Jackie began her career as a drug discovery scientist. After a few years, he realized that he wanted to work in the area of business strategy. But every time he tried to make the transfer, he was denied.
“I kept hearing, ‘You’re just a chemist,'” he recalled. The same thing happened when he applied for outside roles that would expand his experience in marketing or business. No one can see his current skills. He felt stuck.
Jackie faced a problem that many women face in their careers: feeling drained.
As executive coaches for women leaders, we want to understand why some women are able to maintain and maintain career momentum, despite systematic, structural women’s problems – and especially women of color – workplace face.
We interviewed 37 women in senior leadership roles (senior director, vice president, senior vice president, C-suite) whose experiences span more than 75 corporations. Of the women we spoke with 25% were Black leaders, 75% were white.
We asked these leaders to describe key moments that helped them sustain career momentum. Analyzing these moments helped us understand the key behaviors that helped them to survive when they felt stuck. Although the women we spoke to had different backgrounds, interests, personalities, and careers, they used at least two of the three criteria to maintain strength during these important moments.
1. A focused drive
Call it tenacity, sheer determination, or persistence. When they faced setbacks, these women told stories of tapping into their inner strength that helped them place short-term difficulties in the context of their longer-term goals. purpose
For example, Lydia does not doubt her goal of becoming the CEO of an investment company. He sees every career opportunity as a way to build momentum toward his goal. “I have a variety of experiences that have helped me develop and identify all areas of the business, from HR to technology, operations, administration, sales and marketing,” he said. “I moved into the retirement business and then from banking to insurance. It’s important to package yourself for the role you want.”
2. A relentless desire to learn
These women show more than the capacity to learn, they are motivated to find opportunities that provide new experiences, challenges, and knowledge.
For example, Mary, now president and CEO of a public company, started out as a lawyer. He agreed to run regulatory affairs, then moved to finance director, where he says he started from scratch. “I enlisted the analysts a few levels below me, saying, ‘Take me to 101 — Finance 101.'” He asked the right questions, analyzed the data, called the shots, and watched the stocks go up.
Mara is the former CEO of a large medical district that includes 560 acres of medical research facilities. “I don’t know anything about real estate,” he told us. “I don’t know how to change an organization. But I know health care and how to bring together teams of experts and manage a common goal. “
3. An agile mindset
The women we talked to all showed flexible thinking, including the ability to quickly assess a situation and determine the way forward. When it comes to their own careers, they change themselves or change the projects they work on.
“Jen” was a vice president before she was 30, and doors kept opening until she was such a great chief administrative officer (CAO) that no one saw her as a CFO – he was passed over twice by two companies for the job. After consulting a trusted advisor, he decided that he needed to return his work, success, and reputation to a new way of looking at him as a CFO. So he moved on once again, helped build the next company’s financial customers, worked with the product team to prioritize features, sold to other CAOs, and ran the European business. These extensive achievements ensured his transition to CFO and president of a global corporation. This is what it means to have an agile mindset. It’s about being versatile and open to new options and ways to achieve a goal.
In fact, all Black women we spoke with shared all three traits. They also described feeling isolated in their respective professional worlds and having to rely on friends, family, and community outside of their professional circles to help them maintain their momentum. Black interviewees also mentioned impatience, double binds, pressure to do good to help others in their community, and the perceived pressure that their failure would reflect on their families, as well as their personal and professional Black communities.
Resetting Your Career Momentum
Most of the women we talked to pivoted, moved laterally, gathered more experience, or moved to smaller companies at some point in their careers to maintain momentum or make it when they got stuck. Seventy percent of the women we spoke to pivoted twice or more to gain momentum. Among the 27% of women who remain in the same company, more than half describe geographic moves, the entire field of change within a multinational company, or agile maneuvering to survive the gains.
When making a decision to pivot, the women we spoke to recommended the following strategies:
Let your career goals guide you. If you are offered an opportunity to move into a role outside the boundaries of your current subject matter expertise or you are encouraged to take a lateral step to learn new areas of the business or acquire new skills, make sure your decision is based on your ultimate career goals.
Get epic clarity on your personal brand. Eighty-three percent of the women we interviewed said that clarity of purpose and brand management were critical to regaining their momentum. If you want to change, you need to know what your reputation is and why people call you. Do a little brand research yourself. Is your reputation what you want? What do they say about you when you’re not in the room?
Look for every opportunity to learn. Knowledge is power. Aim to identify what you need to know, whether it’s a new product, a new automation tool, competitive information, or a new market, and how you can find it out. You want people to know that even if you don’t currently know a subject, you are a learner and you can pick it up easily.
Jackie, the chemist who wanted to move to work in strategy, decided to switch industries and roles completely and joined an independent brewery. He made it his job to learn every aspect of the business, and he relaunched his brand as an experienced, innovative leader. After several years and several moves from sales to consulting, he returned to pharmaceuticals as a senior director, eventually reaching a C-level role. “I am transparent in my leadership, and I put my aspirations on the radar.”