When it comes to career growth, women face many challenges both personally and professionally. Between workplace & societal pressures, home life responsibilities, and lack of representation in leadership, prioritizing your career goals as a woman can seem like a pipe dream.
It doesn’t have to be though!
There are effective resources and strategies for professional development for women out there. As women, we can sometimes let outside opinions influence our self-confidence & assertiveness, particularly in the workplace.“There will be people who say to you, ‘You are out of your lane’. They are burdened by only having the capacity to see what has always been instead of what can be. But don’t you let that burden you.” – Kamala Harris Click To Tweet
It’s important that women feel empowered to prioritize their professional development and become their best professional selves. In order to do just that, there are some amazing resources & strategies you can utilize to take your career growth to the next level.
Let’s explore why professional development for women is so vital and learn about the strategies and resources available to support them along their career path.
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The Importance of Professional Development for Women
Before we explore the importance of professional development for women specifically, let’s first take a step back and define the meaning of professional development itself. Professional development is the process of obtaining new skills that will positively & directly impact your performance and career pathing in the workplace. These skills can be gained through career training, workshops, industry conferences, mentorship, certificate programs, and independent research. Additional examples include seeking career advice for women and reading professional development books and professional development newsletters. The ongoing goal of professional development is to continually expand your knowledge and sharpen your professional skill set.
Professional development for women shares the same broader definition but is slightly more nuanced. Women face a unique set of challenges in the workplace, particularly as it relates to leadership, and therefore it’s crucial that their professional development tactics address those specific challenges. As an example, for women who struggle to find a confident and assertive voice in the workplace, there are a plethora of professional development courses specially designed to help them do just that. P.S. If you are looking for advice on how to ask for a raise, check this out!
Challenges in Women’s Leadership
Women face quite a few challenges when it comes to career paths & leadership. Let’s take a closer look at what those challenges are and how they affect women in the workplace.
1. Gender Differences and Biases ♀️
While gender differences and biases are not exclusively a workplace issue, they do have an impact on how women experience the workplace and how colleagues interact with one another. Gender bias is a type of unconscious bias where we project a stereotype or preconceived idea onto someone based on their gender. These gender biases are created over time through learned or personal experiences both inside and outside of work. These biases manifest themselves in different ways including preferential treatment towards one gender over another or judging one’s actions differently based on their gender.
According to the United Nations Development Programme’s 2023 Gender Social Norms Index, there’s been no improvement in biases against women in a decade with nearly 9 out of 10 men and women worldwide holding biases. Additionally, a staggering 40% of people still believe men make better business executives than women do. There are also the traditional gender roles at play in which women are seen as caregivers & keepers of the household. It can be quite challenging to combat gender biases in the workplace, but that doesn’t mean companies should shy away from the issue. Instead, providing robust DEI (Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity) training and programs can help educate employees and foster gender equity.
2. Imposter Syndrome 😕
While you may or may not be familiar with the term imposter syndrome, chances are you’re familiar with its symptoms. At its core, imposter syndrome in the workplace is feeling inadequate or underqualified for your role despite evidence of the contrary. It’s feeling as if you’re a fraud or somehow lucked into your role, despite the fact that you’re a highly qualified and experienced employee. If you’ve ever felt like this, you’re not alone. According to a KPMG study, 75% of female leaders across multiple industries reported experiencing imposter syndrome at some point in their careers.
Fortunately, there are quite a few ways to counter imposter syndrome in the workplace, including taking a moment to celebrate your accomplishments & everyday wins. Another effective way of combating imposter syndrome is to challenge negative self-talk and focus on the progress you’re making rather than your missteps. It’s also crucial as women to prioritize your own wellness through self-care. Between work and personal responsibilities, it can be far too easy to ignore your own health and needs, so taking some time to relax & reset can make a huge difference.
⭐ Pro-Tip from The Assist: Foster a strong professional network by actively seeking mentorship, participating in industry events, and connecting with other women in your field to leverage diverse perspectives and support.
3. Navigating Organizational Culture 🗺️
Navigating organizational culture is another significant challenge to women in leadership. Organizational culture is a company’s set of beliefs and values that directly influence how employees behave in the workplace. For example, a company may value in-person work rather than embracing flex or remote work resulting in employees fearing to ask for flexibility even if that’s what they need. Deloitte’s Women at Work report found that 97% of women believe that asking for flexible work arrangements could negatively affect their path to promotion. The ease or speed with which women can work their way up the proverbial leadership ladder often depends on an organization’s culture & values.
