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Opinion Editorials

10 career hacks for every ambitious woman

(CAREER NEWS) You’ve heard endless career hacks, but most are lame (“always say yes!” and “work hard”). Instead, let’s talk about the things that are easier said than done.

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Gender equality (for real)

All too often do we women have to defend our capabilities in professional spaces – not because we lack anything, or because we are less capable of our male counterparts, but because the historical and common misperception is that gender is inescapably related to our job functions. In reality though, most people now agree that the genders are equally talented, capable, and ambitious.

That said, we know the sting of being doubted in the workplace. For this reason, I have crafted a list of how I remain ambitious and untouched by doubters. And yes, all of these hacks are easier said than done.

1.) Maintain insanely detailed notes

Early in my career, I got in the habit of keeping a phone log where I documented every single inbound and outbound call, who I talked with, and what the highlights were, no matter how minor or major. I even wrote down (in front of leadership) when the President of the company sat on my desk, inches away from me, and lingered to touch my shoulders. Ick. I wrote down the time, who was at my desk, and what happened. Right in front of him. It never happened again.

Notes, whether digital or hand-written, are an insanely valuable tool. When digitized, all meeting notes and information can can be searchable and easily tracked.

If you meet someone, take real notes, and immediately add a calendar item to follow up with them at a specific time (this is the part everyone always forgets).

Finally, keep an accomplishment journal to be able to suggest and defend a future raise or promotion – it works.

2.) Know your tools

Perhaps you’re recently really into Trello, and during your next job interview, they happen to ask about your organizational skills. Instead of rambling on, you can talk about how streamlined your life is with Trello and follow up by mentioning your three favorite browser extensions that aren’t about sports or beauty but about real work.

Remember your tools when you’re climbing the ladder and always refine them – nothing’s ever good enough, nor is your process. Test them out, be able to defend them, and be ready to recommend them to others.

3.) Be a master of research

Never stop learning, or seeking relevant information. If you’re a new coder, obsess over Stack Overflow during lunch every single friggen’ day. If you’re in the marketing department, stalk Quora topics. Read every industry publication you can get your eyeballs on.

Establish yourself as the go to person in your office, no matter your job title. Be careful not to be the office know-it-all, but definitely act as an information absorber.

4.) Communicate like a boss

This doesn’t mean condescend, it means to over-communicate, which is more rare than you know.. When you meet someone, reach out to them without waiting for them to reach you.

When working on a project with a team, make sure to keep teammates apprised of what you’re doing (without bragging); too often do people assume everyone knows what’s going on.

An example of over-communicating effectively without sounding narcissistic is letting your team know: “I’ve completed X and am moving on to Y – before I do, is there anything I can do for you guys since I’m at a stopping point?”

5.) Always ask if you can help

No matter how busy you are, no matter where you are in the hierarchy, stop to ask others if you can simply help. Just as with the closing of #4, come to a stopping point and ask.

Most people will say no, but a simple, “hey, I know you’re working on the Simon account – I have 30 minutes I could help you reorganize if you’d like!” helps significantly.

Give them a specific reason you can help, too. Not only will this make you the office “go-to” but it makes you so deeply ingrained in the team that people can’t imagine the place without you! Which they shouldn’t!

Just don’t be annoying – know when you’re coming across as fake and knock that off.

6.) Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know”

Too often in the workplace, people are scared to sound stupid so they’ll guess. This can lead projects down really bad paths, so get used to hearing yourself say “I don’t know.”

And then add the phrase, “but I’ll find out!”

Yeah yeah, you already know this advice, but you haven’t been told is to try this: “I don’t know, but I’ll find out within the hour.” Add a deadline for yourself so you set expectations just like we talked about in number four.

Or suggest that you both work together to find a solution: Teamwork makes the dream work.

7.) Be kind, even when it kills you inside

You may hate the guy in the office next to yours and Lord knows you might literally die if he tells you the same fishing story again, but you spend more time with these people than you do your own family and they’re human.

They want to be heard, they want to belong, so remember that annoying as they can be, they’re people. They’re YOUR people.

Be kind, and remember that something about you is probably annoying, too.

8.) Smile (hear us out on this one)

Smile when you’re on the phone – your positivity conveys even when people can’t see you because you literally transform your facial muscles, thus altering your voice. It feels awkward, but so what? Kindness is memorable! Especially smile when someone is speaking in a meeting and meets your eye contact – not a flirty smile, but the disarming kind that says “I’m listening and you’re interesting.”

