23 Successful Women Share Their Life and Career Changing Advice

| By TMA World

Celebrate International Women’s Day by learning from 23 powerful women that have gone before you

1. Karen Blackett OBE, chair, MediaCom UK

Find your cheerleaders. These are the people that know the real you, not your job title or role. We all have moments of self-doubt, when we lack self-belief or have things that do not go according to plan. Your cheerleaders are the ones who will give you a verbal slap or can just be there to listen. They are also the ones who will tell you what you need to hear and not necessarily what you want to hear. Find them, collect them and cherish them.

Continue to grow your network. This can seem daunting at first and may fill you with fear, but you need to network to ensure you are part of the right conversations, and in the room with a seat at the table. When your network is broad, cross industry and diverse, magic can happen.

2. Joanne Harris, author

Read – a lot, and in as many different areas as possible: fiction; non-fiction; novels; short stories; news.

Write – a lot. It takes practice, but don’t be afraid of writing badly. Only by writing badly will you learn to write well.

Keep your day job, at least until you’re making enough money from writing to live on. Persevere. No one succeeds straight away.

3. Melissa Fleming, head of communications and public information and spokeswoman for the high commissioner, UNHCR

Glass ceilings are real but they can also be imagined or self-imposed. I remember worrying pregnancy would set me back professionally. It didn’t – I continued to move up in the ranks as my two children grew. Recently, as a senior manager commuting between Vienna where my family lives and Geneva where I work, I fretted about requesting to work from home one day a week to have more family time. I asked and the arrangement was readily agreed and even became a workplace model, including for men.

Maybe I have been just lucky, but my advice is to choose not just a profession that is your passion, but also to seek a workplace that has a real record of supporting the advancement of women. Just as important – choose a partner who is your equal and friends who are your champions. “Having it all” means more than rising to the top in your career. Finding community, nurturing family, maintaining health and having fun makes it worthwhile.

4. Juliana Ruhfus, senior reporter and investigative film-maker for al-Jazeera English

The most important thing when you approach someone is to have a very clear idea about the work they are doing. I often get generic emails from people who would like feedback on ideas or career advice, but they haven’t really thought about how they could work in the context of al-Jazeera’s output.

When you approach someone don’t expect them to do something for you but tell them what you can do for them, highlight how your ideas would work for them and demonstrate your specific qualifications. You will get much more interest.

Curiosity, tenacity and humbleness are the three qualities that I value most in the people I work with. Genuine curiosity is a powerful engine, tenacity means you keep going when things get tough, and humbleness allows you to learn from every situation and every person that you encounter. The last one is really important to me: once you think you know it all you actually start standing still.

5. Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Get comfortable being uncomfortable – achieving something that’s never been done before starts with challenging yourself to do things that you’ve never done before.

6. Nancy Reyes, managing director/associate partner, Goodby Silverstein & Partners, New York

My advice to women in the workplace would be to keep your head down, work hard and know your stuff. The more you know, the more powerful you are. Always be thorough. Strive to be the person that people count on. When something is asked of you, put yourself in your co-worker’s shoes, your client’s shoes, your manager’s shoes. If you’re resourceful and let your wisdom speak for itself, the woman thing, the age thing, or any other thing will fall to the wayside. At the end of the day, it’s about how much you know and how well you sell it.

7. Carolyn Anthony, director of the Skokie Public Library, north of Chicago

Establish a group of mentors to whom you can turn to bounce an idea around or check in about a possible career move. Remember that even a mentor relationship is two-way and you should bring something to it. Send your mentor an article occasionally on an area of his/her interest along with your comments. You will nourish the relationship, and your perspective as a person new to the field will be valuable.

8. Ora Shtull, executive coach, Ora Coaching Ltd.

Don’t just sit at the table; talk at the table! Make it a point to contribute at least once in every meeting you attend. If you’re at a total loss for what you might contribute, make it a point to ask at least one question. At its best, it should be a strategic question. Most business discussions are about (1) problems and their negative impacts and (2) solutions and their positive payoffs. A strategic question is simply one about the problem or the solution: e.g. How bad is the problem? What’s the downside if we do nothing? What do we stand to gain? What will we save? Have we evaluated alternative solutions? You don’t need the answers.

9. Traci Entel, chief human capital officer and partner, Booz & Company

To stand out and excel, especially as a woman in the business world, you need to lead. Think of yourself as a leader first, and a consultant, designer, engineer, etc., second. This will be the foundation that steadies you through the challenges you will inevitably navigate. It will also be the springboard to new opportunities.

10. Marla Kaplowitz, chief executive, MEC North America

Have the confidence to take more risks early on, even if it means that you might trip along the way, because ultimately you will learn from those experiences. Ask for the big assignment, make that cross-country move if it means more opportunity for growth. Although I didn’t start taking risks until later in my career, every risk I did take ultimately led to personal and professional development and the realization that ultimately it all works out, and is just part of your journey. I wish I had known that when I was just starting out as I probably would have taken even bigger risks, earlier in my career.

11. Alexis Josephs, vice president, East Coast sales and strategy, VEVO

My advice for women early in their careers is to establish themselves as a brand that can evolve over time. Figure out what your brand stands for and how your brand can adapt as you grow in your career. Those women who rely on superficial characteristics to create her brand identity are challenged in the future when maturity exceeds youth. Therefore, focus on your brand appeal and how your brand acts the part you want to be and not the part you are.

