How Successful Women Get Promoted To The Executive Suite
By Melody Wilding
You’re the hard worker that everyone on your team loves. You’re regarded as a subject matter expert and respected among your peers.
So why aren’t you getting promoted?
Many highly successful women find themselves in this exact predicament. They want to make an a bigger impact in their careers, but they aren’t sure what steps to take to reach the next level.
Enter: Stacy Mayer. Mayer is a certified executive coach who helps powerhouse women finally get the recognition they deserve and is author of the new book, Promotions Made Easy: A Step-by-Step Guide to the Executive Suite.
Hailing from a high-stress hedge fund background, Mayer knows what it’s like to want to advance your career without burning out, yet wonder why you’re still under-appreciated and underpaid.
In this interview, Mayer discusses strategies female professionals can use to land their next promotion, and the one after that.
Melody Wilding: What inspired you to write this book? Is there a personal story that led you to writing it?
Stacy Mayer: There are two major trends happening in the corporate world right now–The Great Resignation and an emphasis on Diversity in Leadership. I believe now more than ever women need the tools to get themselves promoted into executive leadership.
According to the most recent McKinsey Women in the Workplace report, we know that one in three women are considering downsizing or leaving the workforce entirely. And for the remaining two-thirds they are getting bombarded with extra work and more responsibility. They want to transition into the higher ranks of leadership but instead they are finding that they are more in the weeds than ever and they’re not enjoying their work.
Add to that returning to the office and they are at the point where they can either take charge of their career or leave. One of the things I remind women is that “your company needs you in the C-Suite more than you need them.”
The second thing happening in the world is that thankfully a lot of organizations now value diversity in leadership, at least on paper. They say that they want more women, more women of color, in the C-Suite yet, then they also say that they can’t find qualified candidates, and I say, “Hello, they’re all right here. I coach them every single day.”
Wilding: What’s the first thing women need to do if they want to be promoted into executive leadership at their company?
Mayer: Realize that a promotion is not a reward for your hard work.
Most corporate women expect to be rewarded for working hard, and they believe this because earlier on in their careers, it was true.
Once they realize that a promotion to higher level positions is no longer a reward for their hard work, but is instead something they actively go out and get, then they can do something different. They can pull themselves out of the weeds, speak more strategically, manage up to the leadership team, communicate at a higher-level, and build executive-level relationships. That allows them to show the executive leadership team that they are in fact ready for those higher-level-leadership positions.
Wilding: You advocate that women leaders should “stop doing what they’re good at” in order to get promoted. Can you explain?
Mayer: High-achieving women often rely too much on our subject matter expertise. You’ve heard of the glass ceiling that we have to shatter in order to transition into higher-level executive positions, right? I actually see it as a very dark, gloomy ceiling that is very obvious to us. I call it the Subject Matter Expert Ceiling.
The thing that you’re so good at, that subject matter expertise that only you can do, is keeping you from having a seat at the table. I had a client who was told by her boss that she could not be promoted because he had nobody else to do her job. We worked on a path to show her executive team that she had a successor, and shortly afterwards they promoted her.
So the first thing that I want you to do is to stop doing exactly what you’re good at. Ask yourself: ‘How can I offload some of this area of expertise to somebody else so that I can get out of the weeds and really start to make a greater impact?’
When you do that, you’re going to see where you bring the most value to your organization, you’re going to start to insert yourself into those higher-level leadership conversations, and your career is going to grow and grow and grow.
Wilding: How do women become more strategic communicators so they can be seen as “leadership material?”
Mayer: Perception is reality.
If your boss doesn’t see you as an executive leader, it’s because of a perception gap. It’s not because you’re not qualified to be an executive leader. It’s actually just the opposite. You’re incredibly qualified, but other people don’t know that you’re ready for those higher-level leadership positions.
The process of shifting perception starts with your communication, and you can begin communicating differently today. The easiest place to start is with your weekly check-ins with your boss. Think back to your last one-on-one. How much of the conversation did you spend speaking about your subject matter expertise? Put a number on it.
Now the next time you speak with your boss you are going to shift that number by five percent. Before you go into the details of the conversation, you are going to talk about the bigger vision for your project. You are going to give a high level overview. That’s it.
Women who are seen as executive leaders get promoted into executive positions. So when you start communicating and thinking like an executive leader instead of a subject matter expert, you get promoted. It can be that simple.
Wilding: What are some ways to build trust with senior leaders in your organization? Why is it important to do so?
Mayer: The old paradigm of women’s leadership is to find a single advocate or sponsor at your organization to support you. But putting your career into the hands of one person is challenging for a number of reasons. In Promotions Made Easy, I lay out a much more effective process: 15-Minute Ally Meetings.
15-Minute Ally Meetings are short, usually virtual meetings with a member of the leadership team. It’s a process you can use to meet with multiple stakeholders all across the organization and build incredibly powerful relationships with them – one person at a time, 15 minutes at a time.
Part of the reason why I created this process was because I was hearing from a lot of women who were being left behind at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020 because they were no longer able to connect with executive leaders.
Before the pandemic, they were relying on bumping into executive leaders in the hallway or chatting before a meeting. But once everyone began working remotely, this was no longer possible.
Plus the truth is accidentally bumping into someone isn’t a promotion strategy. It’s an accident that happens. So instead it’s important to deliberately manage your relationships with the entire leadership team.
Wilding: Sharing your accomplishments is key to getting promoted to higher positions. How can women do this in a way that feels authentic?
Mayer: Stop trying to share your accomplishments and instead build relationships with executives. Ask yourself: What matters to me? Why do I have the job that I have? How do I want to grow my team? What are some things that my team is working on that I’m really excited about?
Then start sharing these ideas in your 15-Minute Ally Meetings. As you begin sharing your bigger purpose with executives on a regular basis, they are going to start getting behind what you’re saying, and they’re going to want to advocate for you.
This process also allows you to speak about your accomplishments in an authentic way, because you are simply sharing what you care about inside of your normal, everyday conversations. It’s fun and it works.
Wilding: Anything else you want readers to know?
Mayer: Promotions can be easy, but there is a reason that promotions have felt so hard for you up until now: you’re being given bad advice.
You have to remember that the agenda of your boss and your organization is not to get you promoted. It’s to make you a better leader. So they’re telling you to “keep doing what you’re doing” or “wait until the next promotion cycle”. But, you have to start deliberately manage your career instead.
And to be clear, your boss isn’t always trying to sabotage your career. But they may also be busy trying to advance their own. So it’s the responsibility of each one of you to begin to own your careers. And once you do that, you get advanced, you get noticed, and you start to be able to make that bigger level of impact at our organizations.