Despite the challenges many women continue to face in their careers, they’ve made incredible progress across a variety of industries. Just a few weeks ago, for instance, it was announced that 20.6% of all board members of Fortune 500 companies are now women. That’s only a six-point increase in the last decade, but it’s something.
As the landscape continues to improve, there’s more potential for young women starting out in their careers than ever before. Still, there are certain things young women should know from the outset to give themselves a leg up.
1. Talking about salary expectations is important.
It’s common knowledge that a wage gap between men and women still exists, but some of the contributing factors may surprise you. Knowing your worth as an employee and having a good understanding of your industry can play small but significant roles in remedying the problem.
Talent-recruitment firm, Hired, conducted a study of the tech industry using its own users’ data. They found that there was indeed a gap between the salaries of male and female software engineers, but get this – the female candidates had actually asked for a lower salary than the male ones from the outset.
It appears that women tend to play it a bit too safe when it comes to negotiating their salaries. And the issue persists once roles have been filled. The percentage of women who have never asked for a raise in their lifetime is higher than the percentage for men… even though a survey found that women who do ask for more money from their boss are obliged as often as 75% of the time.
One of the best things you can do – whether you’re a prospective employee or two years into a role – is research what the average salary pays for someone at your level. It’s good to know what the norm is so that you can recognize if something is off.
2. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes (and even to fail).
Earlier this year, I watched an incredible TED Talk by Reshma Saujani, the Founder and CEO of Girls Who Code. In her talk, titled “Teach girls bravery, not perfection,” Saujani explains how beginning in childhood, girls are socialized to aim for perfection, which stunts their likelihood or desire to take risks.
Many people are risk averse because they’re terrified to make mistakes, and especially to fail. But when push comes to shove, the people who make mistakes tend to grow from them and ultimately do better than those who were too scared to make the initial attempt. In the words of Nasty Gal Founder Sophia Amoruso, “the best wisdom is earned through experience, particularly mistakes.”
And then, there’s failure. It doesn’t sound particularly fun, and I’m not here to convince you otherwise. But there are loads of people who have failed miserably at one thing and have thereafter gone on to find incredible success in another.
Vera Wang famously didn’t make the US Olympic team as a young figure skater in 1968. As an editor at Vogue later on, she was also unsuccessful in her attempt to be promoted to editor-in-chief of the magazine. Had those two plans worked out, however, she probably wouldn’t be one of today’s most successful fashion designers. Remember that failure doesn’t need to have the last word.
3. You’re more ready than you think.
Rebecca Liebman founded her financial tech startup LearnLux while she was still a college student. On her decision to start a company so young, she says: “You can say that in a year you’ll have more money, more experience, more time, but you can make all of those excuses again, every year.”
She’s right. You will always find reasons to believe you’re not as ready as you could or should be for something. Statistics suggest that women have more trouble with this issue than men do, and we often hear this referred to as the “confidence gap.”
Several years ago, Hewlett-Packard found that their female employees only applied for a promotion when they felt they met 100% of the qualifications. Male employees, by comparison, felt comfortable applying if they met at least 60%. Considering that the quality of work performance is ultimately equal between men and women, this is a pretty significant difference.
The lesson here is that you shouldn’t miss out on an interesting opportunity because you’re convinced you don’t have all of the necessary resources or experience. No matter which skills you’ll surely need to pick up or develop, you can learn them as you go.
4. You’re allowed to flaunt your accomplishments.
A lot of us are reluctant to put our accomplishments on display for fear of coming across as showy. When we’ve put an absurd amount of time and effort into something and found success as a result, there’s still a voice that cautions us not to seem like we’re bragging when we mention it to other people.
Even on our resumes and LinkedIn profiles, we’re shy about sharing the achievements that would make us most impressive to an employer. A new study carried out by LinkedIn concluded that we’re more likely to share a health update with our connections than a new promotion.
What’s worrisome about the study’s findings is that resumes are where selling yourself matters a great deal. You wouldn’t want to be so careful about seeming modest that you are passed over for an opportunity.
No one said you couldn’t be humble while still giving yourself credit where it’s due. If you worked really hard for something, there’s no shame in being proud of it and wanting people to know about it. As business theorist Jeffrey Pfeffer has said, “the best way to ensure they know what you are achieving is to tell them.” It’s really as simple as that.
5. You don’t have to do everything alone.
Every student or emerging professional has been told at some point that they should find a mentor while they’re starting out. It’s always useful to have someone in your life that can answer questions, pass on their wisdom, and hopefully point you in the right direction.
The word “mentor” is usually attributed to an older, more established career professional, but don’t think of these guidelines as set in stone. You don’t have to look for someone in your industry and you don’t even have to limit yourself to a single person. The truth is, you can find that mentor-like support in a parent, professor, significant other, or even someone at the same stage as you.
That support system should be made up of as many people as you see fit and work for you specifically. You don’t want to give your best ideas away to anyone and everyone, but it’s useful to have a few trusted contacts with a diverse set of skills and approaches.
It’s not a sign of weakness to feel like you need a second opinion about something or to have a network of people with whom you regularly discuss your goals and talk through your obstacles. You can simultaneously be at the helm of your own career while having someone there to proofread an important email when you need it.