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The career advice you probably didn’t get | Susan Colantuono

Women represent 50 percent of middle management and professional positions, but the percentages of women
at the top of organizations represent not even a third of that number. So some people hear that statistic and they ask, why do we have so few women leaders? But I look at that statistic and, if you, like me, believe that leadership manifests at every level, you would see that there’s a tremendous, awesome resource of leaders who are leading in middle management, which raises a different question: Why are there so many women mired in the middle and what has to happen to take them to the top? So some of you might be some of those women who are in middle management and seeking to move up in your organization. Well, Tonya is a great example
of one of these women. I met her two years ago. She was a vice president in a Fortune 50 company, and she said to me with a sense of deep frustration, “I’ve worked really hard to improve my confidence and my assertiveness and develop a great brand, I get terrific performance evals from my boss, my 360s in the organization let me know that my teams love working for me, I’ve taken every management course that I can here, I am working with a terrific mentor, and yet I’ve been passed over twice for advancement opportunities, even when my manager knows that I’m committed to moving up and even interested in an international assignment. I don’t understand why I’m being passed over.” So what Tonya doesn’t realize is that there’s a missing 33 percent of the career success equation for women, and it’s understanding what this missing 33 percent is that’s required to close the gender gap at the top. In order to move up in organizations, you have to be known for your leadership skills, and this would apply to any of you, women or men. It means that you have to be recognized for using the greatness in you to achieve and sustain extraordinary outcomes by engaging the greatness in others. Put in other language, it means you have to use your skills and talents and abilities to help the organization achieve its strategic financial goals and do that by working effectively with others inside of the organization and outside. And although all three of these elements of leadership are important, when it comes to moving up in organizations, they aren’t equally important. So pay attention to the green box as I move forward. In seeking and identifying employees with high potential, the potential to go to the top of organizations, the skills and competencies that relate to that green box are rated twice as heavily as those in the other two elements of leadership. These skills and competencies can be summarized as business, strategic, and financial acumen. In other words, this skill set has to do with understanding where the organization is going, what its strategy is, what financial targets it has in place, and understanding your role in moving the organization forward. This is that missing 33 percent of the career success equation for women, not because it’s missing in our capabilities or abilities, but because it’s missing in the advice that we’re given. Here’s what I mean by that. Five years ago, I was asked to moderate a panel of executives, and the topic for the evening was “What do you look for in
high-potential employees?” So think about the three elements of leadership as I summarize for you what they told me. They said, “We look for people who are smart and hard working and committed and trustworthy and resilient.” So which element of leadership does that relate to? Personal greatness. They said, “We look for employees who are great with our customers, who empower their teams, who negotiate effectively, who are able to manage conflict well, and are overall great communicators.” Which element of leadership does that equate to? Engaging the greatness in others. And then they pretty much stopped. So I asked, “Well, what about people who understand your business, where it’s going, and their role in taking it there? And what about people who are able to scan the external environment, identify risks and opportunities, make strategy or make strategic recommendations? And what about people who are able to look at the financials of your business, understand the story that the financials tell, and either take appropriate action or make appropriate recommendations?” And to a man, they said, “That’s a given.” So I turned to the audience of 150 women and I asked, “How many of you have ever been told that the door-opener for career advancement is your business, strategic and financial acumen, and that all the other important stuff is what differentiates you in the talent pool?” Three women raised their hand, and I’ve asked this question of women all around the globe in the five years since, and the percentage is never much different. So this is obvious, right? But how can it be? Well, there are primarily three reasons that there’s this missing 33 percent in the career success advice given to women? When organizations direct women toward resources that focus on the conventional advice that we’ve been hearing for over 40 years, there’s a notable absence of advice that relates to business, strategic and financial acumen. Much of the advice is emphasizing personal actions that we need to take, like become more assertive, become more confident, develop your personal brand, things that Tonya’s been working on, and advice about working with other people, things like learn to self-promote, get a mentor, enhance your network, and virtually nothing said about