According to a 2015 McKinsey/LeanIn study, women are four times more likely than men to feel that they have fewer career opportunities, and twice as likely to feel that it is harder for them to advance.
Although these statistics are disheartening, it is possible to break the mold. Just consider my background: I’m an Asian-American, an immigrant, with English as a second language, and yet I have worked in the tech industry my entire career – one of the industries known for its lack of gender diversity. The odds of me making it to the C-suite were always slim – African American, Asian, and Latina women only make up 3% of executive and senior-level managers in the U.S.
Like many other leaders, though, I haven’t let statistics hinder my professional growth. Here are five tips that I have taken from my experience that may help you advance your career:
- Tune out the noise.
“She doesn’t have enough experience,” “looks too young,” “too quiet in meetings,” “got the job because she’s a woman.” I’ve heard it all. It used to upset me – and even worse, it sometimes made me doubt myself. But I learned to reframe it. I began to use these negative comments to motivate me and to work even harder to impact the business and the organization, and surprise people. As you earn your stripes, this noise goes away for the most part.
2. Don’t just find a mentor, find a sponsor.
It’s important to have a mentor, but it is sponsors who are critical to career growth. A sponsor is someone, usually senior to you, who will advocate for you and open doors to new opportunities. Many of my sponsors have been men. This makes sense because majority of tech executives are male. While I believe in women supporting other women and getting women sponsors, you do not want to limit your opportunities to a smaller population of supporters. I’m lucky to count our CEO, Bill McDermott, as one of my sponsors who opened the door for me and others to join SAP. Remember, though – a sponsor can only open the door. Only you can decide whether to walk through.
3. Build a strong support network.
When you take on a big assignment or important role, you’ll naturally face challenges. Some of these challenges can – and will – knock you off your game. My support network, which includes family, friends, and peers, has always helped me brainstorm solutions, provided support, and kept me grounded. When you have a strong network, it’s a lot easier to dust yourself off when you fall.
4. Be bold.
Studies have shown that women tend to apply for jobs only when they meet 90–100% of the qualifications, while men go for them with only 60% of the qualifications. From the beginning of my career, I went for jobs even when I did not meet all of the criteria. Then I would work like crazy to learn on the job. Go for those dream jobs where you think you don’t have a chance. Having a learning curve is your best opportunity to grow.
5. Choose the right company.
I have always chosen to work for companies that see diversity and inclusion a way of life and necessity for business growth. SAP set a goal to reach 25% of women in management by 2017, and our company has been active with a business women’s network, gender intelligence with a wide range of programs towards the advancement of women, among other programs to foster diversity and inclusion.
Everyone charts their own path based on personal and external factors. I hope my experience and tips can help you on your career. If I can do it, I know you can, too.