As the old commercial saying goes, “you’ve come a long way, baby.” Women as a whole have come a long way in the world we live in. There are more females in college than our male counterparts, and we have certainly made a dent in the business world with females totaling 46.3 percent of the U.S. labor force. I have no trouble coming up with several names of women in the mid-Michigan area and beyond who have smashed through the glass ceiling and really made something of themselves. Overall, however, women still take a distant second to men when it comes to earnings and chief executive positions at large companies — the last count I found was a mere 22 female CEOs in all of the Fortune 1000 companies. Admittedly, we can’t change the stats overnight, but there are some things women can do to position ourselves as the best choice for executive level positions and earn comparable wages to our male equivalents. Throw Your Hat in the Ring I’ve been told that women will only apply for a job if they meet every one of the mandatory and desired qualifications. I’m not advocating that you apply for a job that you clearly don’t have the experience for, but if you meet most of the criteria there is nothing wrong with trying. Perhaps you have strengths in another area that the company did not consider that could be a huge benefit to them and the position. As an entrepreneur this is essentially what I do every day. People aren’t always beating down my door to work with me (wouldn’t that be nice though?). I have to show them the value of what I do and how it can positively impact their organization. Consistently Dress to Impress Consistency is the key word here. If you dress up for certain meetings or interviews, but your typical presentation is middle of the road, you are doing yourself a disservice. When you dress professionally on a consistent basis it tells others that every meeting, task or day at the office is important. Dressing to impress will not cost you an arm and a leg if you do it right. Many of us think in terms of individual garments or outfits instead of putting together a wardrobe. Think of your closet as a reflection of your lifestyle — the percentage of time you spend in each area should be equal to the amount of clothes you have for those occasions. Make purchases with a plan in mind — I recommend that people focus their wardrobe around four colors. It makes it easier to mix and match; therefore you don’t need as many garments. Use Your Words Don Miguel Ruiz, author of The Four Agreements, says, “…the word is pure magic and the most powerful gift we have as humans.” As women in business, we have to walk the fine line that exists between being assertive and aggressive. Unfortunately, women who speak their mind too bluntly are often labeled as difficult to get along with (or stronger words that can’t be printed in this polite publication). At the opposite end of the spectrum, women who use words to qualify their opinions are seen as meek and are not the first choice for leadership positions. Examples of the way we qualify statements include saying things like “I think …” or “maybe we should consider …” and other statements that show a lack of confidence in a recommended course of action. It’s all subtle semantics, but paying attention to the impact (not intent) of your words can pay off professionally. Find a Mentor One of the most important things we can do as women is to give a hand to those women who are coming up behind us. A mentoring relationship is invaluable and is something I recommend everyone seek out. I’m sure there are people in your life who you admire and would welcome the opportunity to learn from. Contact them and see if they are willing to mentor you. Let them know what you hope the relationship to look like and the reasons you chose to ask them. If you approach them with positive intent, realistic expectations and respect for their time — they will likely make the time to work with you. The best thing about the mentor/mentee relationship is that both people end up gaining something from it!
Shelley Davis Mielock
Shelley Davis Mielock is a certified business image coach and the founder of Mieshel Image Consulting, a Lansing-based firm that specializes in image development for individuals and businesses. She is also a co-host of In Her Shoes, a a weekly women’s talk radio show. To ask Shelley an image question, please e-mail her.