the importance of business, strategic and financial acumen. This doesn’t mean that this advice is unimportant. What it means is that this is advice that’s absolutely essential for breaking through from career start to middle management, but it’s not the advice that gets women to break through from the middle, where we’re 50 percent, to senior and executive positions. And this is why conventional advice to women in 40 years hasn’t closed the gender gap at the top and won’t close it. Now, the second reason relates to Tonya’s comments about having had excellent performance evals, great feedback from her teams, and having taken every management training program she can lay her hands on. So you would think that she’s getting messages from her organization through the talent development systems and performance management systems that let her know how important it is to develop business, strategic and financial acumen, but here again, that green square is quite small. On average, talent and performance management systems in the organizations that I’ve worked with focus three to one on the other two elements of leadership compared to the importance of business, strategic and financial acumen, which is why typical talent and performance systems haven’t closed and won’t close the gender gap at the top. Now, Tonya also talked about working with a mentor, and this is really important to talk about, because if organizations, talent and performance systems aren’t giving people in general information about the importance of business, strategic and financial acumen, how are men getting to the top? Well, there are primarily two ways. One is because of the positions they’re guided into, and the other is because of informal mentoring and sponsorship. So what’s women’s experience as it relates to mentoring? Well, this comment from an executive that I worked with recently illustrates that experience. He was very proud of the fact that last year, he had two protégés: a man and a woman. And he said, “I helped the woman build confidence, I helped the man learn the business, and I didn’t realize that I was treating them any differently.” And he was sincere about that. So what this illustrates is that as managers, whether we’re women or men, we have mindsets about women and men, about careers in leadership, and these unexamined mindsets won’t close the gender gap at the top. So how do we take this idea of the missing 33 percent and turn it into action? Well, for women, the answer is obvious: we have to begin to focus more on developing and demonstrating the skills we have that show that we’re people who understand our businesses, where they’re headed, and our role in taking it there. That’s what enables that breakthrough from middle management to leadership at the top. But you don’t have to be a middle manager to do this. One young scientist that works in a biotech firm used her insight about the missing 33 percent to weave financial impact data into a project update she did and got tremendous positive feedback from the managers in the room. So we don’t want to put 100 percent of the responsibility on women’s shoulders, nor would it be wise to do so, and here’s why: In order for companies to achieve their strategic financial goals, executives understand that they have to have everyone pulling in the same direction. In other words, the term we use in business is, we have to have strategic alignment. And executives know this very well, and yet only 37 percent, according to a recent Conference Board report, believe that they have that strategic alignment in place. So for 63 percent of organizations, achieving their strategic financial goals is questionable. And if you think about what I’ve just shared, that you have situations where at least 50 percent of your middle managers haven’t received clear messaging that they have to become focused on the business, where it’s headed, and their role in taking it there, it’s not surprising that that percentage of executives who are confident about alignment is so low, which is why there are other people who have a role to play in this. It’s important for directors on boards to expect from their executives proportional pools of women when they sit down once a year for their succession discussions. Why? Because if they aren’t seeing that, it could be a red flag that their organization isn’t as aligned as it could potentially be. It’s important for CEOs to also expect these proportional pools, and if they hear comments like, “Well, she doesn’t have
enough business experience,” ask the question, “What are we going to do about that?” It’s important for H.R. executives to make sure that the missing 33 percent is appropriately emphasized, and it’s important for women and men who are in management positions to examine the mindsets we hold about women and men, about careers and success, to make sure we are creating a level playing field for everybody. So let me close with the latest chapter in Tonya’s story. Tonya emailed me two months ago, and she said that she had been
interviewed for a new position, and during the interview, they probed about her business acumen and her strategic insights into the industry, and she said that she was so happy to report that now she has a new position reporting directly to the
chief information officer at her company. So for some of you, the missing 33 percent is an idea for you to put into action, and I hope that for all of you, you will see it as an idea worth spreading in order to help organizations be more effective, to help women create careers that soar, and to help close the gender gap at the top. Thank you. (Applause)

