Too often, the perceptions we have of ourselves don’t align with the perceptions of others. We need to know this to learn and adapt or change and get a fresh start. As a WIC Brand Ambassador and Board of Advisor, I know how important it is to connect and learn from others, especially top leaders and executives.

I spent the first half of my career at IBM. I held exceptionally diverse roles and had multiple international assignments. My husband and I also brought three children into the world during this time. I continued to progress and move up the ladder until I didn’t. In hindsight, one could say I hit the glass ceiling and did not know what had happened.

I was one level below “executive.” My performance ratings were top-notch, and my employee satisfaction survey results were very positive. All that said, I was going into my sixth year at the same level with no apparent prospects of promotion, while male colleagues with performance results less than mine were moving into the executive ranks. I worked incredibly hard and consistently delivered. I was confused, and I knew I must be doing something wrong but did not know what.

I had the opportunity to work for six weeks with a successful woman executive. I realized that she could provide insights into why my career had stalled and asked for some blunt feedback.

She was certainly blunt. She said the issue was not my performance. For her, it was excellent. Instead, the image I projected while getting the job done was blocking my rise into the executive ranks. As I strived to meet all deadlines completely, I came across as someone always in a rush and, thus, not in control. I focused on what still needed to be done, rather than acknowledging and celebrating all things accomplished. I was perceived as a high-performing “worker bee.” I did not project the executive presence required for a senior leadership position.

It was like a bucket of cold water had been dumped on me. I was grateful that this director had been so open with me. I was shocked at the truth of what she said—disappointed at my lack of self-awareness. It became clear that my glass ceiling was as much of my own making as it was due to a male-dominated work environment. It was time to reinvent myself and my image.

Lessons learned in executive presence:

I realized that I needed to walk into meetings calmly with my head high, not looking down at my papers or (in today’s era) my laptop or smartphone. I needed to come across as confident and in control. Gathering my courage, I began to change some of my behaviors, including:

  • Discussing what was done and not apologizing for what was not done
  • Speaking up in meetings without asking permission first
  • Replacing “I hope this meets your needs” with “I am confident this will meet your needs.”
  • Avoiding phrases like: “try to, hope, feel, perhaps you could….”
  • Finding opportunities to share soundbites on successes without being boastful
  • Gaining the support of key stakeholders in advance of meetings

One behavior that I did not change was ensuring that the successes of the team and our collaborators were recognized.

So how did I fare with my “re-invention”? It made a difference. My voice carried more clout, and the outcomes were impactful. Nonetheless, I was ready for a fresh start. I accepted an opportunity with Gartner, the leading IT advisory research firm. With a clean slate, I moved rapidly into the C-Suite.

With my story, I wish to recall the importance of learning and nurturing from others. But also, invite you all to assist the WICxAnnualSummit 2022. More than 100 speakers, top leaders from the tech industry, and some of the executives from top brands and companies will be discussing professional development while generating access for women in tech all around the world. You can learn more about the Summit by visiting this link.

It’s also a great opportunity to connect with others and for networking. I’ll be assisting too, so I hope I meet you all at the event. WIC is also giving a 15% OFF on your ticket’s purchase. All you have to do is use the code 15-OFF.

For more information about upcoming events, products, promotions, or any other information, you can join the WIC digital network

Together, we can achieve great things.