12. Jennifer McClanahan-Flint, founder and chief strategist, Food on Our Table

1. Negotiate for more money. No matter how much you make, you are probably not making as much as you could. Your salary indicates the value of your contribution. Also, your competence is evaluated by how much money you make and this becomes critical when you want to leverage your experience for a promotion or a new job. 

2. Keep track of your accomplishments. Don’t brush them off; write them down and add them to your working résumé. We tend to forget or diminish our accomplishments over time. Write them down and refer to them often.

3. Let people know what you do well. Working hard isn’t enough to get the recognition your deserve. You have to tell people about your accomplishments. Learn how to express your value and to quantify your value as an addition or savings to the bottom line of your organization.

13. Sheila Greenfield

Smile – your warmth as a woman helps counter the “B” word. You don’t have to be afraid of being a woman – that’s who you are – be who you are. Stop apologizing. Women say they are sorry far too much, for things they had no control over. Do your own work and do it well. Stop volunteering to help others out, sitting on useless committees or engaging in other work that does not further your own professional interests. Learn to say “no” gracefully and stick to it. Bring cookies from the grocer to work; it goes a long way toward softening the word “no” when you have to use it a lot. Pick a few things that are going to get you where you want to go with your career and pursue them tirelessly. Stop the time-wasters before they stop you. People love to talk. Let them talk to you after work or to someone else. You are there to live your purpose and go home to your family. Pamper yourself when you can and always make sure your look matches the next rung up on the ladder you wish to climb. Promotion is subjective, so look the part and act the part, but have the credentials and track record as well. Once more – smile!

14. Alanna Rutherford, partner, Boies, Schiller & Flexner L.L.P.

Say “yes” to everything (assignments, opportunities, work travel, staying late, etc.). It will not impede your chance to find a mate, but it will enhance your skill set, ability to advance and ultimately all your future career opportunities.

15. Heidi Seifert, L.C.S.W.-R., M.A., psychotherapist, New York

One of things I hear about the most in my private practice is when young women blur the lines between professional and personal. We go to work for 40-plus hours and it feels like we live there. We don’t and you don’t. Office friendships with your most intimate secrets are a disaster waiting to happen. You can make friendships but do it slowly; you can go out for drinks, but know that when you are in the office your focus is the work and not to set up shop with the gossip girls. I also see how social media has crept in the mix. Publishing comments on the Internet as if it were a private party has gotten people fired. If you are not prepared to yell it from the rooftops, don’t put it on Facebook! The Internet is not private.

16. Jennifer Mathis, associate director, Starcom

Don’t feel the need to “act like a man” to get ahead. Women are skilled multitaskers and should use this skill to their advantage vs. their male counterparts. Also, women are emotional beings. This doesn’t have to be a negative. Utilize your emotional skills within leadership roles to build strong relationships with your peers and direct reports.

17. Amy Gaskins, assistant vice president, data analysis, MetLife

Stop caring so much about what other people think, especially your current peers. For truly high performers, those people won’t be peers much longer and very few will cheer as you pass them. Trust me on this; it’s how I became an executive at a Fortune 50 company right after I turned 31.

18. Kelly Swanson, president, Swanson Communications

Be honest and open to the realities of the workplace. Never think of yourself as a woman first but as a competent and capable individual who can get the job done just as well as your co-workers. Stay in your lane and become a sieve to the available information around you. Don’t be intimidated to ask a question or admit you don’t know something. Don’t give out mixed messages to your male counterparts. No need to use your sexuality as an instrument to success. If you are good at what you do, success will come. Find a mentor, another woman, who you can count on to help and not hinder your career. Embrace the fact that you are young, have so much to look forward to and can take your time getting there. The best way to the top is to be honest, work hard and know your self-worth. Never compromise your self-worth.

19. Portia Mount, senior vice president, global marketing, and chief of staff, Center for Creative Leadership

Take opportunities even if you feel you are not ready, even if it scares the heck out of you. The best advice that I ever got was “fake it ‘til you make it.” Women tend to overprepare, overthink and overanalyze every opportunity and then it’s gone. Someone else has taken it. Sometimes the best way to learn and get the experience is to just jump in and do it! Project that confidence and soon it will become a part of you.

20. Cammy Dierking, evening news anchor, WKRC-TV in Cincinnati

My advice: Work hard, be honest, grateful and enthusiastic … and try not to whine. A little skill and a great attitude trumps a lot of skill and a poor attitude ANY day.

21. Andréa Shiloh

You always know more than you think you do, but don’t let that get in the way of gleaning as much as you can from those with more experience. Everyone can teach you something, even if it’s a “how not to.” Take it in. Process it. Be better for it!

22. Barby Siegel, chief executive, Zeno Group

Bring an open mind to work every day. Say “yes” more than you say “no.” Push yourself outside your comfort zone. Be open to trying different career paths until you find the one that feels right — that hits a real passion point. Think global. If there’s an opportunity to work outside the United States, grab it. Work with and for people who inspire you. Don’t settle for less. Speak up. Share your thoughts. Believe you have something to contribute. Blog, tweet, get your voice out there. Thoughtfully build your personal brand. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. We all do. Pull yourself up and move forward. While you are building your own career, be a good collaborator, supportive of others. Watch, listen and learn from women in business you admire. Start building your professional network now. It will be with you for the length of your career.

23. Sue Bentlage, functional manager in electronic design automation, I.B.M.

Be brave. You will be presenting information to people with much more experience, but they want to hear your view. Learn your facts and data, state them confidently, and say “yes” to everything that comes your way in the early years of your career (three to four years). At this point, you are single, childless and unmarried, so use this time to accelerate your skills and experience.


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