It is hard for me to believe that in 2023, we are still talking about gender equality, race, diversity and inclusion in the workplace. You would think that by now understanding both the business and moral implications would be clear. So let’s start by understanding the difference between diversity and inclusion. I like this simple illustration—diversity is being invited to the dance; inclusion is being asked to dance. It happens one person at a time. And it’s not just the right thing to do, it’s also profitable.
According to a 2020 McKinsey study, highly inclusive organizations generate 1.4 times more revenue and are 120% more capable of meeting financial targets than organizations that are not highly inclusive. A study by the Harvard Business Review found that companies with more women in leadership positions are more likely to outperform their peers on profitability, innovation, and customer satisfaction.
The path to success is riddled with misconceptions and myths. Here are three myths I have encountered in my career and some lessons I learned along the way.
Myth #1: My work should speak for itself.
It’s easy to be lured into believing this, especially when your performance is measured by agreed upon goals and objectives on a regular basis. But this ignores the reality of the workplace. In the real world, your work is only one factor that determines your success. Other factors, like your relationships with your colleagues, your ability to network, and your ability to sell yourself, are just as important as the work you do.
Sometimes, your definition of success does not align with your leader’s view of success. You still need to talk to your leader about your definition of success. Then try to find some common ground and focus on that overlap. You may also need to be wiling to compromise and find a definition of success that works for both of you. This will likely require some patience but keep working on it.
If you’re looking for new ways to kickstart your career, I recommend any book by Wall Street veteran Carla Harris, but especially Strategize To Win: 10 Proven Strategies for Thriving in the Workplace. Here’s a TED Talk with Carla where she explains why the workplace being a meritocracy is really just another myth.
Myth #2: Mentorship is a one-way street.
I think there are very few people who don’t know the value of having a mentor and yet, so many people are still navigating their careers alone. A big reason this happens is because people don’t know where to start.
Mentorship can be beneficial for people at all levels of an organization. But adding to the challenge is a clear disparity in sponsorship. Research shows that people with sponsors are up to 23 percent more likely to move up in their career than those without sponsors (Leadership Research Institute, CTI). One in five men have a sponsor, yet only one in eight women and one in twelve minorities (Center For Talent Innovation) have a sponsor.
All of this points to the reality that mentorship is and must be a two-way street. Both mentors and mentees can benefit from the relationship. Mentors can learn from their mentees’ fresh perspectives, and mentees can learn from their mentors’ experience.
In a reverse mentoring partnership, colleagues “pair up” – regardless of seniority – to learn from one another. This can benefit both parties’ careers in several ways. It’s a great way to share specific expertise such as technology or leadership skills. Bridging generational and hierarchical gaps also helps improve communication.
Start by having one conversation with someone who might be able to help, then another, then another. Each time, ask for 15 -20 minutes and come prepared with a crisp agenda on what you what to gain and give to a conversation. Before you know it, you will have established a relationship that can lead to mentorship.
Myth #3: You need to be in the right place at the right time to get ahead.
Well, maybe that’s true sometimes but that has never worked for me. I have often been in the right place at the right time but I didn’t take advantage of opportunities presented to me. I have had coaches, mentors and sponsors put my name forward for new opportunities. I quickly learned there is nothing wrong with saying no thank you to an opportunity. But remember, opportunity may not keep knocking on your door. Sometimes opportunity stops knocking if you don’t answer the door.
You will find people are not always too busy to engage with you and help. Sometimes, all you need to do is ask for their time. Luck is when opportunity and preparedness meet. Always be ready for an opportunity. Truly great opportunities don’t come around very often.
One of the classic books on leadership is John Maxwell’s How Successful People Think: Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life. He puts a great twist on along held myth and points out how important your environment is in the pursuit of prosperity. “The right thought, plus the right people in the right environment at the right time for the right reason = the right result.”
It’s never too late to advance your career and I’m a great example of it. I was 23 years at Cisco before I interviewed for the role as VP, Americas Partner Organization and was given the job. Ensuring clarity of goals, pursuing effective mentorships and answering the door has allowed me to be more purposeful and pursue my career with intention. So build your own development plan. Identify gap areas for the role you want with the skills you have. Leverage your network (and the network of your network) to support your growth. Determine what it will take for you to answer the door of opportunity. That way, the door that opens will be targeted and aligned with your growth plans and goals.
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