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How to Truly Help Another Woman’s Career

Meaghan Hunt  |  February 25, 2022

Smiles and compliments are nice, but at the end of the day, talk is cheap. It’s time to truly elevate your fellow woman at work. Here’s how.

International Women’s Day is coming up on March 8, and let’s be real, we’ve all been through some sh*t the last couple of years. As we’re approaching a holiday dedicated to celebrating women’s achievements, many feel far from the best version of themselves this year. 

Words of affirmation are a workplace language of appreciation, but there are even richer ways to uplift the women around you. We all like to hear that our latest presentation was a strong one— especially if you’ve put in hours of prep work. It’s uplifting to receive a compliment on our new handbag (factory store! 70% off! Can you believe?!). But when it comes to impactful behaviors that elevate someone else’s career, there is so much more you can do for those around you.

Chances are, you have the desire to help a capable young professional who is just starting their career. Maybe you want to assist someone who has been out of the workforce in getting back on top of their game. Maybe you know someone who has hit a professional rut, and you’d like to help them find a sense of renewal so they can pivot and shine again. Here are some steps for taking action in ways that can truly count.

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Commit Your Time

It’s the most valuable commodity. Whether offering to help revamp someone’s rusty resume, meet with a colleague for a cup of coffee, or catch up over beer after work, commit your time and energy to help those around you. We don’t mean just anyone with a pulse— but the intern with potential, the struggling mid-career single mom, the colleague who has just lost a parent and is grappling with grief. Choose someone you genuinely care about investing in and commit your efforts to do so.

Talk is cheap, friends. Encouraging words or a “you’re doing great” is well-intentioned, but showing up and listening count for a whole lot more. You’d be surprised what 30 minutes of engaged time can reveal— maybe you hold the contact, the advice nugget, or the job opening that will truly be a game-changer for the woman across the table from you. Chances are, she’ll bring a different and impactful perspective you can learn from, too.

“Clear is Kind”

In her book Dare to Lead, research professor and author Dr. Brené Brown stresses a need for directness in the workplace. “Feeding people half-truths or bullshit to make them feel better (which is almost always about making ourselves feel more comfortable) is unkind,” says Brown. Oof, Brené, we know you’re speaking the truth! 

Having hard conversations isn’t just necessary. They’re sometimes the best thing you can do for your fellow professional. So the next time you’re tempted to skirt the whole truth in the interest of momentary comfort, take pause. Shining a light on your colleague or direct report’s self-sabotaging habits can sometimes be the best move, albeit an uncomfortable one for many of us.

Don’t take this as a pass to be catty, but find a compassionate way of being straight when someone indicates frustration. Focus on their behaviors (those regular 2-hour lunch breaks or a penchant for over-reliance on a cubicle mate) rather than perceived character traits (lack of drive or professional codependence). Keep it clear, keep it brief, keep it honest, and keep it kind. 

Ensure Proper Credit is Given 

If only we had a nickel for every time someone has “springboarded” off of something we’ve said in a meeting, only to collect credit for the originating idea later— by now, we’d have the $8 for a giant bougie latte. So here’s a simple tip: don’t let that happen to the women around you.

“I’m glad you think this new approach is necessary. Kate brought this to my attention, and her ideas are key to helping move us forward.” 

“This presentation would not have been possible without the hard work of our research team, Sofia, Sam, and Rachelle. Their commitment to collecting the data has been invaluable.” 

Practice Authentic Notice

In the vein of “clear is kind” and ensuring credit where it’s due, adopt a practice that speaker and consultant Linda Clark calls Authentic Notice. This tip is a crucial workplace survival tactic for the 2020s, and when you model it for other women, you create space for others to do the same.

“When we want to encourage, soothe, or support, we sometimes turn to sharing a compliment or a surface-level moment of optimism to make someone feel better. You know, noticing their hair looks nice even while everything else is on fire,” says Clark. 

Sometimes the most supportive thing you can do is level with the woman next to you. “Authentic Notice is being willing to say, ‘Whew girl, that IS a dumpster fire! Want to talk about it?’ instead of defaulting to, ‘You never fail at anything, you’ve got this!’” We’ve all had our fill of toxic positivity; facing the reality of a situation helps others around you to feel seen and heard. 

Help Her to Recognize and Translate Value

The early-career professional in your office might not have the smooth vernacular she thinks it will take to shine in meetings. But she may have a gift with Canva or a magic touch helping others to spot-check their reports for errors. Boost her confidence by talking about her strengths and how they can fit into the larger picture.

“I’m comfortable giving presentations, but your graphics are stellar! Would you like to help me prepare for next week’s meeting? I’d love to show the team what you can do with a slide deck.” And then recognize that person throughout the presentation, casting a light on how their contributions have strengthened the project.

Suppose your pal has been out of the workforce on maternity leave, caring for a sick family member, or plugging away at their education. In that case, they may struggle to see how their sharpest skills can translate back into a workplace environment. 

Caring for two toddlers while serving on a volunteer committee = time management. Waking up at 4 a.m. to work on a term paper before a shift walking dogs = self-motivation. Convincing a stubborn parent to enter assisted living = negotiation and communication skills. Most of what we do outside the workplace can translate to having professional value — sometimes, the women around us just need help recognizing their worth. 

Balance encouraging words with empowering feedback and actions that can truly uplift the women in your orbit. Being friendly is pleasant and all, but when we commit to doing more, we genuinely do have the power to change women’s lives around us. It often doesn’t take a heap of time or effort — just some extra thought. And it truly will refill your bucket— something we could all use more of lately.


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