​How to succeed as a millennial woman in business

Friday, October 14, 2016

By Alexandra Dunn, Ph.D. candidate in Organizational Science
(Article originally published in the Charlotte Business Journal as part of the #NextGenCLT Series)

I had the opportunity to attend the recent #NextGenCLT event and I was not disappointed.

As a woman millennial finishing my dissertation and studying business, I was excited to hear the four female panelists discuss strategies for success and how to take advantage of opportunities for growth for millennial women in business. The discussion was multifaceted, thoughtful, and sparked future conversations.

On mentors:

    Do not be afraid to approach people and do not be afraid of someone saying no. Show curiosity, be eager to learn, have vulnerable conversations, and ask for feedback.
    For those interested in a more formal process, search for professional development or executive coaches and look at what professional organizations in your specific area of expertise have to offer.

On the confidence gap between women and men:

    Be prepared and take advantage of a range of experiences.
    Find ways to move past the gap: have quiet confidence, display strong non-verbal cues, and remind yourself that someone invited you to the table for a reason.
    Be aware of your speech habits that could lead others to question your self-confidence. Stop apologizing when it is not necessary and avoid beginning questions or requests with apologies (e.g., “I know you are busy, but…;” “sorry to ask, but….”).

On working in a male-dominated field:

    Change your mindset. Take this as an opportunity, not an obstacle. Embrace being a woman and realize that this sets you apart and gives you a chance to stand out.
    #GirlTribe: Support your fellow women in the workplace. Do not bring them down.
    Do not stand in your own way: Be aware of your environment, recognize when a change needs to be made, communicate effectively (consider your tone, framing, and personalize your approach to each relationship).

On building a personal brand:

    When you first meet people, give them a glimpse of who you are, be outgoing, share a story they will remember.
    Own your differences and do not try to fit in with everyone else in the room.
    Focus on your image and network. Figure out what your value proposition is and be consistent.

On hard lessons learned:

    Be true to what you stand for and make sure that guides how much you trust people.
    Don’t dwell on perfectionism. It is better to fail fast than to watch something sink slowly.
    Learn to say no. Saying “no” signals that you are managing expectations appropriately and managing your own time (you are responsible for creating your own boundaries).
    Figure out what you care about and respect that. If you do not make space for your life, others will not either. Do not wait for someone else to make that space for you.

The panel ended with an interesting conversation about the future of women in the workplace. We discussed how future generations are likely to value flexibility, put happiness first, and potentially value different things than the traditional corner office and corporate career.

It is an exciting time for women in business as they continue to break down barriers, figure out how to effectively navigate their careers, and gain confidence in their skills and abilities.

It was energizing, stimulating, and inspiring to be surrounded by women who are focused on bettering themselves and other women, developing as a professional, and building their personal brand and expertise. While we often hear about the challenges and barriers that women may face, this panel was unique.

These women were not worried about the challenges — they were able to flip the challenges on their heads and turn them into opportunities. The balance between assertiveness, confidence and empathy was clear, and they have effectively used this balance to become successful in their respective fields.

You always have choices — you can choose to take the easy road or challenge yourself to grow and reach new goals. Choose your path wisely.

What would you do if you knew you could not fail? Now go out there and make that happen.

Alexandra Dunn is a Ph.D. candidate in organizational science at UNC Charlotte. She is the graduate assistant of the Women in Business Initiative in the Belk College of Business at UNC Charlotte.The Belk College of Business at UNC Charlotte is the academic partner of #NextGenCLT.