As women, we have experienced great strides in the past few decades. But still, we’re statistically at a disadvantage: only one in five senior leaders are women, and only one in twenty-five are women of color. A staggering 93.4 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are men, and only one is a woman of color.
Those numbers might not be shocking to you—many of us know them by heart. But they are revealing.
With few exceptions, women work in companies that are permeated with conscious and unconscious biases regarding the capabilities and roles of women. Some women overcome barriers through their expertise, others through grit and courage. While there are systemic barriers—certainly hiring and promotion but also how we are parented and educated—there are ways women can grow their influence, right where they are. Here are ten of them.
- Schedule discretionary time every day for growth.
Your greatest, most sustainable influence will always come from the inside out. The better you understand yourself and the more you work with intentionality to grow, the more influence you will be able to wield in your organization and community.
Discretionary time can be short or long. I’ve known people who made significant progress by spending as little as 15 minutes a day focused on becoming the best version of themselves. If you can stretch this to 30 or 60 minutes a day, you will grow stronger and more influential. Spend this time meditating, reading, journaling, goal setting—anything that you deem important but not urgent. Make it you-focused instead of work-focused.
- Identify the values that will govern your behavior.
As part of your discretionary time, ponder and then decide which values you want to govern your behavior, such as courage, self-management, resilience and curiosity. Don’t choose too many — just enough to continually grow your character.
- Identify the values that will govern your relationships.
Be inspirational in defining these values by asking yourself: What does a highly productive and satisfying relationship look like for me? Then define what you can do to move key relationships in that direction by focusing on reliability, empathy, honesty, humility, and conflict resolution. Relationships can either be a great source of influence at work or they can be equivalent to holes in a bucket, causing you to lose influence through gossip, conflict or misunderstanding.
- Ask someone to provide ongoing feedback about your character.
None of us understand our physical appearance without mirrors, and we have different mirrors for different purposes: a big mirror to get ready in the morning; a small, hand-held mirror to see the back of your head or clothing; a small, pocket-size mirror for a quick glimpse on the go. Trusted friends can be the mirrors of your influence at work, and like mirrors, each can provide a different view of your character.
To define these friends, ask yourself: Who has my best interests at heart? Who will give me honest, compassionate feedback to help me see the difference between my intention and my impact? Ask for specific feedback and listen without judgement and your influence will grow over time.
- Decide to become “the expert” in a work-related area.
I mentioned earlier that some women break barriers through expertise. Define areas of expertise that excite you and determine how they might increase your influence at work. You don’t have to go back to school to achieve this — you just need curiosity and discipline.
- Study up to 10 thought leaders in your area of expertise.
Build a list of respected people in your area of expertise. Read their books, articles, and blogs. Watch their TED talks and listen to podcasts they’ve been guests on. Follow them on social media. And if you can, attend events where they are presenting. By surrounding yourself with thought leaders, you can become an expert yourself. If your expertise is relevant to your organization’s vision and strategy, your influence will grow.
- Look for opportunities to contribute regardless of immediate return.
The old saying goes, “If you want to be paid more for what you do, do more than you get paid for.” This principle relates to growing your influence. If you are willing to focus on delayed gratification (within reason), you’ll see a greater return on your investment in growing your influence.
- Identify shared interests—and then collaborate
Not all influence is personal. Today more than ever, teams are how things get done. Explore where there are possibilities for you to grow your influence through teamwork and collaboration by asking yourself: Which teams will give me the greatest opportunity to contribute? How can I grow my own influence by helping someone else grow theirs? What could we, as a team, do together that would create a larger impact than working by myself?
- Lead with logic, follow with emotion.
Too often, women are criticized for being “too emotional,” but emotion can be a powerful form of influence. The key, though, is leading first with logic, and then following with emotion to back up sound reasoning and ideas. When you want to right a wrong, point out a deficiency, or challenge the status quo, make sure you have a strong, rational argument that leads the way. If you use emotion to convey conviction and demonstrate that emotion can be used for the common good, you’ll increase the impact of a well-reasoned argument.
- At the right time, confront bias, whether intentional or unconscious.
When I was a kid, I learned quickly when the right time was to talk to my parents about an important or sensitive topic. As women, we have real-life hard stuff that comes up in the workplace: microagression, discrimination, and harassment.
And while we are adults now, we can take a cue from childhood. There are ideal times, places, and ways to confront what needs to change in your organization, whether microagression, discrimination or harassment. Make a commitment to speak truth to power when you feel it’s appropriate, and when your courageous self feels compelled to do so.
As you see yourself begin to rise up the ranks as a result of your influence, don’t forget to reach back and grab the hand of a woman behind you. There is power when we stand together, support each other, and collectively work to make our world a more equitable place.
Stacy Ennis is an award-winning author, creative consultant, and speaker, as well as the cofounder of Next Level Women Leaders, a leadership training company. She served as long-time ghostwriter for a Nobel Prize winner in medicine and executive editor of Sam’s Club’s Healthy Living Made Simple, a publication that reaches around 11 million readers. Ennis’ latest coauthored book is Growing Influence (Greenleaf Book Group, 2018); her TEDx talk, “How to raise brave kids,” has been viewed thousands of times around the world. She lives in Portugal with her husband and two children.