How microaggressions are dealt with, or more accurately, not dealt with in an organization’s culture can also have a massive impact on women in the workplace. Microaggressions are communications or actions that convey some sort of bias towards a marginalized group of people. For example, a colleague constantly interrupts a woman as she speaks during a meeting. Or someone calling a woman aggressive simply because she advocates for herself in the workplace. A recent 2023 study by Lean In & McKinsey reported that women who experience microaggressions struggle to feel safe in the workplace and will therefore “self-shield” by not speaking up or being their authentic selves at work. The women on the receiving end of these microaggressions are 4 times more likely to always feel burned out and 3 times more likely to contemplate leaving their company. Making sure your organizational culture aligns with your personal values & needs, can help boost your job satisfaction levels and pave the way for your professional development.
4. Work-Life Balance ⚖️
Companies spout the importance of work-life balance, but it’s important that their actions reflect that they truly do prioritize & enable their employees to find a healthy balance between their work and their personal lives. For example, if a company encourages employees to take time off and unplug from work, but actually expects their employees to answer their emails or take work calls at all hours or on vacation days, then their actions aren’t aligning with their words. In Deloitte’s Women at Work 2023 Report, the pressure to be “always on” has gotten even worse from last year with 37% of women stating they are able to switch off from work compared to 45% in 2022. With the rise of remote & flex work, it’s harder than ever to draw a line in the sand between work life and home life, however, it’s so important that we take strides to do so.
In addition to setting healthy boundaries, exploring self-care ideas helps to improve work-life balance by prioritizing your own mental, physical, and emotional health. Even if you only have a few minutes in your day to practice self-care, you can use that time to meditate, read your favorite book, or take a stretch break. Or consider taking yourself out on a date to see a movie or indulge in a nice, long bubble bath with a good book. Small self-care actions such as these can go a long way in creating a healthier work-life balance for women.
🛑 Get more FREE professional development tips for women by subscribing to The Assist, a free 4x weekly email newsletter to help you become a better professional in just 5 minutes. 🛑
5. Lack of Representation 👭
Lack of representation is another challenge women face in leadership. According to Lean In & McKinsey’s 2023 Women in the Workplace Report, women represent roughly 1 in 4 C-suite leaders, and women of color just 1 in 16. It’s so important that women, particularly women of color, see themselves as women leaders holding key leadership roles in an organization. Having women in leadership positions shows women that it is possible for them to reach a leadership role. While many workplaces are making strides in this space due to their DEI efforts, we still see a lofty imbalance when it comes to men and women in leadership positions.
This imbalance doesn’t start and end with C-suite senior leaders but rather is caused by the broken rung in which at a typical company, men hold 60% of manager-level positions compared to women holding 40%. Consequently, we see more men promoted to director roles than women and the number of women in leadership roles becomes fewer and fewer. This broken rung cycle must be addressed in the workplace in order to enable women to fulfill their potential as leaders.
Key Elements of Professional Development for Women
1. Leadership Skills 👑
We’ve discussed quite a few challenges that women face in leadership, but that shouldn’t deter them from obtaining valuable leadership skills that will help with their career development. Some key skills needed as a leader include effective communication, delegation, and problem-solving. Time management, conflict resolution, and motivating a team are also crucial for effective leadership. Sharing motivational quotes for employees is a great way to develop your motivational skills as a leader and boost your team’s performance as well. There are many ways to sharpen your leadership skills including reading books or the best email newsletters on the topic and taking learning courses. For example, LinkedIn Learning offers an extensive library of online leadership and management development modules.
⭐ Pro-Tip from The Assist: Invest in continuous learning and skill development to stay ahead in a rapidly changing work environment, utilizing resources such as online courses, workshops, and conferences to enhance your expertise.
2. Communication Skills 🗣️
Another key area for professional development for women is effective communication skills. Communication at its core is the ability to effectively & clearly convey your ideas, emotions, and thoughts. It’s not only what you say, but how you say it that matters. Strong communicators consider their audience, their body language, and their choice & tone of words when communicating with others. Communication isn’t all about talking, it’s also about active listening and truly hearing what others are saying to you. Take the time to digest the information relayed and think before you speak. This can go a long way in improving your communication skills. LinkedIn Learning is an awesome resource to browse for educational modules focused on building communication skills.
