By Falon Fatemi, CEO, Node.io
This article is by Featured Blogger Falon Fatemi from her Forbes.com column. Republished with the author’s permission.
The phrase “the glass ceiling” is now nearly 40 years old. In 1978, it was coined by Marilyn Loden to describe the barrier between women and the higher echelons of the working world.
While some speak of the glass ceiling as an artifact of history, women across the world are still being obstructed from reaching their potential. Here in the U.S., the glass is cracked, but it's hardly broken. Of the companies featured on this year's S&P 500 list, for example, women held just 5.6 percent of CEO roles.
Unfortunately, the ceiling's continued existence is about the only thing that's clear about it. Society-level solutions are murky at best. But as individuals, we can help the women around us climb the leadership ladder. We can tell our stories, explain how we took those crucial steps, and help others ascend it, too.
I recently sat down with Meagen Eisenberg, CMO at MongoDB, to share our experiences as women who've chipped away at the glass. Here's her hard-earned advice about how to become a lady boss and how we, as women, can give one another a leg up:
1. Plan your ascent.
Leadership doesn’t just happen. Leaders work, often for years, toward top positions. They know what they have to accomplish, and they set out a plan to achieve it.
When Meagen joined Cisco as an IT engineer fresh out of college, she noticed that the leaders around her all had MBA degrees. So she set her sights on securing an MBA of her own. She coordinated a leave of absence at Cisco and attended Yale's School of Management.
An MBA isn't the route to the top for everyone, but for Meagen, it was a game changer. For you, it could be learning a new skill, assuming a management role, or taking on a side gig.
2. Master your niche.
Meagen took on a number of roles at different companies — from IBM to Postini — focusing on technology and marketing. She brought her engineering background and marketing smarts together to become a "martech" expert. Now, when she speaks about marketing technology, people listen.
Find that intersection of your strengths and passions. Your sweet spot might be technology, sales, HR, or something else entirely. Dig in and become the expert, and you'll be that much closer to the career of your dreams.
3. Find a company that challenges you.
Once you've been at a job for a while, it's easy to get complacent. But unless you keep challenging yourself, you're never going to become the lady boss you want to be.
After Meagen’s stint at IBM, she ventured into the unknown world of the fast-growing company DocuSign. She served as its VP of demand generation and systems for three years and then its VP of customer acquisition and marketing for another seven months.
During that time, the DocuSign platform grew from 13 million to 50 million users. Meagen had to evolve quickly and take on unexpected responsibilities, transforming her into the fierce leader she is today.
4. Take a whole-business approach.
Focusing on your niche, however, shouldn't mean ignoring other opportunities within the business. Great leaders know how to bridge departmental gaps to improve the health of the whole organization.
When she was at DocuSign, Meagen was approached by MongoDB to be its new CMO. At the time, she was gunning for a promotion at DocuSign and wasn’t even considering moving on. But when she didn’t get the DocuSign role, a senior leader at MongoDB told her it was the perfect time to move. "You're gonna come here. You're gonna work hard. You're gonna prove to everyone that you're gonna be amazing," he said.
After careful deliberation, Meagen joined the 450-person team. She learned how to create scale and alignment across a company, particularly in marketing and sales. Upon seeing MongoDB's salespeople and marketers squabbling, she smoothed friction points and improved communication between the departments.
5. Find female allies.
Sometimes, work can feel like it's all about men. They're trying so hard to compete that they forget about the other women in their lives. As a woman, it can be awfully demoralizing.
To keep her spirits high, Meagen has surrounded herself with women who understand her. At home, she's built a network of moms who have her back on the school playground. When she can't be there to watch her kids, they take pictures and cheerlead for her girls. And whenever she can, she does the same for her fellow moms.
Once you've got that network at home and at work, draw confidence from it. Studies show that many women stop themselves from applying for jobs because they believe they're not qualified. When it comes time to make a difficult decision, remind yourself of all the women who've got your back.
6. Add value and lead — don't overwork.
I've seen women try to grow their careers by working more hours than anyone else. They think by visibly sacrificing their home lives, they'll prove that they deserve a promotion. But inevitably, they get sick or burned out, and their performance suffers.
Think of it from a CEO's point of view. Who would you want leading the team: the person who's got too much on her plate already or the person who has a work-life balance and can actually handle the challenge?
Instead, prove your promotability by focusing on the value you can add to your organization. Look beyond your department. Solve a problem that someone else is having. Find ways to be efficient and productive, not busy.
Like it or not, the glass ceiling still hangs above us. We women are taking aim and hammering our way through, but we have to help one another as we go.
Form networks, seize opportunities for growth, and lead by example. That's how a lady boss takes her throne.
Originally published on Forbes.com