Valerie De Maria
Valerie Di Maria

Today, enterprises in every industry are finally taking a more deliberate approach to promoting women and naming them to boards. It’s about time!

Now that better opportunities are presenting themselves, it’s never been more important for women to ensure they’re setting themselves up for success. There’s been a good deal of attention focused on what companies are or should be doing to get to 50/50 gender balance. But what can women do to help propel this positive momentum?

Having had C-Suite roles in major corporations such as GE, Motorola and Willis Towers Watson, I know firsthand it’s a challenge making a difference in traditional corporate, male-dominated cultures. But, as Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

To be more empowered, here’s what we should stop doing:

1. Apologizing. Women often take responsibility for everything bad that happens, even if they are not directly at fault. Take “I’m sorry” out of your business vocabulary. Offering solutions or sharing lessons learned are much more effective ways to deal with a negative outcome.

2. Being risk averse. We don’t have to have all the knowledge and all the expertise to be the best person for that next promotion or assignment. Have confidence in the experience and intellect you have and trust yourself to succeed.

3. Using qualifiers when we speak. “You probably already thought of this…” “I’m not sure this is a good idea…” “This may be off-base, but…” These are not effective ways to engage leaders or teammates in listening and truly considering what you have to say. Frame ideas in a proactive, positive way: “I think this would work…and here’s why…”

4. Giving too much credit to others. Often women are so good at acknowledging their team, they leave themselves out of the equation. Continue to recognize the good work of others but lead with your own contributions. Learn how to brag in a way that puts the spotlight on results achieved and how you got there.

5. Passing on opportunities for external exposure. Most companies are looking for their female leaders to represent them with their myriad audiences. Work with your communications team to proactively identify speaking opportunities and media interviews that move your organization’s interests forward and establish you as a thought leader.

6. Always staying in your office to work. Get out! Spending time relationship building with key people in your company, industry and function is extremely valuable. Having lunch at your desk while you diligently work may not be the optimum way to move projects and agendas forward.

7. Walking into meetings cold. One of the best ways to be an active, smart participant in a meeting is to prepare. Get the agenda in advance and spend time getting up to speed on the topics. Check that day’s news to identify anything relevant. Think in advance what ideas you may have and write them down… or at the very least, have two or three astute questions you can ask. Comment as an overall business person and do not limit yourself to remarks directly related to your specific function.

8. Sitting on the sidelines. Don’t shy away from the major players in a meeting. Claim the chair next to them. Often there is a second ring of chairs around the conference table. Do you want to sit there or at the grown-up table?

9. Thinking having a coach is a negative thing. The best and brightest do not get there on their own. Welcome internal and external coaching to help identify areas for development and techniques for professional growth. We’ve seen it make a positive difference at your next performance review.

10. Being hyper-critical. You are not perfect. Neither is anyone else. If you make a mistake, learn from it and move on. Don’t dwell on adverse conditions or agonize over something you did wrong. Having negative energy is defeatist and will not set the stage in a helpful way for the future. Consider this advice from Oprah Winfrey: “Think like a queen. A queen is not afraid to fail. Failure is another stepping stone to greatness.”

By being aware of non-productive behaviors, we can eradicate them and focus on positive ways to present ourselves better. And, let’s help each other. Offering constructive feedback to our female colleagues is a great thing to do. By taking control over our own attitudes and actions, we will be in a better position to improve our contributions and our careers.


Valerie Di Maria is principal at the10company, a women-owned strategic PR firm in New York. It has developed VOICES, a leadership and communications coaching program for female executives.