9.) Get to know your five minute tasks

If you always know what can be done in less than five minutes, your down time is never used standing around like a moron.

For me, I keep all emails unread that require any sort of action, and if I only have five minutes before my next call, I’ll hop in and deal with one because I already assessed how long it would take. No down time, no twiddling of thumbs. Those five minutes add up over a week!

10.) Exercise a little

Without exercise of some form, be it running, yoga, or even just walking, research proves the brain is less focused, less sharp.

We won’t recommend a type of exercise, a time of day, or anything specific, but almost every single successful executive, regardless of gender, is pretty serious about fitness.

Eat well, make yourself get up from your desk and move around every hour, and mostly – extend your lifetime so you can actually enjoy retirement instead of enjoying heaven (or whatever afterlife you subscribe to).

Never forget

If you’ve read this far, you are equally as confident and aware of the ambition woman is capable of. You know she is inspiring, you know she is valuable, and you know she is you.

Keep these ten tips in mind the next time you feel you’ve lost a little of your luster, and never forget in the most challenging times:

“You had the power all along, my dear.”
– Glinda, The Good Witch.

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius and has been named in the Inman 100 Most Influential Real Estate Leaders several times, co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Rohit

    November 18, 2018 at 10:28 pm

    I like all the points you’ve made.

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Opinion Editorials

How to deal with an abusive boss and keep your job, too

(OPINION EDITORIAL) Sometimes bosses can be the absolute worst, but also, you depend on them. Here’s how to deal with an abusive boss and, hopefully, not get fired.

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Nothing can ruin your work life like an abusive boss or supervisor. But when you’re dependent on your boss for assignments, promotions – heck, your paycheck – how can you respond to supervisor abuse in a way that doesn’t jeopardize your job or invite retaliation?

A new published in the Academy of Management Journal suggests an intriguing approach to responding to an abusive boss. As you might expect, their study shows that avoiding the abuser does little to change the dynamic.

But the study also found that confronting the abuser was equally ineffective.

Instead, the study suggests that workers in an abusive situation “flip the script” on their bosses, “shifting the balance of power.” But how?

The researchers tracked the relationship between “leader-follower dyads” at a real estate agency and a commercial bank. They found that, without any intervention, abuse tended to persist over time.

However, they also discovered two worker-initiated strategies that “can strategically influence supervisors to stop abuse and even motivate them to mend strained relationships.”

The first strategy is to make your boss more dependent on you. For example, one worker in the study found out that his boss wanted to develop a new analytic procedure.

The worker became an expert on the subject and also educated his fellow co-workers. When the boss realized how important the worker was to the new project, the abuse subsided.

In other words, find out what your boss’s goals are, and then make yourself indispensable.

In the second strategy, workers who were being abused formed coalitions with one another, or with other workers that had better relationships with the boss. The study found that “abusive behavior against isolated targets tends to stop once the supervisor realizes it can trigger opposition from an entire coalition.”

Workplace abuse is not cool, and it shouldn’t really be up to the worker to correct it. At times, the company will need to intervene to curb bad supervisor behavior. However, this study does suggest a few strategies that abused workers can use to try to the tip the balance in their favor.

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Opinion Editorials

DNA ancestry tests are cool, but are they worth giving up your rights?

(EDITORIAL) DNA tests are all the rage currently but are they worth potentially having your genetic makeup sold and distributed?

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By now you’ve heard – the Golden State Killer’s 40+ year reign of terror is potentially over as the FBI agents used an ancestry website DNA sample to arrest their suspect, James DeAngelo, Jr.

Over the last few years, DNA testing has gone mainstream for novelty reasons. Companies like Ancestry.com and 23andMe have offered easy access to the insights of your genetics, including potential health risks and family heritage, and even reconnect family members, through simple genetic tests.

However, as a famously ageless actor once suggested in a dinosaur movie, don’t focus too much on if you can do this, without asking if you should do this.

When you look closely, you can find several reasons to wonder if sending your DNA to these companies is a wise choice.

These reasons mostly come down to privacy protection, and while most companies do have privacy policies in place, you will find some surprising loopholes in the fine print. For one, most of the big players don’t give you the option to not have your data sold.

These companies, like 23andMe and Ancestry.com, can always sell your data so long as your data is “anonymized,” thanks to the HIPAA Act of 1996. Anonymization involves separating key identifying features about a person from their medical or biological data.

