In my role as Chief PowHer Officer and Founder of Confident Career Woman, I’m not only intrigued by the challenges women face professionally that hinder their success, I’m on an intentional mission to aid them in overcoming those challenges. It’s no secret women are efficient in their work; that they meet deadlines, exceed performance expectations and are instrumental in moving the organization forward yet they are consistently passed over for promotion. When women were asked which professional development skills were needed for leadership, they stated:
• Leadership training (57%)
• Confidence building (56%)
• Decision-making (48%)
• Networking (47%)
• Critical thinking and people management (46%)
• Negotiation and team building (43%)
• Project management (38%)
• Articulating point of view (36%)
• Financial/budgeting and talent management (28%)
• Interviewing (23%)
It’s apparent that women require additional training, support and face prejudices consistently in the workplace. The reality is: women need more than skills to advance their career and navigate the complexities of organizational culture.
Unfortunately what’s not so obvious to the ambitious women who are fast-tracking their way to success is that the invisible rules are the REAL silent killers in your company’s culture. When you accept a job offer, you automatically sign up for “the game”. In order to win this game and any other game, you must know the rules. My question to you is simply this: “Are you playing to win?”
By definition, invisible rules are “the unspoken, hidden expectations and behaviors that can accelerate or hinder an individual’s professional success.” These silent sub-cultures are embedded in double standards, perpetuating the unfortunate reality that is rampant in companies across the country resulting in women failing to progress at an accelerated rate in the workplace.
If your objective is to master the invisible rules, I recommend the following:
-Understand how power can work to your advantage: Have you considered the ways in which distributive, integrative and designated power can be leveraged to advance/better manage your career? If you haven’t here goes! Distributive power allows you to achieve your objective despite resistance of others, regardless of job title. For example, the person who strategically incorporates their connections for gain regardless of position is someone who operates using distributive power. Integrative power is the second type where multiple parties share power – collaborating and compromising to create a “win- win” situation resulting in a mutually beneficial relationship. Lastly, there’s designated power and it’s conferred by a position or job title. This coercive power allows an individual to have sole authority to punish or reward employees based on their discretion.

-Understand culture: One of the best positions to play in this career game is an observer. You’re required to have responses to 3 key questions: Who are the winners, who are the losers and what’s contributing to their outcome? Far too often women insist on making career limiting moves such as intentionally opting out of the game and deciding to remain behind the scenes in an effort to avoid conflict. I mean if you’re automatically entered in a game why wouldn’t you define and achieve your wins?? As you continue to understand culture, you must also use your voice by sharing your point of view, by asking for what you want as well as what you need to achieve career success which should include obtaining information.
-Understand perception: Right or wrong, it’s reality for others so you should solicit as well as embrace feedback. In other words, you can’t control perception but you can definitely influence it. Stand out to fit in; how you look and behave should strategically position you for power moves and elevate your career status.
What’s holding women back in the workplace isn’t KSA’s; it’s not intelligence, qualifications, nor emotional intelligence. It’s an inability to recognize the invisible rules of a game that can actually generate both short-term and long-term career wins. The “work” is being done from a performance perspective yet women continue to work in reverse simply because they’ve failed to: (1) observe who wins, who loses and why (2) learn from the mistakes and achievements of others (3) apply what’s been learned and/or observed to accelerate career advancement.

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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. Ericka 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. For additional information, visit: