Gone are the days when careers were unidimensional and straightforward when we could allow our careers to run on autopilot. Given the pace at which the world is changing, that just does not work anymore. It requires us to be much more adaptive than we were earlier. It calls for active career management. There is a need for us to take charge of our careers and shape them the way we envision them to be.
Steps to Active Career Management
Firstly, one needs to set a direction and create a career plan, with clear goals and action steps on how to get there. Once there is a general direction and plan in place, one needs to invest time and effort in continuous learning and active networking, creating an ecosystem of mentors and sponsors along the way. It is also important to build a personal brand that complements this.
Systemic Barriers to Career Advancement for Women
Women often get the short end of the stick when it comes to growth opportunities, compared to their male counterparts. These are due to the systemic barriers that have traditionally hampered women’s chances of professional growth.
There are two types of barriers that women usually face in their careers. One set of barriers is internal in nature, and the other is external. Internal barriers are our own self-limiting beliefs, lack of awareness of the need for visibility and branding, reluctance to move out of our comfort zones, and failure to build networks. External barriers include societal and organisational barriers, like gender bias, stereotyping, lack of guidance and strong female role models, etc.
Women also hesitate when it comes to seeking help and this reluctance to show vulnerability often holds them back.
Reaching out, having one-on-one conversations, and asking for help on the job helps not just in surviving, but in thriving.
It is therefore imperative to overcome the fear of failure and proactively reach out to supervisors, or other decision-makers in the organisation to ask for stretch and demanding roles, and to negotiate more, confidently.
Structured interventions, when applied in a systemic manner, can make a lot of difference to the career trajectories of women.
These interventions must be specific to the individual or group’s career stage, as the challenges faced by someone in the early stages of their career are very different from those that someone in mid-career or leadership roles faces.
Before applying this framework to identify gaps and take action, it would be helpful to start with the premise that our career and professional journey is a marathon, not a sprint.
Going through a predefined framework of self-assessment, and investing time and effort in learning and growth is a vital tool to help one take charge of their career trajectory.
Collaborative Professional Ecosystems
Women can leverage the power of collaborative professional ecosystems to break barriers, both systemic and personal, and to grow and participate more meaningfully in the workforce. The right coach and mentor can be an accountability partner in one’s professional journey and networks of like-minded women professionals, who are possibly facing similar challenges, could help with tried and tested hacks to overcome these challenges.
Ignoring or deprioritising networking can have a negative impact on growth, for your network not only leads to opportunities but it has also come to be a reflection of your net worth.
Women should therefore definitely prioritise and make time to build a strong network, both within and outside their work.
Role of Organisations
It is common knowledge that, while there is reasonable diversity in recruitment at entry-level roles, right from the first promotion onwards, women's growth tends to be slower than their male counterparts. The gap only tends to widen, thereon.
Organisations, therefore, need to fix the broken rung and play a conscious role in addressing the barriers that hamper the growth of women, through gender sensitisation initiatives that help eliminate microaggressions and unconscious biases and level the playing field by providing equal opportunities.