These companies know that loophole well; Ancestry.com, for example, won’t even give customers an opt-out of having their DNA data sold.

Aside from how disconcerting it is that these companies will exploit this loophole for their gain at your expense, it’s also worth noting that standards for anonymizing data don’t work all that well.

In one incident, reportedly, “one MIT scientists was able to ID the people behind five supposedly anonymous genetic samples randomly selected from a public research database. It took him less than a day.”

There’s also the issue of the places where that data goes when it goes out. That report the MIT story comes from noted that 23andMe has sold data to at least 14 outside pharmaceutical firms.

Additionally, Ancestry.com has a formal data-sharing agreement with a biotech firm. That’s not good for you as the consumer, because you may not know how that firm will handle the data.

Some companies give data away to the public databases for free, but as we saw from the earlier example, those can be easy targets if you wanted to reverse engineer the data back to the person.

It would appear the only safe course of action is to have this data destroyed once your results are in. However, according to US federal regulation for laboratory compliance stipulates that US labs hold raw information for a minimum of 10 years before destruction.

Now, consider all that privacy concern in the context of what happens when your DNA data is compromised. For one, this kind of privacy breach is irreversible.

It’s not as simple as resetting all your passwords or freezing your credit.

If hackers don’t get it, the government certainly can; there’s even an instance of authorities successfully obtaining a warrant for DNA evidence from Ancestry.com in a murder trial.

Even if you’re not the criminal type who would worry about such a thing, the precedent is concerning.

Finally, if these companies are already selling data to entities in the biomedical field, how long until medical and life insurance providers get their hands on it?

I’ll be the first to admit that the slippery slope fallacy is strong here, but there are a few troubling patterns of behavior and incorrect assumptions already in play regarding the handling of your DNA evidence.

The best course of action is to take extra precaution.

Read the fine print carefully, especially what’s in between the lines. As less scrupulous companies look to cash in on the trend, be aware of entities who skimp on privacy details; DNA Explained chronicles a lot of questionable experiences with other testing companies.

Above all, really think about what you’re comfortable with before you send in those cheek swabs or tubes of spit. While the commercials make this look fun, it is a serious choice and should be treated like one.

This story was first published, October 2017.

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Opinion Editorials

Do women that downplay their gender get ahead faster?

(OPINION) A new study about gender in the workplace is being perceived differently than we are viewing it – let’s discuss.

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The Harvard Business Review reports that women benefit professionally when they downplay their gender, as opposed to trying to focus on their “differences” as professional strength.

The article includes a lot of interesting concepts underneath its click-bait-y title. According to the study by Professors Ashley Martin and Katherine Phillips, women felt increasingly confident when they pivoted from focusing on highlighting potential differences in their perceived abilities based on their gender and instead gave their attention to cultivating qualities that are traditionally coded as male*.

Does this really mean that women need to “downplay” their gender? Does it really mean women who attempt this get ahead in this world faster?

I don’t think so.

The article seems to imply that “celebrating diversity” in workers is akin to giving femme-identified employees a hot pink briefcase – it actually calls attention to stereotyped behaviors. I would argue that this is not the case (and, for the record, rock a hot pink briefcase if you want to, that sounds pretty badass).

I believe that we should instead highlight the fact that this study shows the benefits that come when everyone expands preconceived notions of gender.

Dr. Martin and her interviewer touch on this when they discuss the difference between gender “awareness” and “blindness.” As Dr. Martin explains, “Gender blindness doesn’t mean that women should act more like men; it diminishes the idea that certain qualities are associated with men and women.”

It is the paradox of studies like this one that, in order to interrogate how noxious gendered beliefs are, researchers must create categories to place otherwise gender-neutral qualities and actions in, thus emphasizing the sort of stereotypes being investigated. Regardless, there is a silver lining here as said by Dr. Martin herself:

“[People] are not naturally better suited to different roles, and [people] aren’t better or worse at certain things.”

Regardless of a worker’s gender identity, they are capable of excelling at whatever their skills and talent help them to.

*Though the HBR article and study perpetuate a binary gender structure, for the purposes of our discussion in this article, I expand its “diversity” to include femme-identified individuals, nonbinary and trans workers, and anybody else that does not benefit from traditional notions of power that place cisgendered men at the top of the social totem pole.

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