Should I Have Written a Career Guide Called "New Kid on the Job: Advice from the Trenches?"

There is very little advice directed toward young women about how to "make it" in these early, formative years of employment.
05/29/2007 02:57 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

That thought has been gnawing at me recently. As a Gen. Y--I was born in 1982 -- I've grown up with the protection of Title IX, witnessed women make inroads in every imaginable field and profession, and have never been told I couldn't do something because of my gender. In fact, it was quite the opposite.

The number of women in my graduating class outnumbered the men. And if my class was anything reflective of what the national statistics bear out, the women graduated with higher grade point averages.

So why, with all these doors swinging open, would I write a book, (published today) called New Girl on the Job: Advice from the Trenches?

Because, distressingly, young women's academic success is not translating into workplace parity. Last month, the American Association of University Women (AAUW) found that women one year out of college make 80 percent of what their male peers do. And this month, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) found that white males from the class of 2007 are out-pacing their female counterparts when it comes to having a full-time job upon graduation.

Yet, there is very little advice directed toward young women about how to "make it" in these early, formative years of employment. As both the AAUW's "Behind the Pay Gap" study and NACE's "2007 Graduating Student Survey" confirm, the workplace inequities don't settle in five years after graduation, when you've bumped your head on the glass ceiling for the first time, or even once you've reached the executive suite -- they kick in immediately.

The good news is that Gen Y women have the woman power (we are 35 million strong) to exact some real change in the workplace -- a workplace that is at a watershed moment. Barron's predicts that by 2010 a woman has a one in seven chance of having a powerful job post. By 2020 it could be one in five.

Here's how to make those predications a reality.

Think career, not job.

When people talk about what you are going to do post-graduation, the question is typically framed in terms of "finding a job." You don't hear people say, "Julie, find a career." But they should. While it might be daunting to think that way in your twenties, it's imperative to. Jobs are not as lucrative or satisfying as "careers." In practical terms, think about how your first few jobs will help you achieve your career goals. Map out where you want to be in five years and work backwards in terms of the steps it will take to get there.

Don't get assistant-tized.

Tory Johnson, the CEO of Women for Hire and one of the career experts I interviewed for New Girl on the Job puts it like this: "It's very easy for young women to get stuck in support roles...After a year or so you become pegged and it's more difficult for your employer to see you in a different light." Ilene H. Lange, president of Catalyst, the leading research and advisory organization working with businesses to expand opportunities for women at work, attributes the glaring absence of women at the top to the fact that women are two and half times more likely to be channeled into staff jobs like Human Resources and communication than into operating roles where they would be generating revenue and managing profit and loss. The revised career calculus should be to use an assistant position as a springboard to bigger opportunities, not as a place to incubate.

Self-promote, because no one will do it for you.

Women Unlimited, a national mentoring program, recently conducted a survey with 100 professional women about their views on the workplace. The results were compared to a Girls Inc. survey called "The Supergirl Dilemma."

The Supergirl survey found that girls feel an inordinate amount of pressure to reach inhuman benchmarks of achievement and perfection. Ironically, there conceptions of "perfection" are often the qualities that stymie women in the workplace, such as the desire to please and be liked.

The results signal a logical progression from the Supergirl dilemma to the Superwoman dilemma.

Part of the Superwoman dilemma is reflected in their finding that more than half (56.4 percent) of the women took credit for their work "rarely" to only "sometimes." This, unfortunately, doesn't jibe with the advancement paradigm in the American workplace. Whether you are a man or women, just putting your head down and doing a good job doesn't put you on the path to advancement.

So, when you get accolades from a client or anyone for that matter, forward it on to you boss. Keep a work journal and note your contributions to projects so you'll have a concrete list (read: bargaining power) when you need to negotiate for a raise or a promotion, and always, always take credit for your work, or someone else will!

Even Venus and Serena Williams have a coach.

According to a 2002 survey by the Simmons School of Management women who had informal mentors reported greater numbers of promotions and a higher promotion rate than those without mentors.

But "mentor" isn't a singular concept. Think about it as if you are building a team. You want to seek out relationships with a broad range of people, both within and outside of your office, so you can strengthen different skill sets. In terms of the nuts and bolts, come prepared for a meeting with a mentor -- bring a list of questions or topics, and make sure to establish a real give and take so it's not all about what a mentor can do for you. Also, never ask a would-be mentor, "Will you be my mentor?" It's the office equivalent of "Will you be my boyfriend?" Instead, approach a would-be mentor with specific requests and questions. For example, "I really admired the way you pitched that client on. Can we sit down for ten minutes on Thursday and go over the client presentation I'm giving next week?"

As I say in the closing chapter of New Girl on the Job, "The Future of Young Women at Work:

"Young women need to keep renegotiating the rules of the workplace, or we'll be stuck playing the old ones. But the rules won't change on their own--they never do. Change is spawned by a movement, the type of movement that gave women the right to vote, entrance to the workplace, and access to birth control."

To learn more about New Girl on the Job, please visit Hannah's website at www.hannahseligson.com