100 Replies to “The career advice you probably didn’t get | Susan Colantuono”

  • I don't disagree that what's presented isn't accurate but it stops very short at where the root cause of the "missing" originates and that is the abysmal job done by most so-called guidance counselors especially at the high school & college levels. IMO they do more harm than good by either their actions or inactions for many students who do not have access to better guidance and mentorships. I received much better career guidance from those already in industry, not within the faux environments of the "education industry", but not one person helped me, as a female of the 1960's & 1970's with a career that had always been 99.9% male dominated [chemical R&D], I had a much harder time than anyone else. I achieved, but it was unnecessarily difficult, and never reached even 30% parity pay-wise with my male counterparts after decades of excellent dedication, service, performance & acknowledgement. Face it, it's still a good-ol'-boy system.  I give you in evidence, the two Bush presidencies, and others.

  • This does not make any sense. Career advice given to men is most likely equaly flawed. I can't imagine that woman receive different career advice compared to men, which she does not rule out. Where is the analysis? What method of research did she use? How big was the research population? This is not science, this is just every day opinions and small talk.

  • Lol – I liked the part where she´s saying your skills or experience doesn matter, if you´re a woman you should be in the leader position. We are in for some bad business if she gets her will through.

  • I think she has the right idea. Stop with the stupid social justice warrior advice and get good at what actually matters.

    Actually judge people on what matters as well, and people (I guess the women they are trying to help) will understand what they need in order to achieve their goals.

    This is good because it should show those women what they need to have been concentrating on the whole time. The kind of things guys are taught growing up playing with other guys.

  • CLUELESS! The best way to get to the top – have Daddy buy the company. That's basic capitalism.
    Daddy can't get you there? Don't sweat it. Your job will be moved to India or China soon anyway, just like his was a couple years back.

  • Duh! That said, the women don't need any help, as they are getting plenty as it is. We have known why there is a gender gap for decades now, and it has little to nothing to do with discrimination. Women make different choices. That's it. 1 on thos choices is to work their way up a corporate structure. That is not the only way to do it. There are hundreds of CEOs that started the dang business. No1 hired them. I have never understood why anyone would want to spent decades trying to work their way up a ladder, when all they really have to do is take a chance and be the person they really want to be.

  • This is basically job advice 101, if you want to move up in the hierarchy, prove that you can do the higher jobs before you are ever offered the job. If you want to be in a job that is mostly focused on major decisions for the companies that you work for, start proposing the types of ideas where people can hear that they are your ideas. If you are the best middle manager at the company who has NEVER shown any capability of doing the types of things upper management does, why would any company want to move you out of that position? They know you are a great middle manager but they have no way of know if you will be any good at upper management because you have not shown that you will be a good upper level manager or executive. So, why should any company risk promoting you? When ever possible, carrier minded people should spend at least 10% of their time working at the job they want, not the job they have. That is true for men and women. You have a much better change for promotion if you are a good middle manager with proven upper management skills then the best middle manager without proven upper management skills.

  • The average man is naturally more goal oriented (think: shopping) and less concerned with feelings as opposed to results than the average woman. This is likely due to our historical roles as the predators and guardians (muscle) while women nurtured our young. We've only been an agricultural species for a relatively short time, so we must keep in mind as society progresses that the genders may have natural tendencies which predispose them to success in certain areas, and this does not necessarily mean that anyone is being suppressed or diminished. The advice thing might be a bit misleading since the advice you get depends in part on what you project. It may be more useful (and less dependent on male attitudes) for women to simply recognize the power of the 'results matter' attitude that men tend to adopt, and make it theirs too (and many do!).    

