How Strategy & Savvy Impact Women’s Success

One negative outcome of the pandemic has been its impact on women in the workplace. Gender inequities have magnified as women have worked from home and borne an increased burden for gaps in childcare and the period where children were not in school. Current estimates suggest it may take women years to recover, let alone attain gender parity in career achievement. Emma Codd, Deloitte’s Global Inclusion Leader, states the following in the foreword to the company’s recent report* on a study to “understand the impact of the pandemic on working women”:

For many working women, the pandemic is upending their work/life balance and affecting their physical and mental health, and some are even questioning their current and long-term career prospects. Some have cited working longer hours because of the pandemic and others are juggling extra caregiving responsibilities as a result of pandemic-related consequences (i.e., school closures, caring for relatives) while also working full-time.

Two books by Bonnie Marcus offer actions women can take to support career progression at any phase. In 2019, Marcus released The Politics of Promotion: How High-Achieving Women Get Ahead and Stay Ahead. This year, she published Not Done Yet: How Women Over 50 Regain Their Confidence and Reclaim Their Workplace Power.

Politics of Promotion

Over and over, women have gazed with ambition at a next step for themselves. They consider the requirements for a desired role, strategically go after experiences that exceed those requirements, and work hard. Despite talent, near peerless qualifications, and demonstrated success, women are frequently passed over for a coveted promotion. Why?

In The Politics of Promotion, Bonnie Marcus shares elements of political savvy that enable women to position themselves for promotions. Each chapter examines an aspect of creating influence, the benefits of connection, and understanding subtleties of interaction in the workplace. Marcus includes plenty of practical “how to” tactics for self-promotion (without the icky self-selling), leveraging networks, and identifying and building productive relationships with potential sponsors.

Not Done Yet

In my 20s, my coffee mug proclaimed “I’d rather be 40 than pregnant!” My male colleagues were mystified. In those early days of career ambition, any women who were taken seriously in the finance community were individuals with a minimum of a decade or more experience. When I hit my 40s, I was dismayed to see fewer examples of “referent” women in positions of power and authority.

In Not Done Yet, Marcus tackles the issues that sideline women as they age in the workplace. While structural barriers exist in our organizations, the book also describes scenarios where women have slowly conceded their personal power over time. Marcus divides the book into three sections:

In Part One: Assumptions, Fears, and All the Crap about Aging That Holds You Back, the author deals with specific limiting beliefs and barriers. Because Marcus describes a broad range of potential concerns, not all of these will resonate with a given woman’s experience. The key to part one is to begin recognizing how we are responding to signals in society and at work that suggest getting older is somehow becoming less.

Part Two: Stop Playing Small, and Do What It Takes to Stay in the Game offers readers specific strategies to adopt in the workplace. While the book is targeted to the over 50 woman, many actions would also benefit women earlier in their career. As a point of fact, many women may have successfully employed a few of these tactics at a prior career phase. Marcus reminds women to refresh and retool their proactive stance.

In the final section of the book, Part Three: Be Your Badass Self, readers find opportunities for selfcare and personal growth that extend beyond the workplace. We are not solely career women; we are women who have careers. Embracing our multiple identities and needs as a woman is an important part of positioning ourselves for success in life and work.

Final Thoughts

While I’ve focused this narrative on the benefits of both books for women, men would find the several suggestions equally valuable. I don’t discount the impact of ageism against both genders, but do believe there’s a disproportional effect on women.

What I like about Bonnie Marcus’s books is the blend of anecdotal stories—her own experiences and those of other real women—and assertions grounded in research provided by the author. Her books include end notes of research cited in each chapter; The Politics of Promotion also gives readers a decent index to quickly look up topics as reference.

If we are to change women’s collective experiences in our workplaces and organizations, trying to shift the environment historically moves glacially slow. Equipping women with tools to tackle their individual situations successfully, through coaching, workshops, courses, and books generates positive movement for women ready to take charge of their own destiny.

*Reference: Deloitte Global (2020). Understanding the pandemic’s impact on working women: How employers can act now to prevent a setback in achieving gender parity in the workplace.

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