The MPW Insiders Network is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for, “What advice would you give to women who hope to make it to the C-suite?” is written by Amanda Roberts, consultant at Egon Zehnder.
Having been part of countless discussions about gender parity, I’ve spoken with many different women about their experiences on the way up to the C-suite. Despite differences in industry, geography, or background, they face universal challenges. Based on how they overcame the obstacles, and in thinking about my own career, I’d offer the following guidance for young women aspiring to leadership roles:
I’ve heard a range of female executives credit job rotations as the key to getting them from the ground floor to the corner office. From finance to human resources, manufacturing to operations, exposure to a broad base of functions within a company facilitates personal and professional growth. Whether you raise your hand for short-term job rotations or transition between several different industries in the early stages of your career, you can use those experiences as evidence of your knowledge of a variety of businesses and your ability to take on new responsibilities and challenges. It’s this kind of flexibility and persistence that will impress senior leaders.
And in seeking these new opportunities, don’t just think about the next step—think even further. What are the technical skills, context, and exposure you’ll need two jobs from now? What will it take as you move from an associate to a senior leader? The path will differ by organization, but your plan should always stretch beyond what’s right in front of you.
Seek mentors and advocates
Societal norms have made women less likely than men to raise their hands for certain professional challenges. Don’t fall victim to this behavior. Seek out a strong mentor at every stage of your career to help you recognize opportunities and guide you through difficulties. They help you strategize and envision your career, sharing wisdom and offering advice. It can be beneficial to find someone from outside your own organization, as you can be more forthcoming when seeking advice for tricky work situations. Then, pay it forward when are you able; mentoring or showing a good example to your peers (or even an intern) showcases your ability to influence and cultivate others. Not to mention, helping identify and support female talent and driving them toward greater responsibility and accountability continues the flow of gender diversity to the top.
While mentors can help you grow and learn, they won’t always be the person who has a role behind closed doors in your department or company. That person—your advocate—is paramount to your professional success. They can help you navigate the inside track unique to your organization and be your champion when you’re not in the room. I have heard women across the board attribute their growth to such advocates throughout their careers. Advocates will find you; so to be a candidate, set yourself up properly. Do quality work, build an outstanding reputation, and surround yourself with people who can make an impact. Advocates put their reputations on the line to help open doors, so you must make a good name for yourself first. Their reputation will be helped in turn by your positive results.
Help other women
By helping yourself, you also help other women. Women speak up for one another, identify with one another’s struggles, and are the best line of succession for other female leaders. As we have found in our work at Egon Zehnder—and as research shows—female leadership begets female leadership. So pay it forward and help the women around you to succeed, and you’ll see yourself succeed in turn.