Women have made a lot of strides in recent years that have narrowed the gender gap in the modern workplace. But we're not there yet — women can and should be stepping up and taking a stand for themselves in their offices to close that gap even further.
Business News Daily spoke with four successful female business leaders about the behaviors and mindsets women make that hold their careers back, and what women should be doing instead to get ahead.
Focusing only on performance
Some women mistakenly believe that their performance at work is the most important factor in moving up the ladder. If you keep giving it your all and getting good results, someone will eventually notice and promote you, right? Not necessarily.
"Hard work alone will not get you where you're going," said Lindsay Chason Tillie, director of merchandising at Home Depot and MBA@UNC ambassador. In reality, women's advancement depends on three factors: performance, image and exposure.
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"Conversations happen behind closed doors about high-performance employees," Chason Tillie said. "You need to know something about those power players, and they need to know about you. You need your elevator speech, [but] don't only focus on what you're doing. Think about and actively work on your image to the people dealing with you day to day, and make sure you get exposure to people who have positional and political power in the organization. It's not as simple as sitting at your desk."
From a young age, many women are taught to be polite and deferential to others. They may fear that by voicing their opinions, they'll be seen as too argumentative or aggressive. However, silence can easily be mistaken for disengagement, so it's better to risk it if you want to be taken seriously in the workplace.
"Instead of asking to participate or asking why they are not participating, [women respond with] silence," said Carlynne McDonnell, author of "The Every Woman's Guide to Equality" (Change In Our Lifetime Press, 2015). "By not speaking up, women are accepting whatever happens. It is hard to speak up, and can come at personal and professional cost, but being silent never helped anyone achieve anything."
Lauren Van Wazer, vice president of global public policy at content delivery network Akamai, said she experienced this earlier in her career. She didn't always participate in meetings, and tended to favor one-on-one conversations rather than large group settings.
"I was reluctant to contribute, in part because I was too polite and felt it rude to interrupt others," Van Wazer told Business News Daily. "I've since learned, however, that if you don't speak up during meetings, people tend to wonder why you're there and what you're thinking. I now force myself to say something in every meeting I attend."
It's important to remember that you're at the meeting for a reason, Van Wazer said — your insights are valued as a part of the team. When you share those insights, your colleagues and superiors will recognize that you care about bringing something to the table.
Competing with (instead of supporting) other women
Women can be quick to tear down their fellow females in order to get ahead, but this is not a good strategy. You don't need to be best friends with every woman in your office, but you should make an effort to stick together and help someone else reach her career goals if you're able to.
"Women don't ... advocate for [each other] in the workplace," Chason Tillie said. "As a mentor, I try to spend extra one-on-one time with female [mentees]. When you spend extra time, you really get to know someone. What you should be doing is reaching out to that person's boss [and saying,] 'She's really great. We're lucky to have her. Are you giving her what she needs to be happy here?'"
Jude Miller Burke, a speaker and author of "The Millionaire Mystique: How Working Women Become Wealthy and You Can Too" (Nicholas Brealey America, 2014), agreed that women should support one another. She advised joining professional women's groups in your field, especially if your industry is particularly male-dominated.
"Women should ... fully engage in their work environment," McDonnell added. "Be team players, leaders, mentors. Be knowledgeable, be prepared, be committed."
Not making time to network
Networking is a key tool for all professionals looking to advance their careers. If you're not making this a priority, you could be missing out on great connections and opportunities that could help you move up.
"Many women are so busy accomplishing tasks, they do not take the time to network," Miller Burke said. "It is critical to success to build authentic relationships with a wide variety of individuals inside and outside of their organization. Communicating well, being comfortable with yourself and learning to socially influence others are important skills."
"Just about every new job I have had I have gotten through networking," Van Wazer added. "The ability to network can open new doors that you never knew existed, so continue to build and utilize relationships throughout your entire career."
As part of those networking activities, Miller Burke recommended seeking out a mentor who can provide you with advice, knowledge and encouragement. But mentorship works both ways, and once you've reached a higher level of your career, you should try to "give back" and mentor someone less experienced than you, Chason Tillie said.
"Do this for others," she said. "Thank the people who have gotten you where you are. Let them know they've had that impact, and then pay it forward. Make sure [your potential mentees] know they're good, and that you want to invest in them and help them get where they want to go."
Giving up after a failure
Chason Tillie said that women tend to hear "no" as "never," unlike men, who hear it as "not right now." Women should be retraining their brains to not accept a negative response or critique as the absolute end of a conversation.
"Women are inherent defeatists about 'no,'" Chason Tillie said. "If someone didn't agree with you, that's OK. Maybe you can change the idea [or] come at it with another angle that may get you to 'yes.' Being able to continually ask for things that are uncomfortable is a good skill to develop."
"Detours and failures are part of success," Miller Burke added. "Seventy-five percent of the millionaires and multimillionaires I interviewed [for my book] had experienced detours and failures, but seized that moment to create lemonade out of lemons. They moved to new and better companies, created new positions, went back to school and seized opportunities that they wouldn't normally have taken. This determination, conscientiousness and persistence are qualities that ... are necessary for success."