Women attained 14% of all bachelor’s degrees in electrical engineering in 2017. Back when I was an electrical engineering major many years earlier, the number of women EE students at my university was more like 4% (just four women out of 84 students!). Later, while working as an engineer at Xerox I was often the only woman, and by far the youngest person, in the room.
When it comes to gender equality, we’ve made a lot of progress as a society and in our corporations – but there is still much work to be done. There are changes that must continue to be made in the practices of corporate leadership, company policies and overall attitudes and beliefs.
The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day (celebrated March 8) is #EachForEqual. The essence of this year’s theme is that it’s everyone’s collective responsibility to build a gender-equal world. The idea that all of our individual actions, conversations, behaviors and mindsets can have an impact on our larger society as well as our co-workers who sit beside us each day.
As I reflect on the importance of this day and this movement toward equality for all, I wanted to share a bit about my personal experience as a professional woman building my career. What I have always tried to do is approach my career and my life with a focus on what I can do, as an individual, to promote equality for myself and for others. It’s about how I choose to approach the world, the way I work, and how I respond to others. Here are eight truths that have helped me be successful in my career and life.
- Follow your passion (and work hard)
Motivation is pivotal to success in anything you do. If you’re not motivated by the work you’re doing, then it’s possible you’re in the wrong profession. Find a job that makes you want to work hard. If that’s not the job you’re in today, then find the motivation to work hard anyway — to hone your skills, get to the next level or expand your role into something you truly love.
- Never make excuses
Everybody makes mistakes. Everyone has bad days – both personally and professionally. But no one holds the keys to your career success or failure but you. Part of being your best professional self is owning your mistakes and avoiding blaming others when things don’t go as planned. Even when things are outside of your control, it’s important to have the emotional intelligence to examine yourself first, own your actions and do everything you can to make things right. Then, you can do better next time.
- Be an expert in your field
Successful people are constantly learning — and opportunities for gaining knowledge and building skills abound. In almost every field or industry today, there are online training resources, books and classes you can attend to build your knowledge. When you think you’ve learned everything there is to know, check out what others in your field are doing. Think about the skills or knowledge that would make you a stronger marketer, sales person, software developer, or customer service associate — and then pursue educational opportunities that can help get you there.
- Speak up
Be confident. Voice your opinions and ideas in meetings, and never be afraid to speak up if you feel that work can be accomplished smarter. By the same token, do it respectfully. Value the opinions of others and truly listen to feedback and alternative views.
- Be a team player
Work collaboratively. See the value that others bring to the table. Their strengths can balance your weaker areas and vice versa – the collective idea or work product is always stronger than the individual. Recognize the contributions of others and say “thank you.” If someone on the team needs help, help them if you can. Teamwork is often contagious!
- Demonstrate strength (and compassion)
When you’re faced with difficult work situations or going through a period of change or uncertainty, it’s important to remain positive. Roll with the punches, offer only constructive criticism — and avoid water cooler gossip. Stand up for yourself and your teammates when something doesn’t feel right, and be empathetic of others’ situations. Always take the opportunity to mentor others.
- Go above and beyond and take on new projects
Make it a priority to step outside of your comfort zone. Volunteer to take on a new project outside of your responsibility – these are usually great opportunities to get exposed to new people and ideas from throughout your organization. By getting to know others outside of your department or functional area, you help create partners, mentors and champions for YOU. And when you do a great job, those people will remember you and want to work with you again.
- Take responsibility
It’s important to take responsibility and accountability in whatever you do. That means owning not only your own actions and deliverables, but those of your team. It means keeping your commitments. When there is a challenge to meeting a commitment, it’s about finding a way to overcome it — rather than just apologizing for falling short. Taking responsibility means not just “admiring” the problem, but digging in and doing something about it. Don’t just acknowledge something is broken; be the catalyst to fix it.
My focus on these principles and bringing out the best in others have been instrumental to my career success. What I have found is that by doing these things and doing them well, I’ve been able to create value that others recognize — in my job and in my life overall.
Though we still have a lot of ground to cover toward achieving gender equality, there is much we can do to influence our own success. And I believe that in many ways, the value we bring to the table is the ultimate equalizer — whether the room is full of women, or we find ourselves standing alone.
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