Women Navigating the New Corporate Landscape

Feb 28, 10 • Money & Finance

Career Woman

Career Woman


The new corporate landscape is international, relies on technology, and has a smaller middle-management level. Women have to do so much more than work hard.

By: Ella L. J. Edmondson Bell, Ph.D. with Linda Villarosa

I was recently consulting at a large, well-established family corporation and had an intense counseling session with a very bright, well-educated, and skilled young woman.  She was in the early stages of her management career and had been with the company for about a year and a half. She complained of being supremely frustrated and stalled. “I work so hard, but I’m not getting promoted,” she told me in tears. “I have a mentor, I attend seminars, and I think I’m doing everything right. But nothing’s happening. I’m thinking I’ll just quit.”

After listening to her for a while, I asked about her social interactions. “Have you had coffee with any of the senior people in your area?” I asked.

“No, why should I do that?” she responded. “That’s a waste of my time.”

This woman’s attitude is similar to that of many, many other young women. Without realizing it, she was very focused on her career in the narrowest sense. She put her nose to the grindstone and never looked up. She was stuck in old-school corporate thinking.

In the new corporation — which is international, relies on technology, and has a smaller middle-management level — you have to do so much more than work hard. (But you do have to work very hard!) You must also show that you are socially competent, using all of your emotional intelligence. This means developing people and relationships. The young woman I was working with didn’t understand that. Like many others, she didn’t want to do the work to build the relationships that are necessary to move forward. She thought it was enough to do her job and go home. But people need to know who you are and what you bring to the table. To do that, you have to interact with people on a social level. In fact, a high-level corporate friend once told me that early in your career you’re paid for what you do. Later you’re paid for whom you know.

Starting out, skills and performance are always 100 percent of what is required. If you’re a woman or a person of color, it’s probably 110 percent. You need that just to get a foot in the door. But at higher levels, those who succeed have a more subtle set of qualities. They are team players, they’re top-notch communicators, and they’ve created an internal buzz about themselves. They care about developing other people as well as themselves because that’s what leaders do. They have learned to integrate their work lives and personal lives. Without complaint (in public, at least) they are on call 24/7. These women and men have done their homework and know the company inside out; they understand where it fits in the larger industry, where it’s been, and where it’s going. They are flexible: they can move not only up but also laterally. And they are leaders, able to motivate, communicate, inspire, and make tough choices. These are the skills that separate those who thrive from those who merely survive.

But there’s one more thing, and it’s extremely hard to grasp. In order to succeed you have to bring your whole self to the table. This is especially true today. Advances in technology have created greater transparency. Everybody’s watching. So the higher you ascend, the more important it is to be authentic and comfortable with yourself. The finest, most accomplished, most effective leaders don’t hide who they really are. In fact, the best leaders generally have a great deal of self-awareness and have learned from the bitter and painful experiences that shaped their lives and enabled them to move ahead.

About the Author:

Ella LJ Edmondson Bell, Ph.D., author of the new book, Career GPS: Strategies for Women Navigating the New Corporate Landscape (Amistad), is the founder and president of ASCENT-Leading Multicultural Women to the Top, as well as an associate professor of business administration, Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth University. She is considered by industry and the academy to be one of the leading experts in the management of race, gender and class in the workplace. Her clients include: PepsiCo, American Express, Intel, Goldman Sachs, Booze Allen Hamilton, U.S. Department of Labor are among others. She has written several articles for Essence magazine and wrote the monthly “Working It” column. Frequently quoted by journalists, Dr. Bell has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Boston Globe, Black Enterprise, Newsweek, Working Mother, and Fast Company. Dr. Bell lives with her Jack Russell Terrier, Belle in Hanover, New Hampshire and Charlotte, North Carolina.

For more information, please visit www.CareerGPSthebook.com.

Photo:  stratfordcollege

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