Learning Curve: Reach beyond your grasp

by Tracy Clayson
Tracy Clayson is director of client development at
In Transit / CPC Logistics Canada. t.clayson@callcpccanada.com

Having spent a fairly long career in business as a boss, leader and a woman, I say this without bitterness: there’s still a long way to go before we can call most industry sectors fair for women.

But remember what I said up front, I’m not bitter. I’m moving through it. And I’m doing that because I can see things getting better, and because personally I have learned some tricks to navigate the waters, from some great and inspiring people along the way.

So today I’d like to offer some suggestions, based on my experience, for women who are able to see their value, articulate it, and get ahead.

1. Get help

As a woman, you should not be bashful about asking for advice from people – male or female – who can unlock critical information that could help you move your career forward.

Learn from those who are successful. Women can do that well. Asking is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of intelligence and strength.

Learn from men who can be your advocates. They are married and have daughters, and they have working wives. Ask them what they did to get ahead and tell them what you hope to achieve. Speak to women you are striving to emulate. They’ll all have some gold to share.

Above all remember: You need help – like everyone who ultimately excels – and you don’t have to feel bad for asking
for it.

2. Set your sights high

Legendary Greek fabulist Aesop said, “The level of our success is limited only by our imagination.”

As you move through your career you must figure out where you’re headed and how you’re going to get there. You’ve got to set your sights on something you can reach. Then you’ve got to reach beyond your grasp.

Making your own way will require you to find your voice. No one’s going to give it to you. Doors don’t open automatically for women.

When I started off in the trucking industry there were explicit pictures on the wall at almost every sales call I took. We’ve come a long way. Today, when I meet people on these calls, they most likely grew up with a working father and mother.

You can’t legislate morality or ethical behaviour, but today there’s more resistance to, and protection from, harassment and other unfair treatment that can hold women back.

3. Demonstrate why you should be included

To get ahead, you must have merits and you must be able to express what they are. For a woman, it’s not necessarily about telling the world you’re better than everyone else (though you may be), it is about being included. And you won’t be included if you don’t speak up.

On this theme, Barbara Corcoran, real estate expert, founder of The Corcoran Group and a television personality – a “Shark” investor on ABC’s Shark Tank – said women sometimes hesitate when it comes to speaking up on salary increases.

“I can tell you, I’ve employed thousands of women over my lifetime. They do not ask for raises unless they absolutely must. And men ask all the time.”

Corcoran recommends scheduling a meeting with your manager, listing the responsibilities you had when you started in your current role and listing those you handle now. Indicate you are happy to have taken on a lot more, but that you should be compensated appropriately. This may not get you the raise, says Corcoran, but it will likely set you up for your next meeting, when you do get it.

While confidence is sometimes criticized as a negative aspect of a woman’s character, there’s really no way around it. Women excel at many things, and if you’re just as good as the next guy you should appear just as confident.

As women, we have a personal responsibility to be intentional in our actions, mindful, genuine, and yes, confident that our personal brand is meaningful and useful. Find your voice – and use it.