In recent months, I have been on a journey to better understand how the women around me feel about the reality of their professional lives. I've had countless conversations with women ranging in age from 15 - 85 about work, life, family, community and success. I have learned so much, laughed so much, and been so frustrated I've considered throwing things out windows.
Somewhere along the way it began to crystallize - I can actually do something with these stories. As frustrating as some may have been to hear, they are all chock full of lessons and learnings, and I am now in a unique position to share them! This is NOT a novel idea - many women far more powerful than myself have shared all kinds of stories and data - but it feels like the right next step for me.
So, stay tuned I guess!
Today is International Women's Day. A day to 'celebrate women', to 'empower women', to 'work together in the fight towards progress'! There will be lots of quotes and memes and articles and campaigns and hashtags and conversations. McDonalds will turn its golden arches upside down and Google will change its doodle and Twitter will put out a video and we'll all hold hands and march towards the light.
But if today is about progress, why does it feel so stalled? Why do I still feel like men run the world around me? Like I am constantly fighting to be heard, to be believed? Why does it still feel like women around the world are being attacked online and in real life?
Don't get me wrong, I REVEL in the opportunity to celebrate women all over the world. I just want us to be better about doing this every day. I want to feel like the people around me are celebrating women and striving to achieve gender parity every day, not just today.
I want female storytellers and content creators to be better funded, better protected, better elevated. I want female bosses to be respected, to be supported, to be promoted. I want daughters to be as exciting as sons and fathers to be as responsible as mothers. I want women to be able to make mistakes. I want female advertisements that have nothing to do with losing weight or losing wrinkles or lipstick not smudging.
Most of all, I want women to be seen as humans. worthy, unrelenting, powerful, flawed humans.
As @shailjapatel so aptly put it:
"Read women. Cite women. Credit women. Teach women. Publish women. Present women. Acknowledge women. Award women. Amplify women. Hire women. Support women. Promote women. Hear women. Believe women. Follow women. Pay women. Pay women. Pay women. #IWD2018"
The job hunt is always, always a daunting prospect. No matter who you are, or what your experience is, it is stressful and anxiety inducing to pursue a new job or career. After 4 years in New York City, I have decided to move back to my hometown of Toronto, and am doing so without a job lined up. With my background and interest in business operations and project management, I am excited to look for Program Management and Chief of staff roles.
As is my way, I've put together a plan that seems worth sharing. With each success and failure, I'll learn and adjust my plan accordingly.
Step 1: Refresh my Chops
After some time out of the workforce, I want to make sure I'm putting my best professional foot forward. I have an archive of self-assessments from years past, so I want to review those to check in on my strengths and weaknesses. Then, it's time for an overhaul of my externally facing professional image. This includes updating my CV and LinkedIn profile, ensuring my contacts on LinkedIn are up to date, and all of the possible references have been added to my profiles. As I build my pitch, I'll capture it all in outreach email templates including some of my unique skills and professional experiences, links to my portfolio or examples of my work, and contact information.
Step 2: Build a List
Once I'm comfortable with my search results, it's time to put my project management skills to good use, and develop an organized plan of "job-attack". This includes researching the Canadian market, exploring successful organizations and industries, and starting to build a list of contacts near and far that can possibly provide me with some guidance on this search. Developing a list of contacts in a new city will be tricky, so I'll want to make sure I'm casting a wide net of possibilities.
Step 3: Coffee, coffee, coffee
Once I've got my list together, it's go time. Each person on the list will require a personalized approach depending on how well connected we are. Some individuals may require a third-person intro (these are best found on LinkedIn), others may just be an awkward cold email. Either way, it's going to be important to provide some details about how we are connected, and why I think the meeting would be valuable. Providing suggested dates and locations will be key, as will ensuring my own flexibility to meet people where they are.
Step 4: Rinse and Repeat
The most important thing about this process will be tenacity and endurance. Finding the right job in a new city is going to take time, and I'm almost certainly not going to get it all the way right the first time around. It may be that my CV doesn't seem to capture the essence of my skills, or the contact net I cast wasn't wide enough. Either way, dusting myself off and staying positive will surely be a key to finding my next opportunity.
In the coming weeks, I'll be updating this process based on the successes and failures of each step. I'll add links and templates based on what I find most valuable.
A well known experience associated with millenials in the professional world is the "grass is always greener" mentality. It is the experience of constantly seeking happiness at work. Not just general satisfaction - true, real, all-encompassing happiness. Oftentimes, this leads to a lot of young people jumping around from job to job every year. Now, no one is arguing that the pursuit of happiness is wrong, however it can be argued that we all stand to gain from attempting to investigate opportunities for satisfaction in our current situation, rather than constantly starting something new.
