3 Things Ambitious Women Want to Know

sa woman questionsThere was never enough time to answer all of the questions that I was asked last month in *South Africa. Woman after woman raised her voice, expressing hunger for opportunity and advancement.

I was asked similar questions at each event, and after speaking to six different groups of business women and university students, I knew I needed to write about the three top questions women had:

Q.  How do I get a sponsor?

A. You don’t “get” a sponsor, you develop a relationship over time with someone who has influence and power to open doors that can lead to your career or business success.

First, you have to identify who that influential, powerful person is. Next, you go about finding ways to work on initiatives that are important to them, the things they care about. You contribute results and further them and their agenda. If you are successful in doing so, they will start to ask that you be on their “team.” As you develop a relationship with them, voice your aspirations and ask if they would be willing to advocate for you to get an opportunity you’ve identified. If you have demonstrated your value, they’ll agree to do so. Over time, they will speak out on your behalf, make introductions and identify opportunities for you – they will have become your sponsor.

women asking qs

Q. You say its very important to promote myself, what are some specific ways to do so?

A. First, achieve results that are notable and noticed. Have these in mind and be ready to share your key and most current achievements. When you are asked how you are or how things are going, don’t just say “fine.” Instead, say something like, “I am doing really well, thank you. Last week, I [fill in blank with specific accomplishment and result – not an activity.]” (Examples: Last week, brought on a new enterprise client,  or I trained five new employees who are now addressing customer issues, or I led a campaign that resulted in 50 press impressions, etc)

When someone thanks you or acknowledges a contribution you’ve made, don’t say “it was nothing” (or worse yet what went wrong!). Instead say, “Thank you” and add some additional details that you are most proud of. PRACTICE!

Q. As a young woman, I don’t feel like I am being taken very seriously and that assumptions are made about my commitment to my career. What can I do?

A. Regularly voice your specific aspirations. Make sure your manager, peers and people in your network internally and externally know your career or business goals and the assignments or actions you are willing to take to achieve them.

Share the type of support you have at home from people like your husband, parents, domestic help, friends, extended family etc that allows you to focus on your career. Conduct yourself professionally by the way you talk (using business and industry metrics), by being composed and by projecting a professional appearance.

“Women want specific answers to their specific questions and the specific steps or actions they can take for themselves.”


They were the same types of questions I am most commonly asked by women from around the world, including the women I coach and mentor. What women want to know are not general career advancement strategies and not anecdotal stories of other women. They want specifics. Specific answers to their specific questions and the specific steps or actions they can take for themselves. Contrary to some widely held beliefs, women are ambitious, they are leaning in and they do want to get ahead. What about you?

book-image-with-callout-254x300For more specific actions, get your copy of UNDETERRED: The Six Success Habits of Women in Emerging Economies, or the action workbook I AM Undeterred. You will also find ways to accelerate your career success and integrate your work and life.

*A huge thanks to Business Engage, PwC, Barclays, T-Systems, UTC GSB and GIBS for their South Africa trip and event sponsorship in May 2015.

If you missed it, read about the six sold-out events and a compilation of what people were saying.

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