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Words Of Wisdom From Strong Women

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In the course of our research for Find Your Strongest Life, we interviewed many women who had been extraordinarily successful, and had created a fulfilling, satisfying life. These interviews were wide-ranging, vivid and punchy. In my last couple of posts, I have described the "catch-and-cradle" approach to life shared by many of these women. In this post, I'm going to draw directly from the women themselves. Here are four of the most distinctive pieces of advice that were shared.

"Take 'No' as the start of the negotiation, not the end." - Theresa Peters, Partner, United Talent Agency

You might expect this advice from a talent agent, but every woman would do well to heed it. Today the data reveals that women are far less likely to negotiate their initial salary than men, and this reluctance persists throughout their career. According to a study at G.E., men return to the negotiating table on average six times, while women average between zero and two. The gains men make with each negotiation might be small, but because each salary increase is based on current salary, these gains become cumulative until, according to recent estimates, men wind up earning $500,000 more than women over the course of their careers.

It's never easy to advocate on your own behalf--that's why actors turn to agents like Theresa--but why are woman disproportionately reluctant, and what can you do to push past this reluctance?

Theresa's advice: Do your research; compare your income to men's salaries, not women's; and always be ready with vivid examples of the strengths you've displayed to deserve the raise or promotion. This last one is especially important because, in the lab, repeated experiments show that women who negotiate hard are characterized negatively, whereas men benefit from the opposite effect. So get your facts straight, get your strengths straight, get your game face on, and steel yourself to see 'no' as the start of the negotiation.

Failing that, get an agent.

"Don't leave until you leave." - Sheryl Sandberg, COO, Facebook

I first heard Sheryl speak about this to a graduating class at Stanford, and it subsequently became the focus of a column she wrote for Fortune. In our conversations about it, her voice rises in passionate frustration. Time and again she has seen highly talented women turn down challenging career assignments because they are thinking about having a baby. Not that they actually have a baby. They aren't even pregnant. It's merely that they are thinking about it. And this thinking turns to planning, and the planning leads them to the conclusion that now isn't a good time to take on anything new. Sheryl's advice: Enough with your planning. You are on a fast career track right now, doing as much and earning as much and wanting as much as your colleagues, so stay on this track for as long as you can, and wait to see what unfolds. At some point you may have to interrupt your career with the demands of motherhood, but, if you want your momentum to sustain and your skills to stay relevant and your pay to reflect this, delay this interruption for as long as you can.

The data bear Sheryl out: women still earn on average 85 percent of the salary of men who do the same work, but according to the research of Professor June O'Neill, almost all of this difference is not due to outright gender discrimination, but to the fact that, during any given 15-year period, women average more than twice as much time out of the workforce as men do. Their reduced wages reflect this.

"Let go of what you don't love." - Billie Williamson, Senior Partner, Ernst and Young

Billie Williamson is a senior partner with Ernst and Young, and as it happens, she is also the head of Inclusiveness for all of E&Y North America. She began her career in the firm's offices in Dallas in the late '60s. To give you an idea of how things have changed, when she had her daughter, there wasn't a single daycare facility in Dallas that would take a child less than six months old.

Her advice to any woman just beginning her career: Learn to let go. She tells me, unrepentantly, delightedly, that her daughter's childhood photos are not arranged perfectly in a numbered series of scrapbooked albums. They're in a box. "At some point," she laughs, "I might get around to putting them in an album. Or maybe I won't. Maybe I'll just hand them to her one day and say, 'Here you go. Here's your childhood. You arrange it however you'd like.'"

She is, she says, the queen of outsourcing. House cleaning, grocery shopping, kid's birthday parties, all outsourced. You can't do everything, so don't fall into the trap of trying. Instead, find the moments in each aspect of your life that invigorate you, and imbalance your life toward those. (To help you find those moments, take the Strong Life Test.)

"You can't be a leader today without being a steward to other women." - Camille Mirshokrai, Director, Leadership Development, Accenture

Driven out of Iran by the '79 revolution, Camille came to the U.S. when she was 12 years old. She, her sister and her mother followed her father, who had escaped over the mountains into Afghanistan, and eventually was able to join them in Dallas.

From these uncertain beginnings--little English, no friends, a mystifying flight from her home--Camille, as head of Leadership Development, has risen to become one of Accenture's most influential executives. Her advice: If you want to help yourself, always make yourself available to help other women.

Accenture has more than 200,000 employees, with more than 60 percent of them located outside of the U.S. Confronted with an organization as vast and as far-flung as this, Camille, surprisingly, relies on an appeal to each individual woman. "We can install all the programs and policies we want," she says, "But, in the end, it comes down to one woman taking the call of one other woman, agreeing to a meeting, a coffee, a lunch, and sharing what she's learned. I am in my position now because I put in those calls, and someone took the time to answer me. I am their legacy. I believe every woman in our company should be actively mentoring other women, creating similar legacies."

Now, imagine the power surge if women in companies, universities, and community organizations across the country were actively creating similar "legacies" of their own. To be her best, the new president of the parent-teachers organization at the middle school is seeking guidance as intently as the next female vice president of marketing for a toy company. As you find your strongest life, look to be a leader. The saying, "Each one, teach one" applies to so much more than grade school and summer camp. Find your strongest life, and then make it count for more.

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Marcus Buckingham is the bestselling author of five books, with more than 3.7 million copies in print, and the world's leading expert in personal strengths. An internationally renowned consultant and the founder of TMBC, a management consulting company, he has been hailed as a visionary by corporations such as Toyota, Coca-Cola, Microsoft, and Disney. Buckingham has been featured on "The Oprah Winfrey Show," "Larry King Live," "The Today Show," "Good Morning America," and "The View," and profiled in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Fortune, Fast Company, and Harvard Business Review. A Senior Researcher at Gallup Organization for nearly two decades, Buckingham addresses more than 250,000 people in live audiences each year and leads management training initiatives in organizations worldwide. His most recent book is Find Your Strongest Life (Thomas Nelson).

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