The pursuit of happiness in the workplace involves many elements: work-life balance, opportunities for growth and development, open and honest feedback and the quality of your day to day work deliverables. On top of all of that, there are so many people key to your success. The question is, who is responsible for making sure you're happy with your job? Is it the CEO? The head of HR? Your manager? Or should you take it upon yourself to constantly be evaluating and evolving, asking questions and seeking opportunities?
Arguments can be made for each party having some role to play in employee happiness and engagement. However, at the end of day - you are your own best advocate, and the buck stops with you.
Getting to the Root of the Problem:
First things first, you have to dive deep to understand exactly what is driving your disengagement. Is it something that could be solved with a direct conversation, like not having enough to do, or a desire for more feedback? Or, is it something that requires a longer term solution, like being unhappy with the nature of your work, or the culture of your company? Being thorough in exploring possible root causes will allow you to effectively deduce solutions.
Analyzing the Landscape:
Once you've diagnosed the root of your problem, it's crucial to analyze the landscape, both internally, and externally, in order to drive towards finding a solution. The landscape will provide you with an understanding of how common your problem is - do other people at your office feel similarly? Or is your problem common among others that have your role at other companies? If your problem is specific to your place of work - the resolution will be very different than if your challenges are related to the overarching requirements of someone in your position across the industry.
Brainstorm Potential Solutions:
Now is the time to open your mind and do your due diligence to really think through all the possible solutions. Go from the most extreme, like finding a new job, to the least extreme, like having a conversation with your manager. Think through the implications of each on your day to day, as well as the likelihood of them coming to fruition. Don't be afraid to think creatively - maybe the answer is creating a working group within your office to work with individuals struggling with the same issue. More often than not, your company will want to work with you to come to a mutually beneficial solution.
Make a Choice, and Stick To Your Guns:
Once you've weighed your options, it's time to make the decision. If you decide to stay where you are and work towards higher satisfaction, then it's up to you to take your role in the process seriously. If you want things to change in your role, you have to lead the charge to making it happen. Set up the right meetings, check in with the right people, and don't give up until you've achieved what you're setting out to do.
Another New Year's Eve gone by, and many of us may be looking dead ahead at another year full of the same old, same old. Some of us may be facing a new role, or a new job, some may be facing a job hunt, some may be facing graduation. However, most of us are just facing a hangover, and some already-failed-resolution to go to the gym more.
Rather than plowing ahead as if last year never happened, why not try these 5 things to ensure you are moving forward with clear eyes, and setting yourself up for the success in the new year:
1. Do a self-assessment
Most companies will do annual assessments, where you are required to do a self-assessment, looking back at your own performance. While these can (and should) be used as the basis for your own personal assessment, they do not cover anything. Of course, your performance at work is important, but ask yourself about other areas of your life as well. Did you achieve the right work-life balance? Did you network as much as you would have liked to? Did you take advantage of learning opportunities outside of work?
Tip: Create a template so you can do this at the end of each year!
2. Ask for feedback
Again, the official assessment period at work will most likely require your colleagues to offer their thoughts on your annual performance. These people are most likely hand picked and only have a certain perspective on your work. Make sure to reach out to professional colleagues from different walks of life. Do you advise on any projects? Volunteer for anything? Ask people outside of your team for their input on what you did well, or could do better next year!
Tip: set up a dedicated 30 minute session with a friend, where you provide mutual feedback, for maximum benefit!
3. Update your resume
I know, before you even finished that sentence, you groaned. And I know that it might seem unnecessary if you're not looking for a new job. However, if you make an effort to update your resume with your most up to date accomplishments and achievements over the past year, you are much less likely to miss something than you will be in 2-3 years when you're trying to think back on everything you accomplished while at your current job!
Tip: don't worry about the formatting, just make sure you capture the 3-5 achievements you're most proud of!
4. Make a forward-facing plan
Now that you've done a thorough look back on last year, start creating some personal and professional goals for the year ahead. Be sure to include work goals, networking goals, extra-curricular goals, and some personal goals as well! Take a look at your resume and figure out where there are gaps. What do you wish it said, and how can you make that happen in the new year?
Tip: create a rough timeline / plan for how you're going to accomplish these goals, and check in periodically throughout the year.
5. Set up New Year meetings
Finally, embrace the New Year as an opportunity to reach out to old contacts, colleagues, mentors and friends. Set up meetings with new people at work, or old colleagues from a past company. Collaborate with new minds as to next steps in your career, and your life! Take on this new year with gusto, and lean on those around you to help catapult you into 2016!
Tip: use the New Year as an excuse to reach way back into your proverbial roll-a-dex to someone from 5 years ago, even!
In my experience, I've noticed that professionals spend a lot of time thinking about how to answer questions. We go through countless responses in our head, eventually landing on a theme, and then spend hours preparing the perfect response. This is the case when we're preparing for presentations, for meetings, and for interviews.
