Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

Female leaders are taking non-traditional career paths to succeed

A woman uses her mobile phone at an office building in Tokyo July 21, 2015. Two in five Japanese firms plan to boost capital spending this business year, and more than a third of those say it is because of rising demand, a Reuters poll showed, pointing to a pickup in confidence about the economy. Picture taken July 21, 2015. REUTERS/Toru Hanai  - GF10000165729

Female leaders recommend changing industries to achieve success. Image: REUTERS/Toru Hanai

Avery Blank
Contributor, Forbes
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A study released by Cigna on women in leadership found that 86 percent of female business leaders credit their current position and advanced skill sets to non-traditional career changes. That is, moving up the ladder or taking your ‘expected’ role may not be the way to reach your goal and advance in your career. Consider these five ways to open yourself up to new, less traditional opportunities to becoming a leader:

1. Identify a skill you want to develop.

Eighty six percent of the Cigna study respondents recommend working outside of your skill set. As you rise in your career, the more you will manage and oversee the work of others. This means you have to know more about many things.

If you are a scientist, consider developing your project management skills. If you are a project manager at a technology company, consider learning how to code. When you develop multiple skills, you are better able to communicate with other professionals in the workplace, which is critical to advancing in your career.

2. Go for the work, not the glamour.

Nearly eight in 10 respondents of the study report taking a less glamorous job to advance. Some roles hold prestigious titles, and some roles require you to be public-facing and travel to meet important clients. But if these roles will not lead you to where you want to be in your career, they are not worth your time. Focus on the substance, not superficialities. Ask yourself what responsibilities are going to support your goals, not boost your ego.

Have you read?

3. Change industries.

Eighty six percent of respondents advise changing industries to get ahead. Sometimes you hit roadblocks in your current role. Change it up. Many skills are transferable and apply in other fields. Identify and communicate your transferable skills and experience. Don’t feel wedded to one industry.

Image: Cigna

4. Have a mentor who can open you to new ideas.

In the Cigna study, seven in 10 respondents say their success was made possible by the mentorship of other female leaders, and 90% have had at least one mentor throughout the course of their career. Success rarely happens in a vacuum, and you are not better or smarter by trying to do things on your own.

Asking for and receiving help is not a weakness. Support strengthens you and your chances of reaching your goal. Identify a person you want to learn from, and show an interest in them and how they got to where they are. Ask questions, and share your goals. Open yourself up to new information.

5. Share your interest in an opportunity, or create the opportunity.

Don’t underestimate the power of telling a person of your interest in a role. If they do not know you exist or that you are interested in a role, they may not think of you for the opportunity.

Raise your hand. Say, “I’m interested,” even in roles you may not check all the boxes, yet. Raise your hand for challenges and stretch roles. Just because you have yet to do something does not mean you can’t do it and does not mean others believe you aren’t up for the opportunity. Get outside your comfort zone.

Also, if there is a role you want to take on that does not currently exist, share your idea. You have the power to create opportunities. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.

Consider the less expected path, and create opportunities for yourself. Sometimes you have to ignore what is usually done or what you think you are supposed to do. Don’t become a cog in a wheel. Think for yourself and thrive.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Equity, Diversity and InclusionLeadershipEducation and Skills
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