Taking on a high risk assignment – voluntarily or otherwise, is a trap that must be negotiated with care.
I recently heard of a promotion round that effectively displaced five good women from the ‘challenging’ positions they’d been acting in for several months. They were all deemed ‘unsuitable’ despite great performance reviews while they were in the roles and replaced primarily by blokes coming in from the outside.
One of the strategies women use to demonstrate their capability and competence is to either volunteer or agree to do a job that others may avoid. Think about Joan Kirner, Kristina Keneally, Carmen Lawrence – all high profile women who stepped into the Premier’s seat in very turbulent times. Two were voted out at the following election. The fate of Kristina remains to be seen.
In the workspace, there are plenty of examples of women being asked to step up – and invariably we do. Sometimes we fail or lose favour, not because we haven’t performed, but because we haven’t been strategic in positioning ourselves whilst there.
If you’re asked to fill a challenging role, don’t agree until you’re confident you understand the terms, have the support you need and are clear about how you will be rewarded (will this advance your career or reputation?)
Make sure you
* Clearly articulate and agree on the measures of success – what are you there to achieve? How will you know when you’ve succeeded?
* Who are the stakeholders? Are they supportive?
* Is there executive commitment to this role or project? Who will champion your work?
* Do you need additional resources in order to succeed? (Women typically avoid asking for what they need because we either see it as a failing on our part that we may need help, we don’t want to put others out, or we just don’t think about it. Your male colleagues are rarely so shy!)
* How long will you be in the position?
Then, when you’re in the role, make sure you regularly share your progress and ownership for the challenges along the way.