This article originally appeared in the October issue of the Public Affairs Council’s monthly newsletter, Impact.
When it comes to advancement opportunities for women, public affairs is a cut above many other fields. “Few other professions can compete with the rising responsibility of women in public affairs,” says Ellie Nieves, founder and president of Leadership Strategies for Women.
And yet, while women make up 46.9 percent of the U.S. workforce, “only 14.3 percent hold executive officer positions,” Nieves says, citing a recent study by Catalyst, a nonprofit focused on expanding career opportunities for women. “Only 16.6 percent hold seats on the Board of Directors of Fortune 500 companies, [and] only 8.1 percent are among the top earners in the workforce.”
So what can aspiring female leaders do to advance in their careers? Nieves says some essential first steps are learning how to be seen, find your voice and “own your power.”
“Get out from behind the desk,” she says. “People need to know who you are and what you bring to the table.”
It’s also important to tailor your communications and learn to “speak the language” of the person you’re talking to. For example, a manager may need to know every detail of what you’re working on, but your boss’ boss is most likely concerned with how your projects contribute to the company’s overall goals, Nieves notes.
You must “have your radar up for subtle cues that give you more insight into others,” she says. But at the same time, you must be aware of the cues you’re giving others, as well.
“The way you carry yourself sends strong messages about who you are and how you feel about yourself. Watch your posture; hold your chin up, shoulders back,” she advises. “Develop more self-awareness so that you can discover what your personal blind spots are.”
Having this “emotional intelligence” — or the ability to perceive, control and evaluate emotions, as well as an awareness of your own patterns for responding to situations — is key to communicating effectively and finding your voice, she says.
Some other pointers Nieves shared in the Council’s Leadership Skills for Women webinar:
Be strategic. Map out a career plan and proactively manage your professional growth.
Develop your “personal brand” — beginning with a more polished LinkedIn profile.
Build powerful partnerships and quality networks.
Be visible. Working hard in your current assignment is not enough. Demonstrate your willingness to step up and volunteer for additional projects.