Career paths are long and confidence is an ephemeral thing. And in my experience, women need their confidence replenished more than men.
A couple of years ago, I heard senior banker Heidi Miller talk about how women in business have an over-riding tendency to focus on what they lack, as opposed to what they have to offer. In her talk, Miller pointed out that in an interview, men have a tendency to sell themselves based on the experience they bring to a specific job—the part that they’ve done before—while minimizing the part of the job that’s unfamiliar. Women, she said, do the opposite: they focus on the 10% of the job they haven’t done before at the expense of the 90% of the job they know well.
To illustrate this self-confidence gender divide, research conducted for the groundbreaking book Women Don’t Ask, included this statistic: “Women report salary expectations between 3 and 32 percent lower than those of men for the same jobs; men expect to earn 13 percent more than women during their first year of full-time work and 32 percent more at their career peaks.”
So what does this mean for Gen Y professional women? A lot, it would seem. First of all, awareness of this dichotomy is increasing among senior women and they are embracing mentoring. That means that younger women are being encouraged to seek out mentorship and sponsorship from senior women who can guide them and boost their confidence.
According to a 2009 study by The Families and Work Institute, Gen Y women are looking for as much job responsibility as men, and are responsible for close to half the family income. That kind of advancement doesn’t come without self-confidence, so this trend bodes very well.
Since career advancement rarely comes from keeping your head down, it’s critical to toot your horn and plug into a great support network. Finding the right mentor or sponsor requires an awareness and assertiveness that should be continually maximized. Reach out to women you find compelling—both inside and outside your organization. Invite them to have a quick cup of coffee with you, and don’t forget that you have plenty of skills you can trade on. Senior women may hold a lot of the cards but they are behind in social media aptitude and frequently don’t know what they don’t know. As a Gen Y and native technologist, you can be a valuable asset. Make networking a regular part of your busy schedule and not simply something you do when you need a job.
Gaining the support of the right insiders means that when that ideal job or promotion comes up, you have others who can endorse you. And the more that happens, the more everyone will focus on the 90% of the job you have nailed.