Best Career Advice for Women

Woman speaking into a microphone at a podium

Advice for women seeking to advance their careers is plentiful. Women should Lean In, have Presence, crack The Confidence Code, follow the New Rules of the Game, and figure out What Works for Women at Work, to name just a few of the business advice books aimed at women in recent years.

With International Women’s Day this month (Tuesday, March 8), we celebrate women in the workplace by showcasing their accomplishments and acknowledging their struggles. Here are some tips from the authors of these books on how you can successfully make the most of your career.

Good news and bad

Women have made significant strides in the U.S. economy. They account for about half the labor force (47 percent) and more than half of all managers and professionals (52 percent), according to Pew Research.1 They get more master’s and doctorate degrees than men as well as 36 percent of MBAs.2 And women own about 10 million businesses in the U.S.3

However, Pew found that only 22 percent of senior managers, 15 percent of board members and 5 percent of CEOs of Fortune 1000 companies are women.4 Overall, men are 15 percent more likely to get promoted compared to women at the same level, according to a McKinsey & Co. study.5 And, of the nearly 10 million women-owned businesses in the U.S., almost 90 percent of those are small businesses in which they are the sole proprietors with no employees, according to the National Women’s Business Council.3

What’s a gal to do?

While complex social, cultural, psychological and economic factors influence how women operate and are perceived in the workplace, individual actions influence success, too. Here are five strategies from the best of the business books:

  1. Aim high. A basic tenet of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In is that many women play it too safe with their careers. They turn down opportunities because they “might” want to have children, or they feel they’re not ready for the next step. Set those fears aside and go for it.
  2. Schmooze more, work less. Women often attribute hard work to their success — studies show women are promoted more often because of performance, while men may be promoted for their potential to succeed. But, Susan Packard, co-founder of HGTV and author of The New Rules of the Game, recommends women set aside perfectionist tendencies and devote more time to networking. They should “settle for being B students” in order to connect more with colleagues in informal ways.6 Networking, she says, is not about being political, but about making connections and learning.
  3. Form a posse. Women who promote their own accomplishments are often seen as pushy and not that likeable, says Joan C. Williams, University of California law professor, in her book What Works for Women at Work. So Williams suggests women form a “posse” to celebrate each other’s success. “The posse is part of a series of strategies I call gender judo,” Williams told an audience at Wharton Business School. “You’re using a feminine stereotype — in this case it’s the stereotype of the selfless woman — but you’re using it not to hold you back but rather to propel you forward. The posse is gender judo in the sense that you’re doing something that’s considered masculine — promoting yourself — in what’s seen as a suitably feminine way by engaging with others.”
  4. Say no to too much office housework. You know what we mean: serving on committees, taking notes at meetings, putting together the holiday schedules. William suggests you say yes to one or two housework tasks to be a team player, but then pleasantly pass the others on to a co-worker.
  5. Look for a company where men take paternity leave. Changing company culture is hard. If work-life balance policies — flextime, parental leave, and so on — are seen as only for women, taking advantage of them may slow your career, Williams says.

Many of the authors also suggested one final strategy to boost your career — support other women. It could be as casual as going out for coffee with a co-worker, or as involved as participating in a mentor program for women at less-advanced levels in their careers. Oftentimes you’ll find that mentoring isn’t a one-way street and all parties can learn as much from one another when goals, experiences and achievements are shared.

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1Bureau of Labor Statistics

2Digest of Education Statistics and MBA degrees

3National Women’s Business Council Fact Sheet

4Pew Research Center, “Women and Leadership: Public Says Women Are Equally Qualified, but Barriers Persist” (Jan. 14, 2015).


6Ross, Martha, “New Book’s 10 Strategies for Women to Get Ahead in the Workplace” (Feb. 18, 2015). Mercury News.

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