  • "I helped the woman build confidence and the man learn busines" Well thats beacause any man that wasn't fully confident on himself, and a great communicator, and had total control over his emotional state and how others percieve it, and full understanding over the company and it's methods. Would have been discarded at least 2 steps before in the ladder, and if he ever gave up on something or started to cry or lost one or any deal of importance over one or any personal motivation he would have lost his job or would be pointing pencils.
    He taught each what they needed to learn and have to feel bad because if not some feminist will call him a motherfucking sexist. LMFAO

  • I am male and I have seen this happening in the companies I have worked for. I just didn't notice before, and now I do. 
    I do see that she could have shown more supporting evidence, but apart from that, the negative votes are not deserved. I think they are mainly from people who didn't fully get it. It is an original view on the problem. Also this is not a feminist talk..! In those talks they normally complain about society and a general "gender bias" while she digs into the actual reasons without the easy solution to just blame it on men. Thumbs up

  • There are no women mentors in the corporate world. Women in positions are too buys trying to get higher, than trying to groom assistants, whereas in the male corporate world they do heavy mentoring, with associates etc…

  • If one of the three "elements of leadership" is rated at twice what each of the other two are, what witchery did 33% come from?

  • If you have taken business or marketing classes, you should know that a lot of stuff is very subjective and this kind of talk with very generic bubbles of 'information' is highly common.  I'm not sure it's appropriate as a TED Talk (but, then, I guess that's why it's at TEDx).  That said, this isn't bad advice.  It's extremely pertinent to someone in the business trying to make their way to the top.  Is it a lot of corporate jargon?  Yeah, sure.  But anyone trying to make it to this point needs to jump into it, like it or not.  About the feminism – this is only feminist-colored.  This is good advice for anyone.  Statistics about women's leadership roles aside, anyone should take this advice to heart.  Learn more about your business and its strategy if you want to move up.  Everyone should pay attention to this.

  • how can women not know about the things that bosses actually do or are suppose to do: better the business. How is that not a duh? I'm a women and I have never been told this but it's been a duh from we learning from bosses. If you are going to be given a leadership role then you need to be able to guide people in the direction the business is going and have a vision in line with your bosses of the direction they want….duh…. Obviously it should be mentioned though because some people can't see the obvious.

  • If you listen to all the Ted talks, it seems like all the biggest companies in the world are ran by racist, sexist, psychopathic white men. Go figure xD

  • So the career advice is… be better at climbing the greasy pole?

    How about looking for a career you find fulfilling and leave the greasy pole to the idiots that think climbing a pay scale is success in life.

  • This speakers assumes that 50/50 gender parity in upper management should be everyone's goal and target?  Why? The so called "level playing field"? 

    Why not 50/50 black/white upper management? Why not 50/50 LGBT/straight upper management? 

    If I'm a gay, black man why shouldn't the corporate playing field be tilted on my behalf. rather than for straight white women who are the largest beneficiaries of arbitrary sexual quotas in upper management?

    This video is a great example of how unchallenged crap ideas are easily promoted as innovative, great ideas.

  • All she said was, "bullshit bullshit bullshit, be better than others to move up" #ListenAndBelieve

    Let's get an answer for this paradox… Imagine you want to close the gender gap at the top, and imagine there's a company that has 1 president. If the president is a man there's a "need" to close the "gender gap" but if it's a female, the gap has been closed… LOL so much for gender equality.

  • If women were paid less than men in an equivalent role/position, large companies would only hire women to lower their employment costs. Your salary directly reflects the amount of value you bring to your employer. Period. Here's a question, why don't feminist talk more about gender equality and less about eliminating only the things they dislike?

  • Wtf with the hate for this lady.She's just saying that she noticed some mindsets that might be putting women at a disadvantage and how one might get past it.She never once called men oppressors.I don't know if she's right but it doesn't look like she wants anything radical. Except maybe giving women some info that might make them better leaders.If I was vetting potential leaders in a company I would want to make the most out of my pool of prospects.    

  • I don't understand the comments saying this is some feminist claptrap, if I were a woman I'd be pissed at her for basically saying women don't get to the top because they fail to understand something that is obvious to men

  • And I'm wondering why we just want to always go higher, and higher, and higher. For what? If you are happy where you are… To help building the dream of somebody else? I have the example in my life of somebody who is at the top and who counts every single day to retirement because life is miserable for him at the top. Yes you probably have more money, but careful what you wish for my friends.

