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I imagine that the savvy, self-starting executive women of Microsoft felt particularly deflated by CEO Satya Nadella’s recent remarks (later withdrawn) that women shouldn’t negotiate for more money. Here they are most likely doing all the prescribed “right” things:
- Entering a high-growth industry, such as tech
- Working for a brand-name firm, like Microsoft
- Proactively working on their negotiating skills
…and then BAM! Here comes Nadella essentially saying that they should just wait for the system to even out the gender pay gap. If the CEO isn’t going to support your efforts, why even bother?
Actually this is precisely why you should bother with all of the proactive hard work. Your effort and skills belong to you, and you can take them somewhere else if you should hit a brick wall.
Sure, Satya Nadella’s unfortunate admission shows that a CEO of a major corporation may thwart your efforts just as a mid-level manager or even a narrow-minded friend (in the guise of well-meaning advice) might. You may not get the support you expect. But if you keep doing the prescribed “right” things below, you will collect some supporters to your cause along the way—including more open-minded, equitable executive sponsors.
Create an amazing body of work
It still starts with getting results, establishing your expertise, and contributing to the bottom line. Don’t let your own work product suffer because there is someone at the top of your company who doesn’t care—others do care and are watching for promotion-worthy candidates. You want your name to surface.
But you cannot simply let your accomplishments stand for themselves. You need to advocate for your them, to ensure they are recognized. See my previous post on preparing for your next review for step-by-step instructions on making sure you get your due.
Build a strategic and supportive network
So Nadella is out of step, and there are probably other CEO’s who share his view. But there will be men and women—at every level, in every industry, in every functional area—who are supportive.
I once had a banker at a big-name firm encourage me to “follow my heart” and take an unexpected career turn, even if it meant turning down his firm’s offer. He was so supportive and generous and gave me courage when I needed it most—and this was a BANKER! If I managed to find a mentor with a heart of gold in that industry, there will certainly be supportive senior people in any industry.
Find them. Enroll their support.
Be a strategic and supportive of others
Be the anti-Nadella. Don’t just throw your hands up at the amorphous system; proactively help others along and do your part to change the game.
Pick the smart but shy person in your group and plan to call on that person in the meeting; let the person know what you will ask so they have a chance to prepare. Think of that colleague from another department who always helps you and write a commendation to her (or his) manager, cc’ing the person you’re writing about. Return to your alma mater for a networking event or career talk.
As you build your amazing career and advocate for yourself, reach back and better the system for others.
Caroline Ceniza-Levine is co-founder of SixFigureStart®career coaching. She has worked with professionals from American Express, Condé Nast, Gilt, Goldman Sachs, Google, McKinsey, and other leading firms. She’s also a stand-up comic. This column appears weekly.
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