4 Strategies for Women Navigating Office Politics

4 Strategies

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Kathryn Heath for Harvard Business Review and the HBR Blog Network. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, obtain subscription information, and receive HBR email alerts, please click here.

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The politics of office life seldom fail to flummox and frustrate the top female executives my partners and I coach and train. In 2013, we conducted a number of interviews and surveyed 270 female managers in Fortune 500 organizations to determine what they liked and disliked about business meetings. Politics was one of the things that repeatedly fell into the dislike column. In fact, both men and women said that women are more likely to become nervous and uncomfortable in meetings when interpersonal conflicts and other political challenges arise. We’ve observed time and again in 360-degree feedback surveys that women executives believe politics present a particular dilemma for them. On one hand, they feel uncomfortable engaging in quid-pro-quo behavior and political maneuvering. On the other, they acknowledge that it’s all but impossible to operate above the political fray.

With that in mind, I’ve combed our recent consulting files to identify four of the most effective practices that help the women we coach become more politically savvy.

[Here’s the first.]

Get yourself an agent. Gail was in her fifth year at a large finance firm when she recognized a disconcerting pattern. She was repeatedly passed over for choice assignments. According to Gail’s manager, she had a solid reputation, and her work was considered to be impeccable. The problem? She wasn’t lobbying as loudly for assignments as her colleagues. Gail was uncomfortable singing her own praises. Unwilling to waste her time on personal propaganda, Gail did something that worked even better for her. She recruited an “agent” to lobby on her behalf.

Gail was liked and admired by her peers—in part because she did her job well without waiting for public recognition. So it wasn’t difficult to find a number of highly regarded colleagues who were willing to mention her name when the next great assignment was up for grabs. “It’s like having a sports agent looking out for my career,” she said.

This type of peer advocacy is a win-win proposition. The individual being referred gains the direct benefit without resorting to self-promotion; the “agent” enhances his or her own reputation by appearing selfless and making an excellent referral. While it’s is a given that female executives need to be comfortable stepping up to ask for what they want, Gail’s strategy is a smart workaround that anyone can use.

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

Kathryn Heath is a principal of Flynn Heath Holt Leadership (FHHL). She is co-author of Break Your Own Rules: How to Change the Patterns of Thinking that Block Women’s Paths to Power (Jossey-Bass, 2011) and co-author of the HBR article “Women, Find Your Voice: Why Your Performance in Meetings Matters More Than You Think.” Join the conversation at her firm and on Twitter.

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