I have a gaggle of nieces who are at the stage where they’re figuring out what they want their careers to look like and how to navigate a changing workplace. So I find myself dispensing quite a bit of career advice for women these days.
And I find that it’s different from so much of the career advice on the internet. Perhaps because I’ve been through the battles … and have the scars to prove it. So I see things a little differently.
With that in mind — here are the top three pieces of career advice I’d say you’re unlikely to hear anywhere else.
3. Your manager matters more than you might think.
OK, that sounds obvious. But bear with me.
Everyone has a story about — or knows someone who has a story about — a really bad boss. That’s not what I’m talking about here; if you’re working for a manager who creates a toxic or unhealthy work environment, do whatever you can to ditch them.
But there’s a sneakier type of not-good boss out there, and we like to call him Todd. He’s a good enough guy; people like him. He likes to think of himself as progressive; he has a daughter, after all! He’s also the middle manager who directly decides whether you’re getting a raise or promotion — but huh, Todd just never seems to promote you — or anyone who looks like you.
None of the business books talk about Todds. But there are a lot of them out there. And if you work for one, it’s just so unlikely that any amount of “hustling” is going to get you to that next level. The real challenge is to notice when this is happening, and knowing when to admit that it’s not you — it’s them. And knowing you’re probably not going to be able to change them. And then doing whatever you can to ditch them.
It’s also not just about knowing when you have a bad boss — it’s also about squeezing every drop of opportunity out of a good boss, if you find yourself with one. One who will not just teach and coach and mentor you, but also sponsor you. Who will advocate for you when you aren’t in the room. Whose reputation you can benefit from, and whose success you can draft from: Because the *easiest* way to get a promotion is to be promoted into your boss’ now-empty job, because they were themselves promoted.
Of course, you can’t often flat-out choose your manager. But I think that even just being aware — making sure you’re using a good one to your advantage, or knowing when it’s time to look elsewhere — can make a big difference.
2. Take the risks. Yes, even though it’s risky.
This advice might not be for everyone, and it might not be for anyone all of the time. But if you want to have a big career, then you have to recognize that success and failure are simply two sides of the same coin:
You can’t succeed without taking risks. And it’s pretty hard to take risks without failing at some point along the way.
I know a thing or two about taking career risks: I launched Ellevest the day before the 2016 election (remember that day??) and after running several large Wall Street businesses. So there’s been success: The chances of Ellevest getting from concept to post-Series-B raise have been calculated at 0.00019%. And there’s been failure: Back in my Wall Street days, I got fired on the front page of The Wall Street Journal … twice. (Pretty sure that’s a world record for women, btw. So there’s that.)
My philosophy is this: If you want to have a big career and you’re not making some real mistakes along the way — faceplant stuff — you aren’t taking enough risks.
Even in the day-to-day, it’s worth acknowledging that with the pace of change in the modern workforce, even trying to avoid risk may be risky. So learn voraciously. Speak up. Stand your ground. Change your mind. Ask the tough question. Nothing happens otherwise.
1. Invest. (Yes seriously, it’s to invest.)
A lot of attention is (rightly) paid to the gender pay gap. And probably the most accessible way most people can do something about it in their own lives is to negotiate — for a raise, for a higher starting salary at a new job, what have you.
OK, yes. Do that. Definitely do that. But unfortunately, it’s probably not going to be enough in the long term. And that’s because of the gender wealth gap, which is also driven in part by the gender investing gap (in addition to the debt gap, the pink tax … and so on). The data shows that women keep 71% of their money in cash, while men invest a greater share of theirs.
So that’s why my #1 piece of career advice … isn’t career advice. It’s to invest, as early as you can, as much as you can. To help build the wealth that can enable you the freedom to take those risks in your career, to start the business you’ve been dreaming about, and to leave the job working for the boss who will never, ever, ever promote you.
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