We live in an age of moral dyslexia. Over the last 40 years, we’ve systematically created an economy that both favors people who don’t need any more favors, and disadvantages people who have no advantages.
The truth is one of the most disadvantaged groups in America are single mothers. And it’s not just because it’s hard to raise children alone. It’s also because the rising demands of work, miserly wage gains and cost of childcare create a 10 ton anchor that sink the hopes, dreams and health of millions of mothers every damn day. In a minute I’m going to share with you five proven ways to increase you’re worth, your opportunities and your wages at work but first I just want you to consider the following.
The Wall Street Journal just reported research, (Why You Work for a Giant Company, April 7, 2017) that confirms that over the last 30 years inflation adjusted pay for the highest paid workers has risen by over 40%. But pay for the lowest paid workers has fallen 41%. This trend is found in companies of all sizes. But in very large companies mid level workers are also seeing their pay shrink relative to inflation while the well-paid top-tier leaders enjoy double digit gains.
These trends are troubling for women in the workforce because in most companies women are stuck in the middle or in lower level jobs. Stagnant pay for women with children is an extreme problem because daily childcare for two children costs more then the medium rent in all 50 states! I know, it sucks.
And, it’s extremely hard to get a top job without being married to your work. Harvard’s school of Public Health recently reported that:
- 2/3’s of working age adults work overtime or on weekends.
- 30% of us work while on vacation.
- 65% of us monitor and respond to email after work hours because we’re expected to.
- and 20% of us report high levels of emotional exhaustion known as burn-out.
That makes raising a family while trying to accelerate your career extremely challenging.
Just for a minute I want you to consider what it might be like trying to be a successful working mother, or single mother, swimming in our shark infested economy. In my experience, most of these women suffer in silence, give all they’ve got, and are increasingly viewed as disposable employees in the new world of data-driven, strategic talent strategies. This is a trend in HR circles where companies pay their stars like royalty and everyone else like peasants.
Is this really the best we can do?
No, of course not but it’s going to take an army of female business leaders to change the social Darwinism celebrated in most corporations, and create pro-growth cultures in which every employee’s capabilities are valued and intentionally developed.
I spend a great deal of effort working with senior officers to help them see the business value of the women who are stuck in the middle of their organizations. In that process, I have learned what senior leaders really value and what they will pay a premium for. This list is just as valid if you work for a tiny company or a huge one. I have used it to help scores of women change their career trajectory and financial success.
- Become the CEO of Me, Inc. All jobs…and I mean all of them are insecure. You may be getting a W-2 paycheck but your job is still just a “gig.” There is no amount of excellent work that will ensure you have a job with your current employer. I have lived through decades of people losing their jobs due to mergers or divestitures that they have no control over. The wisest way to look at your current job is to behave as if it is a consulting engagement. A successful consultant is constantly connecting their daily work to the CEO strategy and their bosses’ priorities. You do this by verbally communicating that you get “it.” It is what’s strategically most important to the people who control organizational resources and your job opportunities. Make it a point to let everybody know that you get “it.”
- Demonstrate that you understand and make decisions that will add to your employer’s growth and profitability. Advocate for the company’s financial success. Research has shown that employees are judged to be high potential when they consistently verbalize both the financial drivers of the enterprise. This is especially important for women because bias research confirms that most males assume that most females don’t get the big picture and don’t understand what is necessary to profitably grow. (They still unconsciously think your primary job is to be a secretary and get coffee for the smart guys.)
- Take 100% responsibility for your relationship with your boss. IBM’s research shows that people who get ahead are the people who spend the most time with their boss. They also reported that low-power people tend to avoid high-power people because of feeling stressed by the difference in power. Don’t give into that. Fast-rising employees interact with their boss every day! The primary reason this works is that it helps you stay aligned with your boss’ priorities and enables you to demonstrate your capabilities. When talking to your boss demonstrate confidence by using descriptive language rather than emotional language. Talk about what’s really happening and what actions you are taking to make things better. Ask for a raise or promotion when needed or deserved using these techniques from my last blog. Make recommendations with fact-based arguments rather than just voicing your opinions or over-describing the problem. All good consultants are terrific problem solvers.
- Ask for feedback on your performance. Most men are reluctant to give women feedback because they’re afraid they will trigger emotions and raise questions they don’t want to deal with. Research shows that this significantly dampens the opportunities for women because it’s difficult to improve without feedback. The best way to request feedback is to simply ask:
(1) What am I doing that’s adding the most value right now?
(2) What can I improve that would have the most positive impact.
(3) Is there anything I should stop doing?
Google’s internal research confirms that their most outstanding employees ask the boss these questions once a week. It doesn’t take a formal sit-down to have this conversation. If you have it frequently it normally takes 5 to 10 minutes. Imagine how fast your improvement will accelerate if you’ve got a steady stream of actionable feedback. This will also make it easier for your boss to give you more important assignments.
- Tell your boss what your career goals are. Don’t wait for your boss to ask you. Ask for his or her advice and confidently request opportunities that are at the edge of your current capabilities. Let your boss know that you would really value their sponsorship or support in taking on new and higher impact challenges. If you are being overlooked for important assignments, ask what it would take to get them. If you get a vague answer, you probably need a new boss. Remember you are running your career as CEO of Me, Inc.
Not all clients are good clients. Sometimes you have to fire a client to get a better opportunity. And sometimes you have to “fire” your boss to push your career to the next step.
The bottom line.
- The world of work is getting increasingly imbalanced. Don’t expect to be treated fairly or compassionately. You simply have to create your own future.
- There are 5 specific proven strategies that will help you become more valued by your employer. Use them.
- Be prepared to job hop. In consulting, I have found the optimal time for an engagement with one client is 2 to 3 years. After that my impact and contribution seems to be less valued. That same time spent seems to be the new “tour of duty” for ambitious employees. Since we’re finding ourselves working in the jungle, it seems best to swing from tree to tree if you want to climb to the top!
All this may seem like a lot…even overwhelming. But the future of work is going to be very challenging especially for mothers and single mothers. Don’t wait for the world to change. Take charge of your future.