Like most young people, I left college energized and excited, ready to take on the next phase of my life. I was ambitious, naive and probably overly confident about my prospects. I planned to be diligent, passionate and hardworking to make the right impression on my bosses and ascend to the top of my chosen profession. And that actually worked... for a while. My hard work was recognized and rewarded. My mostly male bosses supported and mentored me. I got to a really good place in my career. And then, reality set in. I plateaued, I had no personal life and I was exhausted by the late hours and the daily grind of navigating corporate culture.
I've since taken a step back from that world (the film industry, if you'd like to know) and now spend most of my time listening to words of wisdom from women who've achieved great success and connecting them to the next generation via my organization, WIE. I'm very focused in my work on what I call 'the middle' -- women who reach a midpoint in their careers and then hit the glass ceiling. So here's what I've learned from the various pioneers I've encountered and via my personal experiences in the workplace. You might not like everything I have to say but it's the truth as I know it.
Myth 1: Hard work alone will get you promoted
Er, I don't think so. The woman slaving away in the back office stays in the back office. Women need to learn to delegate and spend more time networking and making themselves more visible. Yes, hard work and passion are important, but let's be honest; how many people have you seen sail through the system who put in far fewer hours than you? Prioritize relationships. If your bosses are only vaguely aware of who you are, you're going nowhere. As Bank of America's Ninon Marapachi put it at our recent conference, "Invest in the relationship with your boss as you would friends and family."
Myth 2: Female superiors will automatically support your progression
Sometimes, but don't count on it. Some women who struggled to achieve their status aren't handing it over just because you're the same gender. So don't automatically expect any favors or an easier time from other women. If anything, look to both sexes for mentorship and sponsorship. The most supportive boss I ever had was actually male. But when you do make it to the top, do remember to pay it forward yourself if you want to see real change in workplace diversity.
Myth 3: You have to get your career on track first and then think about having children
Calling all 30-35-year-old women.... if you want kids, now is the time to act. Your fertility declines rapidly after the age of 35 and even egg freezing is best tackled early on. Having kids and a career simultaneously is not easy, but it's doable. Let me careful here. I'm an entrepreneur -- I make my own hours. If I worked for a corporate entity putting in the hours I used to, it would be even tougher than it is. So be prepared to make sacrifices. You can't be a perfect mother and a perfect executive at the same time. But you can be both at different times in the week, month or year. And in fact, mothers are generally even more productive than childless women. So prioritize. Look for support wherever you can. Set boundaries. And once you've made your decisions, check your guilt at the door.
Myth 4: You'll be paid as much as your male counterparts:
Nope. Here are the statistics. Women earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. That imbalance begins at entry level and is hard to make up later on in your career. So start those negotiations early -- as soon as you graduate college.
Myth 5: What you look like doesn't matter
Maybe on planet Mars. People judge. And in the workplace, they judge women's leadership potential more than men. So you need to look and act like a leader to be deemed one. Studies show that women have to prove themselves to be considered leadership potential whereas men are promoted based on potential. So in addition to working hard and delivering results, you need to look and act the part too. The term for it these days is Executive Presence -- the ability to project gravitas.
I sure wish I'd known all this in my twenties, but it's never too late to make adjustments.