I run a company of 400 people, 325 of whom are women. We hire young interns, fresh out of school, ready to take on the world. Having once been in their shoes, I’m often asked what the secret to success is for women in business. My first and foremost word of advice is “Seek information and be taught”. Just because you threw the cap in the air doesn’t mean your life-long education journey is over. You alone control how much you apply yourself to learning and expanding your knowledge in your chosen profession. The earlier you take a proactive approach to your professional education, the more likely you will be to achieve the goals you have for yourself.
So first, take your growth into your hands and SEEK information. One common theme I notice these days is that young people are expecting to “be trained”. They compare notes with their former classmates about how different companies’ “training programs” rate. My company has a robust on-boarding and on-going training program, and yet some still have the expectation that every time they have a business question or are presented with a new scenario or technology, they think it’s their employer’s job to train them. My advice would be to NOT wait for someone else to teach you, ever. There is so much information readily available at your fingertips today, that you should make it a daily habit to research new things that have crossed your desk. Every article you read, every Wikipedia page you click expands your perspective and will likely set you apart from your peers. Keep a page in a notebook or a note on your tablet where you can jot down new terms, acronyms, or anything else unfamiliar and LOOK THEM UP! Come into the office 30 minutes early each day and use this uninterrupted time as your daily education session. You might just run into one of the senior executives who made it a habit at the start of their career to come in early, as there is no surprising correlation to early risers and successful business people.
Second, position yourself to BE TAUGHT by those in the best position to help you succeed. Mentors come in many forms. An administrative assistant that takes you under his or her wing could help cut your learning curve, or could stand in the way of your next promotion if you get on their bad side. A senior manager might be more interested in investing in your growth if you are inquisitive, show initiative and are willing to do some “grunt work” in order to be included on a project. And most certainly DO some grunt work. Someday you will appreciate not only having done it, but no longer having to do it. Small victories add up.
As for women mentors, look for role models and recognize that you can learn a lot from someone, even when you might not want to grow up to be JUST like them. Maybe a female manager never married or had children, and you see yourself as a working mom someday. She still has a lot to offer and teach a young woman starting her career. Maybe another woman works part-time and has been in middle-management her entire career, and you see yourself running the place someday. Understand that there are many opportunities for you to learn from people that may in fact report to you someday, so lay the right foundations that will make those transitions easier down the road.
Always keep a respectful, professional tone not only with superiors, but especially colleagues. You’re not in college anymore, so some of the silliness that was perfectly OK on campus can come back to haunt you quickly professionally. Remember, in college, everyone is competing for essentially the same prize: a diploma. Sure, GPA comes into play, but the stakes are different when it comes to your career, where the choices you make have a significant impact on your future and everybody does NOT get the same salary, title or opportunity. Getting tipsy and saying or doing something questionable at a frat party might have caused some gossip that you survived. Do the same at the watering hole around the corner from the office and it could prevent you from getting your next promotion.
In sum, be proactive with your own learning curve, establish good habits early in your career, and remember that the people you work with, as much as you might like them, are your colleagues, not your BFF’s.