  • As well as this is for the gender gap at the top, I would want somebody to adress the issue of the gender gap at the bottom.
    Men rule that place, as well as the most hazardous jobs.
    Work related injuries as well.
    I want someone to talk about that, and how we can make that equal. That's when we will get true equality in the work place.

  • Wait? Men are told the same thing. Why is this about gender? There's no secret society teaching men to do what she's talking about and teaching women something else? She's talking about common sence…. About furthering the company, and not about working to further your own career. That's common sense. Has nothing to do with gender.

  • A fairly complete tableau of "leadership" hot air… "engage the greatness of others"- disney level rubbish. It is well known that the key to leadership is … not known. Its like defining "goodness"- depends for whom, in which circumstances, for which ends

  • So being a go getter is not enough. To make it to the top you also need show people you have a head for business. Who knew? Seriously though, why does the speaker believe that women don't know this? Why would female business people be less aware of the need to display acumen than their male collegues?

  • I have always considered the green box solely as a leadership quality. Leaders don't ask for validation and advice, they see a big picture and they do whatever they can to realise it. She may have seen misunderstanding anecdotally skewed towards women, but I see this in almost everyone I meet. Stop trying to please others.

  • So wait… 50% of middle management are women? So… where is the problem? Unless there are dogs in middle management, that means the other 50% are men. Isn't 50/50 basically the definition of equality?

  • This speaker is saying that women aren't at the top of management because they were not given the right advice. She talks about her friend who has taken all management classes available and didn't succeed.
    Great management people I know didn't need that advice and didn't need to attend all management classes available. I doubt that this is the reason. 

  • Many problems with this video:
    1. Title is irrelevant to the topic
    Content is about women.
    2. Speaker is horrible speaker.
    No intro, bad pitch, nothing
    3. Content is outdated.
    Nobody cares anymore about gender equality, because it is not a big problem anymore. We have other more significant issues today.
    Overall, it sucks!

  • People are promoted to their highest level of incompetence. If someone is good at A, they are promoted to B, if they're good at B, they're promoted to C. But if they suck at C, they stay there, they aren't demoted back down to B. 

  • SHE WAS BEING INFORMATIVE to reach a female audience. I thought this was very informative. So many times I thought what I had learned was more advanced than it actually was in terms of "confidence" and middle – management goals. I am in that 50%, luckily (seeing how the job market is horrific at the moment). But, anything I can hear, read, and see on how to further my understanding of job placement is a win. That said, I am still a bit hesitant about her appearance in this video. Appearance being one of the top things to get you, initially, to a higher level job.  Not saying she has to look any particular way except for maybe a nicer haircut and a better suit.

  • the solution to gender inequality is to behave as if there is no inequality- if you believe that gender holds you back, then It is going to hold you back by blinding you to the real challenges necessary to overcome to climb up.

  • A friend of mine manages a team of people in tech (managing servers). They were considering promoting a woman and an actual quote from my friend's boss was "Well, you know if you promote her we'll have to watch what we say around here"

  • what accounts for the extra 33 percent ?  certainly gender bias. .. But it has been my experience that women in upper management are more difficult to communicate and brainstorm with… For example if I or a male coworker have been brainstorming about some concept for a few days, I would not hesitate to call him at 3am to express a thought… I would feel comfortable in that even though it was an unexpressed permission. In other wards,  calling him or receiving a 3am call would be acceptable if the idea seemed valued. I would never have that level of trust with an upper management woman, nor a co worker who was female.. It just isn't the same..

  • I'm sorry but this seems obvious? Surely you would not have the job in the first place if you did not demonstrate business acumen? I think it's more to do with most women not fitting in to the traditional male business environ of the bars and strip clubs where a great many business deals go down. Also, there is a perception that women are not as ruthless as men, not such prostitutes to profit.

  • It's not like they're specifically not telling women about the 33%. I think in a way (at least from what I've seen) they withhold that part to see who will 'get it' naturally. Those'll be more likely to do well.

