Progress to the Next Level in Your Career: Mission Possible

The McKinsey & Company Women in the Workplace 2023 Report reveals that women are progressing to the next level in their careers – advancing into C-suite level positions.

While there is a sustaining upward movement for some women from individual contributors to management positions, there is a drop in advancement for Black women in the management pipeline.

This decline increases the gap the “broken rung” creates and affects the capabilities to develop and enjoy a thriving career.

Many factors contribute to career advancement challenges, some that are neither within the individual nor the organization’s direct control.

For instance, I am a Baby Boomer who grew up in rural Mississippi through the 60s and 70s. 

I am nine of nine siblings, amongst the first generation to attend college and the first within my family to earn undergraduate and advanced degrees.

My parents were laborers without the educational opportunities and exposure to help me launch a corporate career proactively.

So, I realized that achieving my vision of career success required grit, gumption, and grace. Moreover, hope, confidence, and a determination to leave a positive mark in this world filled this first grader’s school day picture – and these continue today.

Mining Nuggets from the McKinsey & Company Research

Organizations can (and in good conscience should) facilitate equitable professional development and career advancement opportunities.

Yet, managing what is within your scope and influence is essential.

Organizational Opportunity

Create an environment that affords professional success to everyone.

What does that look like?

Recognize that individuals bring their cultural richness and life experiences to the workplace. That means giving space and extending consideration for diversity in thoughts, ideas, speech patterns, life experiences, and even behaviors. 

Everyone will not be the same.

Differences are a competitive advantage as dissimilarities birth some of the best work outcomes.

Individuals should not feel compelled to code-switch or adopt a different persona to fit into informal prevailing norms – not to confuse this with aligning with company values and necessary operating principles.

Leaders can create a culture that affords the best opportunity for development and growth. Begin with a few micro-steps:

✅ Provide space for women to communicate their career aspirations without being perceived negatively as too ambitious, assertive, or aggressive. Invite the conversation and hold space for an open discussion.

✅ Offer objective, sincere insights about strengths, challenges, and growth opportunities. 

✅ Nurture leadership potential. Collaborate to identify leadership behaviors to work on and provide suggestions to incorporate into future actions.

Personal Opportunity

Pay attention to professional relationships.

I interviewed an early career professional to gain insight into how she successfully manages her career. A noticeable differentiator is recognizing the importance of quickly establishing herself as a solid performer and the need to develop relationships with her colleagues – management and peers – early. 

She recognizes there will likely be a need to collaborate with them at some point, or if something goes off course with her work, she can rely on the credits in her relationship account to cover any grace withdrawals. In other words, she will not go bankrupt in the relationship, and there will be automatic relationship overdraft protection.

Building, mining, and leveraging (giving and getting) business relationships is essential. Solid performance is a necessary cornerstone, yet professional relationships, including sponsors and mentors, are the binding agent that holds things together and opens the door to advancement opportunities.

The mantra I grew up with was, “Work hard, keep your head down, and stay out of trouble. Someone will notice, and you’ll get ahead.” 

While sage advice, it was practical but not all-sufficient. 

It takes more.

Professional relationships are a crucial element.

You are empowered to develop and sustain a network of professional relationships, realizing that every place you find yourself is not necessarily the right fit.

Find your place. Build your community. Fashion your future.

Want help? Contact us.

Lillian Davenport, SPHR, SHRM – SCP, CTACC, Principal, End View Solutions, LLC

Lillian Davenport is a coach, consultant, and women’s leadership strategist. Her leadership program, Maximize Her LeadershipSM, guides women in bringing together their talents, strengths, and executive presence to experience a thriving career.

Lillian’s career as a human resources leader includes roles at JPMorgan Chase & Co., Woodforest National Bank, and American International Group, Inc. (AIG), where she leveraged employee relations, and diversity, equity, and inclusion expertise in leadership development.