The following are tips for professional women to excel at work. Admittedly, these tips can also help men. However, given that women fully entered the professional workspace only in the last eighty years or so whereas men have been in the same space for centuries, it is necessary to support women specifically from time to time. It is important to note that these are general tips and they should be applied with prudence to particular situations.
Get a Mentor for Work
Mentorship is one of the most powerful forces of positive change in the lives of young professional women and in the lives of the not so young ones as well. Find a mentor in your field or in a field related to yours. Preferably a woman who can understand the gendered dimensions of challenges and opportunities in the work place. Meet your mentor once a month or at minimum, quarterly. It is ideal to meet in person because this gives an opportunity for the mentor to assess your non-verbal cues.
Do not turn your mentor into a therapist or a friend. It is ok to bring up casual topics such as issues with your room mate or your parents, but keep this brief and only bring them up when they are relevant to the work situations you intend to bring up with your mentor.
It is ok to have various mentors e.g., two or three from different fields which together compose your current and future dreams. Just keep in mind that this can get hectic and confusing and is not altogether advisable. Nonetheless, having more than one could be helpful if they for instance cover both your work and outside-of-work scenarios. In all cases, ensure that the purpose for your needing a mentor is made clear from the very beginning. You may even wish to write it out in the email in which you request mentorship support so that both you and your mentor are in agreement and can use the time you have well.
Balance Knowledge and Humility
Knowing your job is essential to your success in your profession. However, it is important that knowledge is tempered with humility. Humility does not mean hiding what you know. At the work place, it means saying what you know but balancing that with listening to other perspectives. In this regard, listen to understand not to hear only. A key indicator that you listened to understand is to restate briefly the position of the other person and once they agree that this is what they meant, then you can make your own contribution or agree with the other, if their idea is better than what you originally supported. The balance between humility and knowledge is a tricky combination but can be achieved by awareness that you do not know everything, confidence in what you do know from past experiences and listening to others. Above all, it is a habit, which means practice will improve your capacity.
Appearance matters. It is not only about self-expression, and self-confidence; it is also about signaling to the world, how you would like to be perceived. In this context, it is important that women dress in a manner appropriate to the job. What this means differs from one person to another. A teacher may have to dress semi-formally while a construction worker has to dress casually to maximize outdoor comfort.
In all cases though, it is important that we, as women, dress up in a way that is comfortable while adapting to the standards of practice. Again, this is another balancing act. It means that, women lawyers for example, shouldn’t dress as the average construction worker and vice versa. Adapting to standards of dress signals to your work environment that you trust their best-practices and culture. It also shows that you are teachable, humble and willing to work cohesively. That said, you can make small adjustments to the traditional style to reflect your preferences, tastes and personality.
In all instances, it is important that women remain modest. What is modest is again a balancing act (you guessed it!). It is also contextual. Modesty reflects what is traditional/standard to that profession. It also reflects what is considered respectable in the culture at large in which your work environment is situated. A swimming profession requires far less clothing than a construction worker. A construction worker should probably not show up in a swim suit not only for safety reasons but also for the possibility of being considered immodest in the work environment and in the culture at large.
Modesty is a matter of charity: to avoid causing undue distraction. It is also a matter of self-respect. Given that what we wear signals to the world a message about ourselves, being immodest signals to the world many things that we may not intend. It may also signal that we do not respect standards, or that we do not care about distracting others, or that we do not care that others may think that we wish to be gawked at or objectified: become the object of other people’s inappropriate imagination
Discipline Your Manners
There are several aspects to having disciplined manners. The first is stated above: listen well to understand before speaking. This is clear enough. The second is to speak when you have something important to say. The exception to this rule is small talk or banter. In such instances, do make an effort to join in. If you find small talk banal, then try to smile to commiserate with those engaging in it. Try to bring up other topics that you do not mind bantering on. Above all, avoid gossip or detraction by sticking to general topics such as holiday plans or best restaurants in the area.
Bond with others in a healthy way. Oftentimes, women – especially young women – use flirting as a means of bonding with others or to show an edge over other women colleagues. What they do not know is that such attempts are obvious for nearly all to see and are not very wise because its negative effects can be far reaching. Generally, flirting at work and other unhealthy bonding can be seen as a way to inappropriately shift power dynamics including to centre it on yourself and it is not a good look. It can cost you your job. Exceptions are proper flirting with available people who do not supervise you directly, and in the right context e.g., at a post work-time event and in an organic way, such as through conversations.
