For meaningful promotions, focus on areas of company growth

In an excerpt from ‘Ladies Get Paid,’ Claire Wasserman shares how to think about your next career move

In Ladies Get Paid, you’ll meet Shelmina and follow her journey as she goes from being a young girl in Tanzania to a high-ranking executive at IBM. Susan Whitney ran marketing and sales across the entire Midwest region at IBM.

Four years after joining IBM, Shelmina had become one of the company’s best salespeople, making her way up to lead a team of 120 people, with an $880 million target.

This was a critical time in Shelmina’s career. She’d proven her worth enough to make a compelling case to be promoted within her department. When Susan Whitney came to town, Shelmina couldn’t wait to catch up and tell her how well she was doing.

Susan didn’t quite have the reaction Shelmina was expecting. She was impressed by how Shelmina had grown but warned Shelmina that she was potentially reaching a cap for how much further she could go. Rather than setting her sights on the next promotion within her department, Susan argued that having exposure to other areas of the business and learning additional skills would make Shelmina even more valuable. Susan urged her to think strategically about where the business and the industry were going and find a way to go with it. In this case, it was away from hardware sales and into the business and technology services department. “If you want to get a more meaningful promotion, you need to position yourself in an organization where IBM is investing because if they’re investing, it’s an area of growth, and in turn, that’s where the executive positions will open up.”

Susan was pointing out an important consideration for Shelmina’s next move and possible promotion. The question was, where did she want to be promoted to? It could be a linear move: There were senior sales positions she could take. But Susan saw her potential to go even further. By venturing into a new area and learning new proficiencies, Shelmina would become like a Swiss Army knife, making her a unique asset to the company.

This is where thinking strategically becomes crucial. When it’s time to take the next steps in your career, you want to carefully consider what will expand your world (not just your paycheck), and what the opportunities will be at the next stage. Will a different job significantly increase your network? Will you be learning new skills, will you have access to avenues of development unavailable to you in your current environment?

Something else to consider is the earning potential. A major contributor to the wage gap is something called “occupational segregation,” which occurs when one demographic group is overrepresented or underrepresented in a certain kind of job or industry (e.g., men are 53 percent of the U.S. labor force, yet they hold 98 percent of construction jobs).

Occupational segregation can have a damaging effect on career growth and therefore earning potential. Women tend to be clustered in roles and departments that are more “supportive,” whereas men hold positions that directly generate income, which translates to larger paychecks and more authority. For example, sales and software engineering departments (which bring in more money because they are directly tied to making and selling the product) are dominated by men, whereas marketing and human resources are overwhelmingly female.

Another example of occupational segregation is in education. While the majority of teachers are women (70 percent), three-quarters of school district superintendents are men. Can you guess which group gets paid more?

Does that mean you need to change what you do for a living? No. It is beneficial, however, to be aware of how pay is structured at your company, and to know where there is the most opportunity to advance and earn more. And it is crucial information to have when trying to understand—and solve—the wage gap.

If you’re unsure of where you want to go, talk to people in other departments; inquire about the problems they’re solving, the skills they’re using, and what it takes to be successful in their area of expertise. Make sure to also ask them about their day-to-day, as you may discover deal breakers about their lifestyle, such as how much of a work-life balance they have. That way you can be confident you’re making the right move for you.

When contemplating Susan’s advice to consider a move away from hardware, Shelmina sought out Carolyn Maher, someone she’d worked with in a previous position at IBM. Carolyn was familiar with business and technology services and was able to give her valuable insight. Shelmina decided to apply for an open position in that department, and with Carolyn’s help, she secured the role. She was ready to embark on a new chapter.

Claire Wasserman is a thought leader, speaker, and entrepreneur. She is the founder of Ladies Get Paid, a global community that champions the professional and financial advancement of women. Wasserman has traveled the country teaching thousands of women how to negotiate millions of dollars in raises, start businesses, and advocate for themselves in the workplace. She was named one of Entrepreneur magazine’s “100 Most Powerful Women” for her work inspiring a new generation of female leaders and is a highly-sought-after expert for Fortune 500 companies working to improve diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging within their organizations.

Copyright © 2021 by Claire Wasserman. From the recently published Ladies Get Paid by Claire Wasserman, published by Gallery Books, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Printed by permission.

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