Essential Tips for Women Aspiring to Executive Positions

Published on
October 9, 2017
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The corporate world can no longer deny that companies with women in their top positions out-perform those that are run only by men. Research shows that companies with more than 10 percent women in key positions showed greater profits. Yet female executives continue to be the exception to the rule.

Efforts in Detroit have begun to turn prime more women for female executive positions, such as by the accounting firm Deloitte with its Board Ready Women program. At the same time, it’s important that women take stock of their commitment to a high-reaching professional career. Embedded in this endeavor is the need to closely examine what is generating the fire in their bellies. They must also consider how they’ll hold up against double standards that continue to exist for businessmen and businesswomen.

Trying to move into the managerial echelon is like being thrown from a boat: Suddenly you’re out in water in heavy seas. You notice that your male colleagues were all given life vests, but you were excluded. You take in gulps of salty water as you attempt to swim towards the lifeboat. That’s how it can feel once you’ve climbed a few rungs up your career ladder. Mid-career, it’s like you’ve swung one leg into the lifeboat, but can’t find a foothold. Perhaps you’ve had some push-back you didn’t anticipate, or been passed over for opportunities.

Further up towards the C-Suite it becomes rougher still. Propelling your other leg into the boat as it’s rocking in turbulent waves requires mustering every ounce of energy you have left. Sounds daunting? Every C-Suite and executive career woman knows it’s true. You can do it, but before you weather that storm, be crystal clear of your values.

What time commitments, travel, pressure, corporate politics and long hours are you willing to accept? Take some quiet time by yourself and write down the top 10 things in your life that you most value. Now number these in order of priority. The top five will help you determine what’s right for you. The next five are those you can weave in and out of these when you have time, but drop the stress of perfecting all 10.

If you find that you’re still up for the challenge, use these tips to crack the code of the male business world and become an office power player.

1. Stay on top of your game. Continue to educate yourself in preparation for your next role, whether it’s getting a full handle on how the finances in the firm are handled, or new product development works its way through the pipeline. Stay up to date with the company’s annual reports, analyses of growth potential, industry journals and news articles. Initiate conversations with upper management to offer ideas for improvements—but make sure the conversation takes place in front of an ally in case the idea becomes theirs.

2. Build internal and external networks. Cultivate contacts at every level of your industry. Find out who they know and strategize who can introduce you to key players. Have a reputation for being considerate, dependable, poised, and sharp. Become someone that others aspire to be around and recommend.

3. Become an outstanding negotiator. If you took debate in school, you have a head start. Role-play different kinds of negotiation scenarios. Board members and senior executives are top negotiators. Use negotiating tools during any less-than-perfect annual review to persuade the reviewer to rethink his analysis. Enumerate your accomplishments and defend your worth. Men negotiate and you should, too.

4. Learn to deal with strong personalities. The higher you rise, the more likely you’ll encounter alpha males—and females for that matter. Learn communication skills to handle these domineering types. Declarative statements will hold more sway than detailed explanations. Never let them rattle your calm demeanor.

5. Know how to dress for top positions. There’s no room for mistakes here. Hire a stylist who understands the corporate world and can direct you appropriately. You won’t be in the advancement pool if you’re not dressed for it. We are cruelly scrutinized for what we wear. Fair? No. True? Yes.

6. Manage your stress. Find an outlet to release your pressure valve to keep it from erupting. Run, practice yoga, meditate for 10 to 20 minutes each day—knowing that Bridgewater Associates hedge fund founder Ray Dalio, along with many CEOs make time for daily meditation because it works.

Yes, double standards continue to exist in business. It’s unfair, but it’s reality. This makes it all the more important to throw a life preserver to your women colleagues whenever you can. The next generation of women are counting on us to move the needle in the corporate world toward better parity of pay and positions.

Marja Norris is the CEO and founder of, a company dedicated to helping women achieve their career goals with style and confidence. With a distinguished career in finance, she has successfully navigated the male-dominated business world and is passionate about coaching women on how to be taken seriously, be heard, and get what they want at work. Her latest book, The Unspoken Code: A Businesswoman’s No-Nonsense Guide to Making It in the Corporate World, provides women with the tools to awaken their dreams and reach their highest goals. Visit