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Things I’ve Learned About Women At Work (Inspired by Phil Dunphy)

Do you watch Modern Family?  I love that show and it just keeps getting better. The episode where parents Phil and Claire moved daughter Hailey into her college dorm was particularily hilarious and I’m still laughing over the “Phil’s-Osophy” book he created for Hailey on “things I’ve learned”  — hence, my strange title.

When Cisco asked me to participate on the Channels blog, I decided to risk the obvious and write about soft skills because it’s my observation they’re not widely appreciated – especially by women. What I mean by soft skills is personal brand: the image you portray and how others percieve you.  It’s the very foundation on which your career is built.  The timing couldn’t be better: we are in the throes of launching a very exciting project here at Westcon Group (more on that later) and today — you may note — is International Women’s Day.

Women want to develop professional and business skills, but often overlook what I call their soft skills foundation. For starters, there’s that nagging perception of the glass ceiling. Well, let’s ask this question: is it a glass ceiling that’s holding women back or is it something else?  You might consider the following when evaluating your own soft skills foundation. 

1. Do the right people know what you’re about?
Is there a connected sponsor championing your cause?  Do supporters know your work and aspirations? Don’t be afraid to promote yourself, because you can’t assume people know everything you’re doing. I once had a manager insist that all employees keep a “goodie file.”  During annual reviews, we pulled out the file to reveal big initiatives we accomplished.  It doesn’t hurt to create your own “goodie file.”  Think of it as an informal resume or a way to chart your progress and keep track of accomplishment.

2. How do others percieve you?
Perhaps the most critical soft skill is to manage your perception, since it’s your own personal brand.  I live by my motto: “Nothing positive will happen for my business after 11pm.” I know a woman who was brilliant at her job and did all the right things 360 days of the year, but had a reputation for late nights and partying that didn’t go unnoticed. This hurt her reputation and was an impediment to her advancement.

3. How do you approach situations?
Are you seen as constructive or complaining?  Can you navigate challenging situations by leading collaborative discussions?  How you choose to deliver a message can make a huge difference. I often take a moment to think about my message and jot down a few reasons for my input before I speak up. People will appreciate the clarity and logic. You should never be afraid to share your opinions – that’s why you’re getting paid. Just consider the appropriate delivery.

4. How would others view your attitude?
People love to commiserate at the water cooler, but be careful not to harbor resentment. At the end of the day, most employers would rather hire someone with a positive outlook and less experience than the opposite. Image matters: make yours one of confidence, competence and professionalism.

It’s this type of knowledge that’s essential to share with others. In an industry that averages an 11 percent to 89 percent female-to-male ratio, Westcon Group is proud of our gender diversity: 49 percent female to 51 percent male. After being inspired by industry leaders like Cisco, which takes the initiative to host luncheons and networking opportunities dedicated to workplace gender diversity, our team set out to build a new community for the women who comprise our global employee base called “Women@Westcon.”

This community brings together participants from over 70 countries with different expectations, cultures and languages. Driven by employee feedback, our site focuses on both professional “how to handle yourself in the workplace” skills and technology/business accreditation development. Both men and women are interested in these topics, but it’s been my observation that each tends to approach them differently.

Who knows where this will take us? Personally, I’m excited to find out. That’s the type of attitude necessary to be successful.  Try something different for the sheer personal pleasure of it.  You never know the result in advance, but it most certainly won’t hurt to try.

Alternatively, you could always take a page from Phil Dunphy’s book of Phil’s-Osophy which states, “The most amazing things that can happen to a human being will happen to you if you just lower your expectations.” Personally, I’d shoot higher for a role model. Just my two cents.

What soft skills do you find valuable in your employees? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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