Although women are a bigger part of the workforce and enjoy more options and more respect now than perhaps ever before in history, it can sometimes still feel like an uphill climb to be a woman in the workplace.
Especially in STEM and other fields where women and other minorities are underrepresented (as well as the leadership ranks of any field), women may feel isolated, have difficulty finding a mentor or valuable feedback to help them grow, and may be passed over for career opportunities or stretch assignments due to bias or lack of recognition.
Here are five resources that I’ve found helpful in navigating the particular challenges that can plague a woman’s career.
1. Women at Work podcast, published by Harvard Business Review
Under the tagline “Conversations about the workplace, and women’s place in it,” this podcast covers topics ranging from apologies and other ways we minimize ourselves with language to how women can get better feedback to parental leave and eldercare.
Well-researched, honest, and sometimes humorous, this podcast has given me many great strategies for navigating the workplace and finding balance. I’ve benefitted from it so much that earlier this year I partnered with a colleague to facilitate several lunchtime discussion groups, using the discussion guides that HBR furnishes for each episode.
2. The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman
This book explores the confidence gap that exists between men and women, starting with scientific research and delving into other biological and cultural factors that may affect women’s confidence on and off the job.
The book shares strategies that women can use to build their own confidence and their daughters’, such as learning to limit ruminative thought patterns (e.g. by avoiding over-preparation and letting go of mistakes), purposely pushing your comfort zone or volunteering for stretch assignments, and transferring confidence between different spheres of life (e.g. using a sport or hobby to build confidence habits that you can carry into the workplace).
For more about The Confidence Code and the book club we built around it at AO, check out this post.
3. How I Built This Podcast with Guy Raz, published by NPR
This podcast isn’t strictly for or about women and women’s issues. The host interviews successful entrepreneurs and innovators about the journeys they went on as they built their companies. Guy Raz is an engaging interviewer, and you’ll find lessons about leadership, taking risks, good business sense, navigating difficult professional relationships, and resilience.
Many women founders are featured in the podcast, and I find their stories fascinating and inspiring. When it comes to women in leadership positions, we still have a long way to go in terms of representation. For me, hearing these women share their stories helps alleviate feelings of isolation and gives me templates and role models to follow.
Some of my favorites include the stories of Janice Bryant Howroyd (founder of staffing company ACT-1 and the first African-American woman to own a billion-dollar business), Sandy Lerner (who talks about the early days of computer networking when she founded Cisco Systems, and then starting over with her cosmetics line and Urban Decay), and Stacy Brown (a single mom who founded a $75m restaurant franchise, after setting out to make the best chicken salad she possibly could).
4. 10 Must-Reads on Women and Leadership published by HBR
I found this compilation of classic HBR articles equal parts depressing and empowering. Meticulously researched, it delves into the ways that bias, prejudice, and cultural factors can drag down a woman’s career, resulting in the abysmal representation of women in leadership ranks (in the Fortune 500, only 6% of C-level positions and 15% of board seats are held by women). However, if knowing is half the battle, then this book is a valuable tool.
It also offers solutions and strategies for overcoming the challenges it reveals. For example, in “Women and the Vision Thing,” women were said to have outshone men in thousands of 360-degree leadership assessments, except in the crucial category of “envisioning,” or the ability to recognize opportunities and trends, and to develop strategic direction for an enterprise to capture them. The authors suggest a contributing factor to this perception is that women tend to be more reluctant than men to go out on a limb, because they don’t enjoy the same assumption of competence. This can hamper the creative thought process, as well as the ability to work with colleagues to connect the dots.
By gaining awareness of such biases against them, women can adapt their behaviors to combat the bias and get ahead. On the one hand, it’s not good or healthy for women to be constantly adapting, and there’s more work to do on our systems, workplaces, and cultures to combat this. On the other hand, being aware of the forces at play can help women progress as individuals and as a group, enabling us to continue affecting the structures that hamper equality. This book is helpful for gaining awareness.
5. Networking Groups and Events for Women
I’ve found that connecting with other women on a professional level (both inside and outside of my own organization) is an important way to find fulfillment and connection in my career. It also helps me combat feelings of isolation and continue to develop strategies and skills that help me advance.
In the past, I’ve benefitted from attending the Grace Hopper Celebration and events put on by NCWIT, two organizations that are specific to women in computing and technology. More recently, I’ve appreciated the events and programs provided by Inforum, an industry-agnostic, Michigan-based networking organization for women professionals. If you’re aware of similar organizations in your state or region, I’d appreciate hearing about them in the comments below.
Everywhere, and especially in industries where they are underrepresented, women face particular career challenges. It helps to have well-researched and inspiring resources for navigating these challenges. What resources have you found helpful for your career? Please comment and share!