When you’re the only woman in the room

Being the only woman takes adjusting and fortitude

After years of toil, sweat and long hours, you’ve finally reached your goal, and are a top executive—perhaps the chief executive—in your company. You deserve to feel proud for all you’ve achieved. Not everyone has the talent, intelligence, determination and work ethic to succeed to the level you have. And, though some closed-minded detractors might have tried to place you in a box because you’re a woman, you paid them no mind and exceeded everyone’s expectations. At last you’re in a position to be surrounded by true peers.

Except now that you’re part of a select group, you see that those peers have one thing in common that you don’t: they’re all men. According to Fortune magazine, only 5 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are female, while only 7 percent of executives at Fortune 100 companies are women. You quickly learn that while climbing the corporate ladder comes with a specific set of challenges, staying atop the ladder presents a different set. Here are some tips to help you:

  1. See the big picture

    You earned your spot in the room—no one handed it to you. Don’t forget what got you to this point: hard work; talent; and intelligence. So don’t be afraid to share your ideas, to speak up confidently. You won’t win every time, but that’s o.k. You want to be a part of every important discussion. Studies show that diverse companies perform better, so embrace that whenever you need to find extra strength.

  2. Create a community of like-minded people

    Remember, no one succeeds alone. That’s probably even more true when you’re the boss than it is when you’re a rising star. Find people like you—those who share your work ethic, your values, and even your sense of humor—to bond with inside and outside of the office. Also, pay attention when your colleagues make a point of crediting women whose work had been overlooked. Nurture a relationship with co-workers like that.

  3. Focus on excellence, not perfection

    It’s common for any minority in the workplace to push harder, in particular if the person is the sole representative of a given affinity group. Whether your peers and bosses hold you to a higher standard—and certainly that is true in many offices—you likely hold yourself to the highest possible standard. But remember, no one is perfect, so the goal should be excellence, not mistake-free work. Even the likes of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet suffered setbacks. They didn’t let it define them, and you shouldn’t either.

  4. Recognize bias—and hold your head high

    Especially during these times, it’s important to be able to recognize and avoid stereotypes, labels and inflammatory language. If a situation has gone too far, speak up if you feel comfortable, or don’t engage, yet file it away for a future conversation.

  5. Practice self-care

    This isn’t the time to ignore your emotional, physical and mental needs. Try to make sure you get enough sleep, exercise and eat healthy. Just as important, make sure you have a strong support system in place. Not only does your trusted circle have your back, they can offer perspectives you need during stressful times.

Judy Smith advises Presidents, celebrities, Fortune 500 companies, and was even the real-life inspiration for Scandal’s Olivia Pope. In other words, when it comes to solving problems large and small, she’s the best. She can help you face—and overcome—the toughest challenges in your professional and personal life, so you can unleash your full potential.

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