I believe being underestimated can be a huge asset.
Good thing, considering I have been underestimated practically every day of my career. Being underestimated often means getting ignored.
Not my first choice, but it does give you the advantage of flying under the radar and making progress without threatening anyone. That means you get to build what you want, how you want it, without much interference. It also means there are some things only you can do to make progress and oftentimes you have to generate momentum from within to make it far enough to get noticed in your market.
You are not alone. Most intelligent and inspiring women have also been underestimated and they succeeded anyways.
This is my list of 10 things women must do to win and examples of incredible women I have seen do them.
1. Do the work
Does overnight success truly exist? I don’t think so. Even those who seem to achieve success easily have had to work hard to get there. I had the pleasure of interacting with Wendy Clark, CEO of DDB Worldwide, on several occasions during her time at The Coca-Cola Company. I have never seen someone who had so much to juggle, consistently be so prepared. She always did her homework before meetings and knew details only gleaned from carefully studying the opportunities.
2. Be brave
We always know what is right. Sometimes, doing the right thing comes with risk and consequences and that is when bravery is important. Michelle Jones, Partnership Leader at NCR, is brave. I have watched her speak up about things that might not be popular because they are right. Her bravery gives me faith that big companies can do the right thing when they are led by good people.
3. Have passion
To be successful in difficult endeavors, you have to believe in what you are doing to your core. That passion will enable you to weather the challenges that are inevitable. Mack McKelvey, CEO of SalientMG, is passionate about helping women succeed. She is a tireless mentor and advocate and one of the best organizers I have ever met. When I think about someone who brings passion to what they do, Mack is always at the top of my list.
4. Stay positive
When you are leading the way with innovation you always face challenges. These are times when it is important to stay positive, rally your troops and push forward to success. In my experience with the team at Chipotle, Tressie Lieberman, VP of Digital Marketing and Off-Premise, is this type of leader. She has a positive enthusiasm that compels her team to stay the course.
5. Tell the truth
Don’t oversell your capabilities. Be transparent with your team, customers, partners, investors, etc. Take responsibility when your company makes a mistake. One of my most valued mentors, Kim Eaton, Executive Chairman of the Board at Aptean, is an effective leader and mentor because of her integrity and strength of character.
6. Keep learning
Kat Cole, COO and President of North America at FOCUS Brands, is a great role model for what can happen if you decide to never stop learning. Her amazing story takes her from a waitress at Hooters to one of the most respected women in food service leadership. I have seen her inspiring talks on more than one occasion and what struck me was her energy around staying curious, questioning success and looking for ways to innovate.
7. Go for it
Set an objective and pursue your desired outcome with vigor! As women, sometimes we have to remind ourselves it’s okay to aggressively pursue our goals. After a successful run as Managing Director of Technology Development at NASCAR (talk about thriving in a man’s world!), Betsy Grider, Chief Strategy Officer at Patron Technology, showed what can be accomplished when you approach a challenge with a high level of energy and enthusiasm.
8. Use your voice
When you reach a certain level of success, you have an opportunity to use your voice to amplify the success of others and to advocate for positive change regarding the issues you believe are important. Kim Bartley, CMO of White Castle, consistently uses her voice to advocate for women leaders as both an executive and a teacher.
9. Don’t quit
Years ago, I was on the cover of an Atlanta publication, The Piedmont Review, with Sara Blakely, CEO of Spanx. I got to spend a day with this inspiring entrepreneur and enjoyed her stories of tenacity as she built her company. She had a lot of people tell her no in the early days and recalled sending a package containing just one shoe to an executive she was trying to meet with the message, “I’m just trying to get a foot in the door!” … she got the meeting!
10. Pay it forward
How can you help change the world? Take the learnings from your successes and failures and use the knowledge to help someone else. You will find that this will be some of the most fulfilling work you ever experience and give you a broader view of what it really means to “win.”
Reshma Saujani, Founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, is a great example of this. Reshma is focused on closing the gender gap in technology. Her organization reaches almost 90,000 girls in 50 states giving them the tools they need to pursue meaningful careers in computer science.
Getting above the noise and noticed in your market is hard. Women are still woefully underestimated and winning takes a combination of all the things I list above. Thankfully, I am seeing the tides turn on some of the aggressive, bullying tactics I have experienced in the past. Do I dare say they are going out of style? I can hope, right?
My point in all of this is to keep the faith, stay focused on your goal and take comfort in the fact that many successful women have faced the same challenges you are and by: Doing the work, being brave, having passion, staying positive, telling the truth, continuing to learn, going for it, using their voice, not quitting and paying it forward, they achieved success.
That inspires me to believe I can achieve success, too.
A technology pioneer and digital visionary, Catherine Tabor is a seasoned entrepreneur who has founded and scaled several businesses over the last 20 years and is currently the CEO and founder of Sparkfly. She believes that mobile offers can be the unifying force between mobile media and the point of sale, and was named one of Mobile Marketer’s Mobile Women to Watch. Catherine also served as the chair of the marketing committee on the Woodruff Arts Center board of directors, and is currently a member of the Board of Visitors at The University of Georgia. She enjoys spending time with her husband Matt and their 12-year-old daughter at their home in Atlanta, GA.