When it comes to applying for promotions, I’ve heard more than once the cautionary tale that companies only want one woman at the top at a time. But this idea that you have to out-maneuver other female candidates is a sad mistruth, and perhaps the single, greatest misconception women have about success.
In my experience, I’ve often found that the most successful women are also the most willing to help others out. And while I received plenty of bad advice in my career, I’ve also been fortunate enough to find plenty of female encouragement and mentorship.
I’ve had two types of female mentors: those who nurtured and put an arm around me to pull me along, and those who, perhaps more helpfully, gave me a proverbial kick and pushed me to work harder and aim higher. I try to do the same when I mentor other women, because the more we help each other, the more female leadership we’ll see emerge. And the more women there are in the C-suite, the greater chance we have of impacting change and leveling the playing field.
Since taking on the role of global CEO, I’ve made it a personal goal to encourage women across the agency to do exactly this: to build each other up, and to act like the leaders they are. I’ve pushed my colleagues to open up salary conversations, ask for promotions, and even design entirely new roles for themselves. Jen Smith, now our global creative director, is perhaps my favorite example. As our Maxus UK head of planning, Jen built a creativity training program for the agency—showing not just her creative potential, but her value and leadership potential, as well.
Soon after, Jen devised and suggested we elect a global creative director—and, being the confident, clever woman she is, knew she was just the right person to fill this role. This is the kind of talent and assurance we need to foster as female leaders. Across the board, women shouldn’t just be asking for promotions—we should be creating new roles and opportunities to lead.
Beyond helping and encouraging each other, it is also important to help and encourage yourself. Success is a state of mind, and if you don’t allow yourself to enjoy your current role (and pat yourself on the back for the work you’ve put in to get there), you’ll be miserable. Remember that a positive mindset and a great sense of resilience are both crucial to continuing to grow and progress in your career.
Outside of the office, be sure to find something that allows you to get out of your own head a bit, as well. Remind yourself that there is an entire world that exists outside of the promotions and politics of your workplace. No matter how great (or overwhelming) your responsibilities become, don’t allow them to over-burden you. I was once told to “carry responsibility lightly,” and to do this with grace and charm and calm. I’d encourage all women to carry success the same way.
Of course, at the end of the day, there is no “magic secret” to landing a top role. There is no passcode or God-given right for anyone to be in the C-suite (or in any role, for that matter). You’ve earned that seat at the table, and you mustn’t forget it. Lead confidently, and inspire other women to do the same.