  • All the men here in the comments do not seem to understand that to us (the men) this is obvious, because it has been said a million times. But to people who have grown in a whole "different world" (women) this is not the case. Women are being taught different things without people even realizing it. It's quite simple no need to get mad.

  • I think a good counter question, that would help get a full picture of why women AREN'T being given more complete advice, would be: Where are men getting this advice then, and how?

  • Problem is when women put the blame on women, when the absence of women at the top is really due to the typical centuries-old male chauvinism and misogyny mindset men have that is globally prevalent.  Men are about control and keeping women under their dominating crotch.  That's their mindset, and it's everywhere prevalent in the workplace.  It's also a myth that women make up 50% of middle management. 

  • I stopped watching before it reached half of the video. As a male, I don't do sexist. Never. But why women are always superior in everything ? Example: International woman's day and no International man's day ? Why ?

    I believe there is no superior gender or inferior one. We are all human and all gender are at the same priority. Stop being sexist to Men. I kinda fed up with everything that related to gender whining story and talks about how super your gender is.

  • This is an interesting TED topic…I completely agree with the discussion contained.  My disagreement is centering the topic on gender bias.  A modern leader should have an awareness of operating not on a gender basis, but on the qualities of the colleagues working for them.  I feel the topics discussed are applicable to both male and female, and oreiented in the way it was in this discussion, continues to drive and define the gender gap wedge into the workplace envirnment.

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  • I really expected the career advice. Instead I got feminist's bullshit about gender inequality. I'll give one advice: find what's your passion, work hard and you will achieve your goals. It's a common advice, but at least it works no matter what gender you are.

  • This is my favorite TED talk because it's so relevant for women! I watched it months ago, but then couldn't find it when I wanted to share it with other business women…so I'm saving it as a favorite, and if you're reading this, do yourself a favor and watch it too!

  • If we move women up the ladder just because they are women, isn't that gender inequality? I think the correct approach is to equally empower men women and move up whoever is competent regardless of gender.

  • Jordan Peterson brought up the point that one of the reasons why women who work at big law firms he has advised don't hold many top positions or have left them is that they realize those positions are for crazy people who want to do nothing but work ALL OF THE TIME. These women are usually married to men who are at a similar or higher socio-economic level so they have enough money, the insane hours required makes it impossible to have a family, so why would they even want these positions? Men are much more likely to be willing to work the 60-80 hours a week some of these positions require, so competition is going to be tougher for women. Of course there is a gap, it's the same reason there is a gap for commercial fishing, plumbers, electricians, oil rig workers, logging, garbage collection. I certainly don't blame them for not wanting their entire life to be about their job (I wouldn't want that either!), but it always strikes me as odd folks like Susan look elsewhere for a smoking gun.

  • Wow great talk, love the ideas here. I think this missing 33% idea can be spread around to balance gender in upper managemetn 🙂 thank you!

  • Many women are performing very well in the business of show business. Based on my experience, women are perceived as more authentic and thrustable to deal with artistic content. I started a channel for people looking to move in entertainment . Over the last years, majority of people doing the crossover from tradition to creative content world are women.

  • This gender gap stuff is nonsense! Why do people assume that it's only women who are underpaid? My dad is an elevator inspector, but has to work multiple jobs in inspection because one full-time job wouldn't be enough for all of us to live on. And that's just one example out of many of people (men included) who struggle to earn a livable wage. It all has to do with the regulations put in place by the previous administration. No one wanted to hire full-time because the benefits were too expensive for the companies, so potential employees had to suck it up working part time. If people want to earn more, get into a trade or start your own business.

  • Excellent ted talk! She has said a very important and valuable point. Finance, accounting and analysis are very needed for women. Strategy and how to allocate resources properly and effectively to generate revenue.

  • So essentially it's male managers fault that female managers don't know they need business, strategic and financial acumen to be a successful high level manager? Did none of these female managers go to business school? This is business 101. When she said that the panel said this was a given, they are absolutely right. If you don't know that, then you need to take control of your own learning and not wait to just be told stuff.

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