5 Steps for Women to Stand Out Professionally and Advance

4 min readMay 11, 2020

Thanks to COVID-19, businesses of all kinds face once-in-a-generation challenges. But this is also a time of opportunity for those of us who’ve been waiting for a chance to make our mark. If the bold, the curious and the trusted raise their hands and establish value now, they can propel their careers forward. But it’s important for women, in particular, to avoid pitfalls and adhere to some important best practices to ensure our energy and efforts pay off.

We’re no strangers to hard work. But too often, women get left behind when management hands out the rewards. We were raised to be perfect students who quietly wait for others to notice our excellence when this kind of passive approach often nets little in the workplace. For women to get ahead, we need to make remarkably thoughtful proposals-and then pursue recognition as its own goal.

Consider these five steps to develop timely ideas and build a track record that enhances your reputation, establishing yourself as your company’s next go-to candidate for advancement.

1. Find Your Starting Point by Practicing Self-Awareness. To transform how leadership sees you, consider your current workplace behaviors and the message they send. If you are a Negative Nancy or a Suzy-Always-Up-in-Arms, recognize that this energy shapes your reputation. Bosses advance people who give life to their businesses. If you want leadership to be open to future proposals from you, start by shifting your posture and devoting your time and energy to making positive impacts wherever you can.

2. Reality Test Your Opportunities. You likely believe you already understand your organization and those around you, but it’s important to keep curiosity flowing. Maintain open dialogues with your manager and leadership about their values and priorities. By ensuring you understand the needs of the business as they shift (and they will), you can be ready when your skills and instincts align with the challenge you were born to overcome. Leadership won’t interpret your stepping forward as a “career move.” They’ll appreciate your sense of shared mission.

3. Be Flexible About What You’ll Tackle! Sure, you have a job description and a title. But what good are they if they aren’t helping you, or others, maximize your value, along with the potential of your greater team and the company itself? There are often amazing, higher-visibility opportunities just beyond our comfort zones and/or the confines of our job specs. Widen the lanes wherein you could play. Open your mind, raise your hand and offer to be helpful with someone new and yet unknown! Remember: if you’ve reality-tested where you’re going, you’ll excel there.

4. Self-Promote Mindfully. Now that you’ve stretched yourself to help the company meet emerging needs, it’s critical that your boss be aware of your work, understand its value and recognize that the organization has a new, proven pivot player in its ranks. Self-congratulation is not necessary and can unfortunately backfire on women (we’re expected to stay gracious while men are freer to crow). But it’s important to communicate what you’re accomplishing and ensure your boss sees your full capabilities. Building your track record is a long game, so don’t fall silent when the moment arrives to document and share your progress.

5. Master the Art of Storytelling. Pursuing advancement can take many forms over the course of a career. But as you build your track record, keep revisiting how you tell your stories. Consider your audience, begin at the beginning (remembering your self-aware starting point, always being updated), and frame your experiences smartly. An immediate boss might respond well to news of a celebratory win while leadership will enjoy hearing about your contributions in a broader organizational context. Remember who you are and where you’re going-and sound like the person who belongs there.

Times of uncertainty are stressful, but don’t let this one pass by. Leadership is open to hearing from new voices right now. Managers are looking for new solutions themselves and are primed to welcome your overtures. As women, we’re not always used to competing aggressively. But by focusing our raw power to contribute in a crisis-and remembering to make sure bosses know we invest when it counts-women can both help their companies through this challenging period and emerge positioned for greater success.

Be self-aware, act strategically, do the work and get credit for it. That’s how women get ahead. Not by hoping and waiting for recognition, but by going out and getting it.

Michelle Hayward is the CEO of Bluedog Design, a dynamic growth consultancy offering unique solutions to complex business challenges. Reach her at michelle@bluedogdesign.com or visit www.michellehayward.com

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