“A pop of pink in a sea of navy blue”
That’s how the organizer at one of my keynote talks described me once. And it’s pretty much the story of my life… and the lives of many of the corporate women I meet across the country.
I started out in a male dominated profession as a software engineer. Twelve months after I graduated from college, I found myself working in the basement.
Literally. That’s where the IT support team was and all the computers and servers that we supported.
Although I was a software engineer, I took it upon myself to make sure that even when I wasn’t there, things got done. I made sure that, as a team, we didn’t drop the ball.
This made my boss’s life easier. (You know where this is going, don’t you?)
At the time, I was young and single, so I didn’t mind working a couple extra hours.. And I set up my work environment so that there were policies and procedures in place that kept things running smoothly, even when I wasn’t there.
I’ve always been a go-getter. I’ve never been one to go into a job and think “that this is where I’m going to spend the rest of my career”.
So ten months into that job, I asked to be promoted to level two.
(The level two job was on the ground floor. Out of the basement!)
My boss took one look at me and said no. When I asked him why he said, “because having you in the basement makes my life easier.”
(Don’t even get me started on that one.)
When I heard that, truth be told, I got a little ticked off and I made a decision that I was getting out of the basement one way or the other.
Learning to play the career game
Several years later, I came home pretty frustrated after a long day at work. In addition to my day job, I was working on my doctorate, too.
And I was doing all the things “you’re supposed to do” to get ahead at work, but my career wasn’t advancing at the rate I thought it should.
I got the sense that there was more to climbing the corporate ladder than earning getting another degree, working longer hours, or taking on more projects.
I’d had it.
I’d been doing all the “right” things… but there I was, still in a proverbial basement.
That night at dinner, I looked at my now husband Toby and asked him, “how can you win the game when you don’t know the rules?” Make no mistake ladies, career advancement is a game. And like any game, there are winners and losers… there are players and people who get played… and there are rules.
This is when I decided to learn how to play the game.
Rule #1: If you’re going to win, you’ve got to know the rules.
One of the first lessons about playing the game of career advancement is understanding that it’s more than degrees and experience. Many women go to work, put their heads down and wait for someone to notice.
But ladies, you know as well I do what happens when you try this approach.
So, once I realized that working harder wasn’t the way the game was played, I started learning how to play smarter.
Noticing that the people who got ahead and got the best opportunities were all well connected and in conversation with other people who were going places, I started building what I call “Team Nadia”.
It consists of people at all levels throughout the organization that get to know you, your skills and expertise, and who have an understanding of where you want to go. In other words, your dream team – of advisors, cheerleaders, and informal mentors.
By this time, I was working at a financial services firm (side note: it wasn’t in the basement). And in addition to doing my job duties, I also made the effort to reach out to members of “Team Nadia” to keep them in the loop and to learn about new opportunities.
This is how I began to play the game. Not with backstabbing. Not with sucking up. Not with being a good girl… but by being a well-connected one.
Three years later, my hard work began to pay off.
I received a call from a peer about a possible position in Phoenix. She wanted to know if I might be interested. I spoke with her leaders and learned more about their plans for this position.
When the job was actually posted, I had the pleasure of applying for a position that I knew was already mine. This opened up a completely new world for me. I received offers without doing the usual apply-interview-wait… people just seemed to know who I was and where I wanted to be.
When I moved to Phoenix, I felt like I worked for a different company.
Even after a company acquisition, “Team Nadia” was there. I was getting offers behind the scenes and I had people actively working to protect me from being unemployed.
That one strategy made all the difference for me. And I never would have come up with it, if I didn’t get curious about what it REALLY took to get where I wanted to go.
Helping other women get the skills they need to get where THEY want to go
At Doyenne Leadership, I now work with talented women on the rise to develop their leadership and communication skills so that they get where THEY want to go – whether it’s running a team that gets things done, assuming a higher-level position, or shifting their corporate culture. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my career, it’s that if you want to win the game, you need the right skills to do it.
I also work with companies to identify, develop and retain up and coming leaders. This includes helping both MEN and women improve their communication skills so that organizations and teams can increase their competitive advantage by harnessing communication differences and bridging the communication gap.
Because there’s a new leader on the rise… and she leads like a lady.
Dr. Nadia Brown is the President and Founder of Doyenne Leadership Institute, a leadership development firm that focuses on helping women communicate more powerfully, rise up and lead.
Dr. Nadia holds a Doctor of Management degree in Organizational Leadership where she studied the leadership backgrounds and experiences of women in higher education. Dr. Nadia also holds an MBA and a BS in Computer Engineering. Her background includes leading teams, managing projects and facilitating workshops in the IT, nonprofit, financial services, and government industries.