Although 2020 was “the year of change none of us anticipated”, a plethora of things changed as certain things simultaneously remained the same. With hundreds of thousands of women experiencing the impact of our “SHEcession”, others were receiving job offers, increasing their salaries and some were even promoted from within! What I can’t deny is this unfortunate reality: what’s transpiring politically, economically and racially in this country leaves very little room for women to prioritize career management. One of my clients recently experienced nightmares after consuming repeated coverage of the events at our nation’s Capitol. After our coaching session, I knew I had to do something to make career management easier for women. The solution: a list of 10 mistakes to avoid that will move your career forward with minimal effort.

Which one will you select from my top 10?

Mistake #1 – You said “yes” to being overworked instead of initiating a conversation about workload distribution and capacity.

Here’s what I mean: you do phenomenal work and as your reward, you get the gift of *wait for it* MORE WORK (in my Oprah “You get a car voice.”)!! In addition, you’re bombarded with thoughts like:

  • “If I don’t produce what’s being asked, they’ll think I can’t handle the responsibility.”
  • “I might be replaced or terminated.”
  • “If I can’t keep up, there’s no way I’m getting a raise, the promotion, etc.”

As a result, you find yourself overworked, exhausted and unhappy. What would happen if you scheduled a follow-up conversation with your leader AFTER you created a strategy that reevaluates proper distribution of work instead?

Mistake #2 – Mobility should only mean upward.

Congratulations to those of you who are climbing the corporate ladder – there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. However, in my career I decided downward was the best direction for me. “Retiring” from leadership was one of the best decisions I made! (to listen to my story “I Left My Full-Time Job During A Pandemic: click here)

  • I secured a seat as an individual contributor making more money.
  • I identified different ways to lead in absence of having direct reports + a long list of responsibilities.
  • I experienced minimal stress as well as the flexibility to play, travel and spend time with family/friends.

When you think about what needs to happen to achieve your wins both personally and professionally in 2021, what direction is best as far as your next move is concerned?

Mistake #3: Assuming your hard work is enough.

If the path to promotion isn’t clear, you need to create one which includes speaking up. Advocacy begins at home and by the way, your leader doesn’t know “everything you do.” In addition to that, if you haven’t said “I’d like to be promoted to _____ by _____”, expecting them to know is a recipe for disaster.

Mistake #4: Your strategy isn’t sustainable.

So many of us were taught to get a job but weren’t taught to manage our careers – myself included. I’ve experienced both sides of this coin and the results I’ve experienced with strategy FAR outweigh the results I experienced in absence of it.

  • If you can’t send your career strategy to someone, you don’t have one.
  • If your strategy doesn’t include: another role, relationships, compensation, development, visibility and performance – it has holes in it.
  • If you don’t have a strategy, you’re in trouble.

Mistake #5: You believe work-life balance is impossible.

To be honest, I did as well because I defined balance as “equal distribution of weight.” Well, balance is also defined as “condition in which different elements are in the correct proportions.” My problem was perspective. I was thinking equal (50-50) vs proper prioritization and attention to the different elements. In 2020, “I live at work” was a popular meme because working remotely during the pandemic challenged our balance and boundaries. The possibilities of balance don’t have to elude you; simply reframe how you perceive it and prioritize differently. 

Mistake #6: You’re afraid to say no or you don’t know how.

Some of the reasons why women don’t say no:

  • Saying yes is easier (short-term); fear of “confrontation.”
  • We don’t want to hurt someone else’s feelings.
  • We believe saying no seems selfish.
  • We don’t want to “rock the boat” or upset others.
  • We’re concerned about how others will perceive us.

60% of the aforementioned focuses on other people. Isn’t it crazy how our decisions and actions cater to others over our own needs, interests and sometimes well-being? If we’re challenged with saying no in our personal lives, there’s a chance we’re saying yes too often at work.

Mistake #7: Unrealistic expectations with a new assignment.

You’ve said yes to the offer and now it’s time to hit the ground running! Or not……When you secure a new seat, give yourself grace and space within the first 90 days – AT LEAST! Your leader realizes you don’t know everything – choose performance combined with planning over perfection.

Mistake #8: Questioning your qualifications.

It took a Nobel Prize before Canadian physicist Donna Strickland got promoted to a full professorship. It’s often said women have to prove themselves more than men to get promoted, well that’s only one side of the coin. When asked why her intellect and achievements had not been recognized by promotion to full professor: “I never applied” was her response.

She believed she had to add a Nobel Prize to her CV before she was considered. Instead of questioning your qualifications, ask about the criteria and expectations regarding promotion. You’re probably more qualified than you realize.

Mistake #9: Thinking hard work is enough to get promoted when in actuality it isn’t.

The “my work speaks for itself” mentality is partially true. Although performance is a non-negotiable along the path to promotion, consider the following as well:

  • Your work isn’t as loud as your voice. I’ve lost count of the coaching sessions with disappointed, exhausted, frustrated clients who are upset about a promotion they didn’t get; that they never spoke up about.
  • Your work won’t accelerate you the way relationships will. For years I’ve heard “I don’t have time to “network.” When will you and can you afford not to?
  • If you can’t send someone your strategy, you don’t have one. Even when you say “I’m getting promoted this year”, you need a plan with specifics.

Mistake #10: “The Subtle Settle – Salary”

Every year, “women make less money in comparison to their male counterparts” is a trending topic. Every year I share strategy in my podcast episode “A Black Woman’s Worth At Work.” (Here’s last year’s link: click here)

Simply reading and sharing salary negotiation resources isn’t enough. This year, create a compensation goal as well as a plan to achieve it. You have to know your worth, believe you are worthy, ask for adequate compensation and be willing to walk into a better opportunity when you’re underpaid + overworked.

Ericka Spradley is the Chief PowHer Officer/Founder of Confident Career Woman which is the premier consulting firm for corporations and the mid-career professional woman who wants to advance, better manage her career, and go further faster. She is an advocate who partners with clients to help women ditch perfection, play bigger and make PowHer Moves by: identifying their next role, creating a career strategy, offering ongoing career guidance, and coaching clients to master interviews. Not only does she believe women should excel at work and know their worth, she dedicated a series of free courses including “Ditch The Downplay” that positions women to do so: to enroll

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