Wouldn’t it be nice if someone handed you a leadership training program, custom-built for your individual strengths and career aspirations?
As it turns out, there’s a company that does exactly that, and it’s called WOMEN Unlimited. They partner with large corporations to provide long-term development programs for high-potential women by focusing on mentoring, education and networking.
I recently had a chance to speak with Rosina Racioppi, their president and CEO, about how their programming helps women have more success at work, and what every woman can do to to influence positive outcomes for both herself and her organization.
Over 12,000 women have gone through one of WOMEN Unlimited’s programs in the last 23 years. Racioppi noted that after completing the program, 70% of women are promoted or take on expanded responsibilities in their organization. Companies are subsequently able to retain 85 to 90% of the women that attend their programs, typically for five or more years.
“Our programs are focused on those key inflection points that become problematic as women look to advance their careers. They’re not getting the feedback and guidance that their male counterparts get,” said Racioppi. “Our role is to help women find solutions to that issue by creating relationships that help them counteract the barriers that might be present for them.”
Racioppi shared her advice for how women can take career development into their own hands. This is the important groundwork that sets you up for success at the negotiation table when it’s time to ask for that promotion.
1. Understand your strengths — and your passions
“During the course of our program, we help women determine what, of all their competencies and strengths, are the ones that she truly enjoys?” asks Racioppi. “What are you drawn to, and how does that help you and your company become successful?”
Being self-aware is key to advocating for yourself. You must be able to articulate your strengths before you can take credit for them and use them to your advantage. It’s even better if you know which strengths are also passions — just because you’re good at something doesn’t necessarily mean you enjoy it.
2. Advocate for your own development
“I’ve seen that men are more vocal about their development than women,” says Racioppi. “You should be speaking with your manager about your aspirations on an ongoing basis. It could be as simple as saying ‘I’m interested in being director of the tax department. I’ve done X, Y and Z. What else do you feel would be helpful for me in preparation for that role?’”
If this advice sounds like you’re really just asking for more work, Racioppi’s take is that if you don’t ask, you don’t know what your manager is really thinking. Once he or she responds, “you can say, ‘OK, I can work on these three things. I also heard of X development program, and it would help me achieve some of the other items on your list.’”
3. Ask for feedback
“Asking for feedback means you’re asking for support,” says Racioppi. “When you ask for feedback, people become more aware of where you want to go and are more forthcoming in giving you the guidance and insight you need to be successful.”
She also offers one note of caution: sure, it’s easy to take feedback on areas you agree you need to develop. But what if your manager tells you that you need to be a more effective communicator, and you think you’re already a great communicator?
“It’s not about completely remaking your competency,” says Racioppi. “It’s about understanding that the communication skills that allowed you to be successful as a tactical manager are not the same skills that are going to give you success as an executive. How can you evolve your competency in a way that's going to work for you and your organization?”
This post originally appeared in Women@Forbes, where Alexandra Dickinson is a contributor. She writes about how to use a negotiation mindset to achieve your goals.