Claiming Visibility

I wrote last fall about how essential it is for women to claim their visibility at work. I had a lot of response from readers who thought I’d done a good job of identifying a problem, but wanted suggestions on how to overcome it.

I do, and in the next few weeks I will be sharing them.

I want to start by focusing on the need to articulate your contribution. Women often make the mistake of hoping that, if they work hard and well, people will take notice. As those of us who’ve tried it know, this rarely works.

An example is Ellen I, a young marketing whiz I met when I was delivering a leadership program for women engineers at Sun Microsystems. Ellen prided herself on being a connector in the company, someone whom others sought out for advice and counsel. She was astonished when during a performance review her boss critiqued her for not having strong relationships in the company.

How could he think that? Ellen pondered the question. And then she realized: he thought it because she had never told him any differently. He didn’t have access to her email. He didn’t sit outside her office. How would he know how many people she talked to every day?

She decided she would start giving her boss a weekly update on all the people she had been in touch with. At first she feared he would think she was wasting his time, but he considered it useful information. “He saw it as strengthening him,” said Ellen. “So of course he was interested.”

It seems simple, but articulating her contribution jumpstarted Ellen’s career. Being explicit about the value she added, rather than hoping or expecting to be noticed, gave her a power she’d never had—an authentic power based on what was best about her.

Next week: Enlisting advocates