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How Can Women Succeed in the Business World?

While it’s not all outright sexism, part of what women are fighting in the business world is “the way things have always been done.” The comfortable way. With lots of men. While that status quo has been evolving, it still has a long way to go. Let’s take a closer look at what women can do to be more successful in the world of business.

Dec 21, 2016
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How Can Women Succeed in the Business World?

Woman. Interrupted. It’s all too common, not just in the business world. To succeed in the cut-throat world of business, women need to be themselves. Take charge, call the shots. In the US, women hold 23 of the Fortune 500 chief executive roles. In Europe, 14 out of 350 groups have female chief executives. What’s the problem? Why the disparate numbers?

Some business schools attribute the problem to the “invisible woman syndrome,” where women are simply overlooked. Not as loud. Not as brash. Some top schools, like Wharton and Harvard in the US, Saïd at Oxford, and Ceibs in China are working hard to combat this exact problem. What are they doing? They implemented leadership programs for women in senior business positions. Why? The business landscape isn’t changing quickly enough to accommodate the numbers of women who are just beginning to tap at the ubiquitous glass ceiling—at which women are chipping away.

Is it all sexism? Probably not all, says Professor Frances Frei, the first female leader of the executive education division at Harvard Business School. In an article in the Financial Times, she says, “It’s unintentional acts that end up with unequal access. It’s people at a loss about what to do so they keep doing what works for them. What we have are unintended obstacles.”

According to the Financial Times, Professor Raina Brands at the London Business School agrees. She said, “At the highest levels of organizations, leaders experience uncertainty, so relationships need to be comfortable.” She adds, “It’s not a conscious decision [by the boss] that ‘I want another white man here.’”

Looking for ways to combat the “unintended obstacles?” Take a look at these five strategies—and let them hear you roar.

geschäftsfrau erklärt einer kollegin etwas

1. Get a mentor and create a peer-networks

“Show me your friends and I’ll tell you who you are.” Find someone you trust, who you know will be willing to help you if you ask. Make connections with your peers—and don’t be afraid to use those connections to help you. Men do this all the time, always angling for a promotion. Women often make friends and create networks of people at work, but not necessarily to these ends. Don’t worry about being popular—and certainly don’t pigeon-hole yourself into a group. Find people who lift you up, and don’t drag you down. Do the same for others.

inspiration point, leap of faith

2. Take risks

Indifference and lethargy get you nowhere, other than complicit and complacent. Think you deserve a promotion? Be classy and figure out the best way to approach your boss to ask for it. Want to take on a special project at work? Do it. Figure out which battles to fight; taking a risk for everyone might not make sense. Learn from your mistakes—learn which fights are worth fighting. You’ll get a sense of what’s important to you and when you should be willing to up your ante.

Active girl without insurance makes climbing on the rock

3. Step outside your comfort zone

Uncertainty. Fear of the unknown. They hold us back. To succeed, you need to face uncertainty and embrace the unknown by pushing your boundaries of comfort. Shy? Start talking to people more. Don’t like leading groups at work? Volunteer to lead one. Prefer to eat lunch by yourself? Park yourself with some colleagues and strike up a conversation. Don’t be afraid—put yourself out there. Be your best self, and don’t be afraid to reach beyond your comfort level.

MBAs can make you feel you are going outside your comfort zone, too fast? Dial it back. If you’re shy and don’t like confrontation, you don’t need to host a dinner party and encourage a fiery political debate right off the bat. Start small and work your way out—that comfort zone will expand. So will your perspective.

Portrait of smiling young african businesswoman with people in background. Cheerful young woman standing relaxed in her office, looking at camera and smiling.

4. Don’t act like a man

MBAs in Business are not gender-specific. Men don’t have anything special that makes them more equipped to manage business than women. Everyone has “feminine” and “masculine” qualities. The myths that women need to “man up” and be more aggressive, more dismissive, and generally more obnoxious to be successful in business make no sense. Women need to be the smart, innovative, creative thinkers that they are—and be themselves. Success will follow.

Hispanic Businesswoman Leading Meeting At Boardroom Table

5. Delegate

Even Bat-woman has Bat-girl. Doing everything yourself is counterproductive to success. Have a lot to do? Delegate. Trust and respect those to whom you delegate responsibilities; let people do the jobs you assign them without micromanaging. By empowering others to help you, you empower yourself to focus on your vision—and your success.

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