I think we have sorely underestimated the power of asking great questions. We've spent so much time thinking about how to respond, that we've forgotten how powerful it can be to probe others for the same great responses. Particularly in interview settings, I think the easiest way to impress your interviewer, is to come prepared with thoughtful, meaningful questions that you not only ask at the end of the interview ("Do you have any questions for me?"), but also throughout the 30 to 60 minute conversation.
Here are 3 sample questions that can really set you apart from your colleagues, or competitors:
1. If I make a mistake, how will that be handled?
This is a controversial question, but one that can shed light on some very important issues. Both in your current role, and in any role you consider taking throughout your career, you should know what the culture is around failure. This will help you figure out how you're going to approach risky projects.
You should also know what type of response you're hoping for. Do you want to work somewhere that embraces failure as a learning opportunity? Or one that condemns mistakes and punishes employees for making them?
2. What is the decision-making process among leadership?
Within a interview environment, this question can be particularly powerful. When searching for candidates, interviewers are often asked questions about the job description, and the person who will be doing it. They rarely hear questions about the bigger picture; this shows that you're already thinking about yourself contributing on a greater scale, and sets you apart from the pack. It shows your interviewer you are serious about making an impact, and want to be up to speed on how the entire company contributes to the process.
3. What are 3 words you would use to describe your ideal candidate?
In my mind, this question is the ultimate great question. It not only shows that you're thinking about how to be the absolute best person for the job, but it also forces your interviewer to boil down what they're looking for into three concise statements.
Women's History month is a time to celebrate and appreciate women's achievements in history. To celebrate the Amelia Earhearts, the Hillary Clintons and let's not forget, the Taylor Swifts.
But Women's History Month is also about calling for greater gender equality. It's a reminder that as far as we may have come, there is still a long way to go towards gender equality, especially in the workplace.
It's hard enough to make gains on gender equality in the workplace when only 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women; junior women have fewer role models, there are less diverse opinions being taken into account, etc. So we certainly don't need to make it harder by tearing each other down at work. Women are at our best when we support and foster growth and development within one another.
So without further ado, here are a few things we need to stop saying about our female coworkers:
She's too bossy
Women in the workplace are often looked down upon for expressing themselves, or making demands. On the contrary, men are often touted as being progressive and strong-willed when they are assertive in meetings. We need to refrain from calling women out for being "bossy", and start patting them on the back for making themselves heard.
As always, Beyonce said it best.
She didn't deserve it
Even with all the strides we've made, men still get promoted significantly more than women. Women are often passed over for promotions and raises because they are perceived as being unprepared. Despite our inner mean-girl wanting to show her face, we need to be supportive when women get moved up the ladder.
She should have waited
In keeping with the above, women often see themselves (and each other!) as less capable than their male counterparts. Deep within most of us, we are insecure, and unsure of our abilities. We often spend A LOT of time asking ourselves "What If..." while our male colleagues are saying "Yeah sure, why not?". As women, we need to encourage one another to jump on opportunities as soon as they're available, not pressure each other to wait until we're 100% ready.
I just don't like her
This one is my least favorite. Even though it may sometimes be true, we need to keep our personal feelings about our coworkers to ourselves. Particularly among female coworkers, we need to put the claws away. Just because you may not like their personality, it doesn't mean they're not doing a good job, and we need to make sure our own feelings don't get in the way of each other's success.
I have been extremely lucky in my career to be surrounded, and supported by powerful lady-bosses for whom the corporate ladder ain't nothing but a set of steps to climb. With their guidance, I have learned to support my female colleagues as much as possible, because at the end of the day, the more women at the table, the better.
We all like to think of ourselves as innovators. We like to believe that we aren't like those people, the ones who get too comfortable, who never do anything new. We all want to be part of a change movement.
However when we're given the opportunity to make changes, we often get stuck on 'What Ifs" or "How Abouts". We begin to analyze the options with much more scrutiny than we would suggest to others, and it often leads us to passing up opportunities because we're afraid of the change.
So then how do we do it? How do we make tough decisions to change things up?
1. Build a toolkit
There's no point in reinventing the wheel every time you come up against a tough decision. Be proactive, start thinking about strategies that have worked for you in the past, and write them down. If you can't think of any on your own, check out Forbes' suggestions.
2. Ask for Advice
You can run yourself ragged considering all the pros and cons of your options. But even after all that thinking, you may not have a clear decision. It's important to turn to those around you: mentors, parents, friends. Go to your most trusted advisors and see what their choice would be.
3. Be Headstrong
Last but certainly not least, it is absolutely essential to trust your choices. Once you've made a decision, you have to be headstrong and run with it. You've done the research, you've weighed your options, now trust your work.
Taking the next step is never easy. Especially when it involves big life decisions. But don't despair, with the right tools and some good advice, you can trust that your change will lead you to an exciting new venture.