too, Beecham said.

"Remember, put your mask on first," she said.