Career Watch: How women can get ahead

Q&A: Selena Rezvani

The author of The Next Generation of Women Leaders discusses how women can get to the top in the workplace.

In the course of conducting interviews for your book, what did you learn about what women have to do to advance their careers? First, you can't be naive about the extent to which politics govern the workplace. The women I interviewed found ways to proactively learn the culture and political climate of their organizations, learning how people like to be communicated with, and how and when people launched initiatives that were successful. They solicited information from several parties as they accumulated information, never relying on just one.

Women who make it to the executive ranks also take professional risks before they feel ready for them. The day when we can say "Now I feel ready" is usually too late -- others have claimed the opportunity we wanted. Women executives make it a habit to ask themselves, "What do I need to be comfortable enough to do this?" or "What can the organization do to facilitate my success?"

I also learned that women executives communicate in a specific way. They use emotional intelligence to read people and situations, but they don't use emotions when making a case for something. When building your argument or making a case, said the executives, keep things fact-based, not innuendo- or hearsay-based, using phrases like "The data shows.." and "The facts are..." rather than "I feel...."

Perhaps most important, those women that make it to the top continually ask for what they want at work, rather than waiting to be noticed, rewarded or promoted. They're not afraid that their requests will inconvenience someone or that they will look pushy for asking. The best way to make a request is to figure out where you have leverage -- the value you bring to your employer and the extent to which you're relied upon for your skills.

How do those things differ from what men do? Boys are reared with more of an emphasis on risk-taking and being brave, whereas young girls tend to get positive reinforcement for being nice. As adults, we bring this into the workplace. And for women, it can mean that we're less likely than men to negotiate for what we want and to take necessary risks at work.

The IT industry in particular has adearth of women. Do you have any advice for women trying to distinguish themselves in an extremely male-dominated field? In a field with few women, you need to work harder than most to find mentors you can relate to. First, look within your organization to see who, male or female, has a great brand and reputation. Adopt them as a mentor, ask them how they do it, and look outside the organization as well. I always tell my coaching clients to build a personal board of directors who can help them with different facets of their careers. One might help you with your image, another might help you build your technical skills, yet another may know key contacts in your field. Since so few people actually build a personal board of directors and leverage this team for their advice, experience and breadth of knowledge, doing so will give you an immediate edge on your peers.

IT Job Growth: Down but Not Out

The U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that all IT occupations experienced a growth rate of 36% from 1999 through 2008, compared with 6% for all occupations in the U.S. Not surprisingly, programming jobs were the one dark spot, experiencing a 25% decrease during that period. The BLS is projecting lower rates of growth for most IT occupations for the 2008-16 period, much closer to overall job growth, but with programming moving back into positive territory. Here are the percentage changes in U.S. IT employment from 1999 to 2008, and projections for 2008 to 2016:



Network systems and data communications analysts



Systems software engineers



Application software engineers



Network and systems administrators



Support specialists



Systems analysts



Database analysts



Computer information scientists, research






All other computer-related jobs



All IT occupations



All occupations



Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Matters in IT

CIOs were asked which IT roles had increased or decreased in importance over the past two years. Here are the percentages of respondents who said these roles' importance had "increased" or "significantly increased":

* Business analysis: 70%

* IT strategy and planning: 66%

* Architecture: 66%

* Project management: 65%

* Security: 62%

* Service management: 60%

* IT financial management: 55%

* Client relationship management: 56%

* Business continuity: 55%

* Portfolio management: 50%

* Asset management: 34%

* IT research: 30%

* Human resources (within IT): 20%

Source: Forrester Research Inc.'s 2009 Global IT Staffing Online Survey, with responses from 128 CIOs from Forrester's ongoing IT research panel

'Hello? No, I'm not busy. I'm just at a job interview.'

If you're heading to a job interview, turn off your phone. Taking a call during an interview is one of the gaffes that hiring managers cited most often in a recent CareerBuilder survey about irksome habits of interviewees. Over 2,700 hiring managers responded to the online survey. Here are some of the behaviors that bother them:

* Dressing inappropriately (57%)

* Appearing uninterested (55%)

* Speaking negatively about a current or previous employer (52%)

* Appearing arrogant (51%)

* Answering a cell phone or texting during the interview (46%)

* Failing to provide specific answers (34%)

* Not asking good questions (34%)

Source:, February 2010

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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