I have sat in the meetings of many companies and listened to management teams debate the promotion of someone. Knowing very well who they would choose, I often challenged their logic and wondered about their conclusions. I’d hear how senior leaders much-admired someone because of their engagement. Rarely was the employees’ ability to do the job considered or put on the table. Most employees who gained promotions had more opportunities than positive attributes, but their “potential” led them to the next level. Even more surprising, the only vote that mattered was one of the person sponsoring them. As long as they were able to attest to the person’s potential, then their peers would follow suit in support. On the contrary, peer employees whom they were competing with, although well versed in their day-to-day work and “go-to people,” and despite everyone in the room having some interaction and attesting to their excellent work. They were overlooked for being anti-social or having too many personal issues. Most, if not all, of these employees, were black women. Although I believe I was the only one to note that fact mentally during the conversation. It was during these meetings where I had revelations about my journey to the table.I went through many transitions to get to a role semi-reflective of my capabilities, and none of what I went through was the standard process. While I thought I was proving myself by being buried in work, instead, I ended up eliminating myself from promotion cycles. Why? Because while my head was buried in file folders, someone else received every opportunity that I was working to be considered for, I succeeded in making myself too busy and never seen. So someone else traveled got promoted received the better bonuses, and they never had to do the work I was doing. This is where the lessons were learned. It is about who you know and how you engage with those parties. I didn’t know the right people and certainly wasn’t making efforts to get to know them beyond the walls of my desk.My manager, I believe, would fight for me in some circumstances in others; I think she thought I was right where I needed to be. Whether I liked it or not, she controlled that to some extent. It took a relationship beyond our regular interactions to understand what was missing and how to improve. What took ten years for me to figure out is summarize in a 5-minute read. Now use it to your advantage:
Don’t share personal struggles
Unfortunately, it is true, the more people know about your external personal life efforts, the more likely they are to come up in conversation. I’ve heard the manager’s question if someone was ready for a promotion because they have so much going on at home. As though the one issue impacts the other, when in fact, their name wouldn’t be an option if they weren’t currently holding down their workload, in addition to handling the home life. Instead of being proud of the person’s ability to maintain a workload and still act as a leader despite home life, it is viewed as though they are one step away from complete failure. The conversation turns to someone who has less responsibility but a known commitment to moving their career. This person is often promoted over the sacrifices of the other employes just because they know little to nothing about the struggles they face, which are, in most cases, very similar to everyone else’s.
Make time for face-to-face
It’s a necessity to make time to see people in different settings. Add a realness to your character. You are more than a person who is at your desk completing task after task and struggling to get through the day. You are a person that laughs, relates, and has stories to tell. Life experience goes beyond what you are good at work or the problems you face every day. There are happy and celebrated moments that make you human, but no one gets to hear about them. Face time can sometimes mean walking with co-workers to grab a coffee or sitting in an area to visit someone. When you make an effort you become more than relatable and accessible to people.
Identify a sponsor
A sponsor is more than a mentor. They are someone that has a seat at the table of which you are looking to join. This person speaks your name in rooms that you cannot go into right now. They suggest you as the potential help for a project you’d probably never know about otherwise. They are a cheerleader at the right time and with the right people. They are essential to your career because they make your introduction before you enter the room. They are your validation even if your work is excellent; no one will care until their peers care.
More about the author
Dr. Amera McCoy is an Industrial-Organizational Psychologist who is the Owner and Founder of McCoy Consulting LLC, an organization that offers a suite of services for businesses and individuals including coaching, writing and workshops.