Thirdly, and this is also very important, choose actions that avoid or end drama. Drama at the workplace has a low bar. For instance, complaining about a colleague to another is enough to be labelled as drama at the workplace whereas the same is not typically seen as drama outside of the office.
This means that, at the office, you must be extra careful. Be ready to absorb a lot of relatively minor problems. If a subordinate is semi-rude in email for the first time or if you overheard gossip about something superficial about you or others, absorb these. However, if the content of gossip is grave such as an allegation of fraud or exploitation or if your subordinate is frequently rude, then bring the matter to the proper channels for discussion such as Human Resources or your direct supervisor. Where there is clear and present danger such as an actual act of physical violence, immediately engage emergency services available to you.
Integrity consists of several obligations. The most obvious is to do what you said you would do and when you would. If you are unable able to meet this objective, then communicate this to those on the receiving end of your initial promise and do so in a reasonably timely way. Therefore, integrity implies honesty, good and quality work, as well as prompt communication. It also implies prudentially prioritizing your tasks. If your boss asks you a relatively simple question such as whether there is coffee in the office, there is no reason to delay your response for ten days or ten hours if you are in the office and able to answer. A deeper query such as when do we expect to finish drafting a budget for the next fiscal year, may need ten or more days and this should be immediately communicated to your boss. Unreasonable delays in simple communication can make an otherwise competent person seem incompetent. It can also impact your stress levels because communications are an opportunity to manage expectations: to tell people when to expect outputs from you so that you are not harassed or presumed delayed beyond deadlines.
Support other Women
The pull her down (PhD) syndrome is a real issue among some women. This syndrome tends to comes from deep insecurity. It is also based on the erroneous notion that if one woman is praised or recognized, any other woman there Is undeserving of praise and recognition. To counter the PhD syndrome, women should be careful to be (a) aware of their divine status as children of God; and that nothing at work or elsewhere can take this away. (b) any initial pain while observing the just or unjust recognition of others at work is an opportunity to pray. Take for example, King David, who was being cursed by a random man as he travelled. His reaction was to leave this be and to let the opportunity be a prayer to God to have mercy in context of his other problems and desires (2 Samuel 16: 5-13). Therefore, letting God help you is very important in those moments when you feel tempted to self-doubt, envy, and embarrassment.
Pre-empt peace with your female counterparts to disarm any envy or PhD syndrome. Introduce yourself to them when you meet for the first time and offer support to them. Share not only your successes but your difficulties – without falling into gossip of course. For instance, you may discuss personal challenges outside the work place or share embarrassing moments in your past. However, I understand that these may not work since we cannot control the behaviour or reaction of others. No matter what happens, avoid drama and stick to the other points above.
Handle Toxic Situations without Toxicity
A professional woman should attempt to resolve toxicity around her using her own resiliency, the available resolution channels such as a mentor within or outside the organization or Human Resources. However, where or if this fails, and there is little hope of change in the toxic environment, the professional woman should leave the environment with no drama or resign peacefully especially if she can readily find an alternative job . A simple resignation without naming names or situations is recommended. There are exceptions of course. For instance, a politician may have to give reasons for their resignation to the public to assuage shock or negativity. However, these are rare and silent exits should be the priority. Some organizations may ask for exit interviews and if so, this is the opportunity to give some reasons. Should you choose to give reasons, speak professionally e.g. list the challenges in a neutral way. For example, “we have too many managers and no clear guidance on who has the ultimate authority. “Compare that to “ James in procurement is ridiculous! He thinks he is in charge of everything whereas all the managers are equal. I acknowledge that some of the managers are better than others and that some are even useless. But this company is going to blazes anyway, so I am out.”
Professional women can strive for excellence with these tips among others. Let us know any other tips you have for professional success for women in particular, so that they do not have to learn the hard way or become sources of toxicity themselves. Above all, professional women who love God, should strive to see their work from a supernatural lens and aim to convert their work into prayer and sacrifice, pleasing to God.
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