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7 unwritten rules for professional women

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We've all heard the reports: Women earn 77 cents for every dollar their male counterparts earn. And women are a minority among the ranks of CEOs in today's companies. Is this merely a result of the "Old Boys Club" tightening its ranks or is there more to the story?

Over the past year, Amy Dorn Kopelan, executive director of COACHME, Inc., a nonprofit career coaching program for women, conducted interviews with human resources and training directors at dozens of Fortune 500 companies to find out why women, as a group, don't seem to advance in their careers at the same pace as men in similar positions.

"What I heard were the same comments again and again and they were consistent across all industries," Kopelan says. "It's not the core competencies of the job that women are lacking, but rather the subtle, unwritten rules it takes to further advance in their career."

It could be individual personality types, societal conditioning or lack of mentoring opportunities that keep women from exhibiting those characteristics most often recognized and rewarded by corporate America. But whatever the reason, Kopelan maintains that women need to understand what these qualities are and demonstrate them in the workplace to advance.

According to the hiring managers Kopelan spoke with, these actions hold the keys to women's successful career development and achievement:

1. Build successful relationships: In a word -- network. It is crucial to understand the importance of developing and maintaining industry contacts you can rely on, whether it's for information about a specific project or the inside scoop on an open position. Attend seminars and professional meetings in your field. Besides learning some good information, these gatherings help you raise your visibility among your peers.

2. Exert influence and convert others to your ideas: Develop the confidence in yourself to get people to see and value your ideas. Knowledge is power. "Do your research," Kopelan advises. "Know what is happening in your industry." The more you know about a particular subject, the more comfortable and confident you will be discussing it and offering your opinions.

3. Take initiative: If you are interested in a particular high-profile client at your office, find out how you can be a part of the project team. Or learn the specifics of a particular issue so you can be your office's "resident expert."

4. Manage difficult conversations: Women often tend to shy away from confrontation. But if you learn how to diffuse an awkward situation, you will appear strong and levelheaded under pressure -- two good traits for potential senior managers.

5. Promote yourself: Only you really know everything you have achieved. Now just make sure the right people also know what you have accomplished.

6. Know how to ask for what you want: This goes along with managing difficult conversations and promoting yourself. You shouldn't feel hesitant about asking for something you need or have earned.

7. Establish work/life harmony: This challenging area often gets the misnomer "work/life balance." Sometimes there just aren't enough hours in the day to balance these two important parts of your life equally. Instead, strive for a harmonious coexistence between the two.

What Kopelan found in talking to the Fortune 500 hiring managers is that these organizations want to see women advance and succeed, but until women understand the important role these unwritten rules play in business, "they're diminishing their chance at achievement," She warns.

© Copyright 2005. All rights reserved. The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority
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