International Women's Day

The road to success at any organization is paved with outstanding work and inspiring leadership. According to our research, there’s often an added layer of complexity for women who take this journey: as they navigate careers working across male-dominated C-suites and boardrooms, many experience it as an “only.”

Being an only means being the only person like yourself in a given situation at work, usually because of your gender, race, or ethnicity (though it’s not limited to those qualities). It’s not an easy situation to thrive in. For instance, we’ve found that women working alone in a group of men are far more likely to have their judgment questioned, to be mistaken for someone more junior, and to be subjected to unprofessional and demeaning remarks.

So, this International Women’s Day, we wanted to ask a few of our senior partner women: As leaders who have thrived amid this environment, what advice do you have for women around the world who are building their careers today? Here’s what they had to say.

International Women's Day

Lareina Yee, senior partner, San Francisco

Form a personal board of directors. And of course, I don’t mean a literal “board,” but a small, trusted group of senior people both inside and outside your organization, who you both respect and admire and who can give you the advice and support you need over the course of your career.

Your board shouldn’t be a group you turn to for tactical advice. Instead, this is a group that will help you set your aspirations high, challenge your thinking, and encourage you to do things that you’re maybe otherwise afraid to do.

I started building my own personal board when I was just out of graduate school. I decided to keep in touch with a few of my old professors, and over the years they helped guide my thinking at certain inflection points. I’m still in touch with one of them, and it’s been amazing to see her career grow and change over time, just as mine has.

To select your own board members, think about the inspiring people you’ve met at work, people you feel a genuine connection with. Then, it’s on you to make the connection, stay in touch with them, and engage them when you need their help.

Read Lareina’s feature in ‘Working Mother’ here.

Clarisse Magnin-Mallez, senior partner, Paris

Place joy and passion at the center of whatever you do. Don’t get anxious about what people perceive your abilities to be, and instead concentrate your energy on the joy and passion you get from your work, your clients, and your teams.

This means learning how to silence your inner voices of doubt and to stop questioning every move you might want to make.

Doing so can be hard, especially when things are perhaps going a bit tougher than you would like. But even then, try to focus on the moment at hand. Be yourself, be confident; your joy and passion will come through, making you extremely inspiring—and, in all likelihood, simply happy.

Diaan-Yi Lin, senior partner, Singapore

Be bolder, and don’t be afraid to ask for what you need. Especially early in my career, I often underestimated the license I had to operate and make independent decisions. As a result, I was reluctant to make bold moves, even when I felt sure they were the right thing to do.

But as I began to take small steps forward, I began to see the goodwill and support that I had built over time. This helped me expand my comfort zone and gave me the confidence I needed to be much bolder in terms of what I would ask for and the way I set my aspirations.

As your career advances, learn to see yourself the way others do, and to have the trust and confidence in yourself that others have in you. The sooner you do, the sooner you’ll begin having a greater impact on your organization, and more fun in your career.

International Women's Day

Liz Hilton Segel, senior partner, New York

Be authentic. People often ask me: “Can I be myself and still be successful?” I think it’s important to get to know an organization’s style, and you need to be attuned to the environment that you’re in. But more than that, you need to know your own strengths, and you need to be authentic to who you are.

Over time, you’ll get a feeling for the greatest attributes of your personality and leadership style. Be true to these things and amplify them to the forefront as opposed to trying to moderate them in the service of adhering to some other culture that isn’t who you really are.

Take risks fearlessly. One of the things I’ve also noticed is that women who are offered new leadership roles are often quick to talk about their shortcomings or why they’re not qualified to take on that leadership role.

Men seem to treat these opportunities in a completely different way. They’re often quite confident in their abilities, and they’re prepared to take the risk because they seek the new challenge.

Especially for those of you out there who are early on in your careers, if you’re thinking about taking on a new risk, let me tell you: go for it. Figure out what your strengths are, build on them, and take risks that allow you to stretch yourself. Doing that will help you achieve as much as you could possibly imagine.

Read Liz’s feature in ‘Working Mother’ here.

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