While much has been learned in the past 30 years about the value women create for organizations, recent research indicates that women are still facing significant barriers to gender equality in the workforce and to advancement into senior leadership roles. While career journeys are fraught with challenges for both genders, women frequently experience unique roadblocks, such as gender bias and stereotypes, that are difficult to overcome and extract a big price both personally and professionally. So how can women become better equipped to thrive despite these challenges?
A 2012 study that involved interviews with 250 senior female leaders by McKinsey & Company discovered that resiliency is one of the most important qualities that contribute to women’s success. In essence, resiliency—the ability to successfully rebound from difficult experiences—is essential for women to thrive and prosper in the face of career challenges.
When faced with difficulties, do you focus on merely surviving, or do you choose to grow? The ability to maintain your resiliency and thrive in the midst of adversity is not a given. Rather, it is a choice. Women who make that choice are more likely to be transformed by the challenges they face. By building resiliency, women can create a positive trajectory for their career, one that is accompanied by growth, success, and satisfaction.
Fortunately, resiliency is a skill that can be developed by taking specific actions. Based on our interviews with executive coaches and with women who faced career challenges, we identified six resiliency strategies:
- Strengthen support networks. Resilient people cultivate and maintain support networks that function like safety nets when they face challenges. Such a network includes your personal confidantes as well as trusted professional colleagues from your organization, profession, and industry.
- Clarify purpose. An authentic vision and clear purpose help us maintain our perspective and build optimism and hope. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech is a powerful example of a compelling vision that inspired the social justice movement of the 1960s and helped restore the resiliency of activists who had faced dark days and setbacks.
- Build self-awareness. Just as a thermostat helps regulate the temperature in an office, self-awareness helps people self-manage their thoughts and behaviors. When a thermostat detects the temperature is too hot or cold, it prompts action to regain balance. Resilient people function in much the same way. Without self-awareness, it’s impossible to realize you may need to take specific actions to build your resiliency.
- Enhance self-care. Psychological resiliency is rooted in physical resiliency. If you are exhausted, over-caffeinated, and eating an unhealthy diet, your levels of the stress hormone cortisol will increase, and your mood and motivation will decrease. Resilient people take deliberate action to maintain their self-care through diet, exercise, and sleep.
- Actualize strengths. Resilient people know what they are good at, and develop and tap into these strengths. As a result, they are often better equipped to assert themselves and their ideas confidently and powerfully.
- Broaden coping skills. People who are resilient develop and practice multiple coping strategies to navigate challenges, such as reframing failure as a learning opportunity. In essence, when you are resilient you are better able to quickly navigate strong emotions, create a plan to move forward, and achieve more successful outcomes.
These six resiliency strategies can be used proactively before you experience career challenges to build your internal resiliency resources or when you are trying to get back on track. They can be used to overcome both the large and small challenges that occur as you navigate your career. Depending on your circumstances, you may only need to focus on specific strategies.
By making the choice to grow from challenges and using these six resiliency strategies, you can create a thriving career. How do you build your resiliency?
Kevin Nourse, PhD, and Lynn Schmidt, PhD, have more than 20 years of experience helping women and men achieve career success. They are experts in the field of leadership development and provide leadership strategies to individuals, teams, and organizations. Their passion for women’s issues led them to co-author Shift Into Thrive: Six Strategies for Women to Unlock the Power of Resiliency, which will be published in summer 2016. Kevin and Lynn will be facilitating a webcast for ATD on August 25, 2016, based on their upcoming book.