3. Mentoring and Support
Having a mentor and support system in place has an immensely positive impact on professional development in women. Sometimes it can feel like you’re alone in your personal or professional struggles, so having someone you can openly talk to and ask advice from is so important. Many companies offer formal mentorship programs in which you can be paired with a mentor in your workplace for support and guidance. If you don’t have a one-to-one mentor relationship, there are virtual resources you can tap into for support such as an email newsletter for women like The Assist!
4. Networking Opportunities 🤝
Networking opportunities are another fantastic way for women to deepen their professional development. Some examples of networking opportunities include work conferences, industry events, and business seminars. You can also expand your network on LinkedIn by connecting with your colleagues, family, friends, and alumni groups. Building your professional network doesn’t happen overnight, but it’s important to continually expand your network connections throughout your career. Networking opportunities open up a world of professional possibilities for women.
🛑 Get more FREE professional development tips for women by subscribing to The Assist, a free 4x weekly email newsletter to help you become a better professional in just 5 minutes. 🛑
5. Confidence Building 🤠
Confidence is a key element of professional development in women. With all of the challenges that women face in leadership, it can sometimes be intimidating to carry yourself with confidence in the workplace. The good news is that confidence-building is a skill that you can develop with practice. For example, starting your day with positive affirmations can provide you with that extra boost of confidence needed to take on your workday. Building self-confidence at work through recognizing your accomplishments and having a growth mindset is essential for long-term professional success.
Programs and Resources for Professional Development
Whether you’re looking to boost your leadership skills, network, or simply learn more about how to become a better professional, there is a vast variety of professional development programs and resources available. Let’s explore some of those resources.
⭐ Leadership Development Programs
Leadership development programs are a great way to gain the knowledge and training needed to be an effective leader in the workplace. Professional development courses are available both virtually and in person and can range from free online resources to paid educational programs. A few examples include:
- Virtual leadership courses on LinkedIn Learning or Coursera.
- Leadership development programs such as Yale’s Women’s Leadership Program.
- Women in leadership workshops or training programs offered through your employer.
🖥️ Interactive Online Resources
Interactive online resources are another helpful tool when it comes to career paths and women in leadership. Many employees are now working remotely and therefore may be seeking virtual resources to help them along their professional development journey. Here are a few helpful interactive online resources to add to your development toolbox:
- The Assist makes becoming a better professional actually fun! With 4 newsletters a week filled with helpful tips & tools, The Assist brings together like-minded women looking to take their professional development to the next level.
- Check out the Women Leadership thread on Reddit dedicated to supporting women in leadership roles and providing a safe space for women.
- Consider joining your college’s alumni page on LinkedIn or Facebook to help with your networking efforts.
🧑🤝🧑 Inclusion Workplace Initiatives
Participating in inclusion initiatives in the workplace is yet another fantastic resource for professional development. Fortunately, many companies are investing in workplace inclusion initiatives to support their female employees & combat gender inequity. Some examples include:
- Women mentorship programs in the workplace.
- Dedicated BRGs, or Business Resource Groups, focused on supporting women and women of color.
- Offering childcare resources or programs to assist working mothers.
People Also Ask These Questions About Professional Development for Women
Q: How can I identify and set clear career goals as a woman?
- A: You can identify and set clear professional development career goals as a woman by thinking critically about what you truly want when it comes to your career and making intentional choices to get there. When you set your career goals, you should utilize the SMART method to ensure that they are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound.
Q: Are there specific skills or competencies that women should focus on developing for career advancement?
- A: Yes, there are specific skills and competencies that women should focus on developing for career advancement. These include improving leadership skills through learning courses or reading leadership books for women. Some other key skills for career advancement include communication skills, confidence, and the ability to network.
Q: What are some key considerations for negotiating salary and benefits to ensure equal pay for equal work?
- A: Some key considerations for negotiating salary and benefits to ensure equal pay for equal work include knowing your value & being able to communicate that value by highlighting your skills & contributions in the workplace. When it comes to salary negotiations, be sure to consider the full package including benefits packages & work perks. When heading into compensation conversations, be sure to prep your talking points and responses to expected questions.
Q: What role does mentorship play in the professional development of women, and how can I find a mentor?
- A: Mentorship plays a key role in the professional development of women because it provides them with someone to support and guide them through the challenges women in leadership face every day. You can find a mentor through workplace initiatives, networking, and through family, colleagues, or friends.
Q: How can I build confidence and assertiveness in the workplace as a woman?
- A: You can build confidence and assertiveness in the workplace as a woman by reciting positive affirmations or listening to podcasts for women that empower women to find their voices & advocate for themselves in the workplace.