Flashback to my first day of work: After a restless night, I woke up nervous and excited to start my journey after college as a real-life adult. The all-nighters, freshman twenty (because let's face it, I'm an overachiever), organic chemistry -- it was all for this. I walked into my new office at one of Seattle's fledgling technology startups, and as I stood around looking at the four middle-aged men towering over me, I knew that I was about to embark on a very interesting adventure.
I was fortunate to have the most kind, caring, and all-around amazing team -- comprised of all men. While I felt safe and comfortable as the only female, twenty-something year old, I often caught myself falling into really strange patterns of behavior: not voicing my opinion on topics I felt strongly about, switching to a "cutesy" sounding voice, apologizing incessantly, and the most destructive -- not valuing myself enough to negotiate my salary.
These self-diminishing behaviors were not the fault of the men on my team -- my coworkers weren't falling prey to gender inequality. I was.
You may find yourself facing similar obstacles and barriers as you enter the workforce, but instead of sitting back and accepting societal gender roles as they are, challenge them. A caterpillar's transformation into a butterfly probably isn't a comfortable experience, but let me tell you, having wings is really freaking awesome. We, as young women, have more strength and control than we realize or give ourselves credit for.
Here is some of the advice I wish I'd been given:
- Live the early years of your career outside of your comfort zone.
- Don't just sit at the table. Speak at that table.
- Arrive ready to learn and work hard.
- Realize that nobody did you a favor by hiring you; you are bringing value to the table.
- Most importantly, and often the most challenging, believe in yourself.
As much as I would like to say that I came to these conclusions on my own, it would be an enormous injustice to the many women who mentored and coached me along the way. Through this crazy journey thus far, the biggest take away and hand-off to all my fellow women entering the world of business is quite simple: you aren't alone. Women have been increasing their workforce presence for decades. We have the benefit of many amazing women leaders to turn to and look to for guidance, who have paved the way for our endeavors. Women who have bulldozed through barriers relentlessly. Women who are dedicated to building young, hard working, promising women up, instead of tearing them down. Women who can coach and mentor you, and whose successes and failures you can learn from. They are there for you.
Prioritize building relationships with these strong women. Whether it's coffee dates, networking events, LinkedIn requests, or searching for women's coaching initiatives in your area, strive to meet or engage one new person each week. Building a network of people who are supportive, smart, and accessible will be invaluable to your career -- it's certainly been a guiding light in mine.
Asking for mentorship can be scary, but what's the worst that can happen, someone will say no? I guarantee you that if you search and ask enough, someone will say yes. Be fearless, be bold and go after what you want. You deserve it.