Many women spend so much of their time caring for others that they often forget what a valuable asset they can be in the working world, according to career coach Linda Trignano.
Volunteering to raise money for your company’s annual walkathon shows initiative. Serving as PTA president demonstrates leadership ability. Designing eye-catching fliers for a church bake sale illustrates your creativity and marketing savvy. Even juggling your kids’ homework and after-school activity calendars demonstrates in-demand organizational skills.
“Women have natural skills, ones that they’ve honed but just don’t realize it,” Trignano says.
Women are great organizers and multi-taskers. They also are natural collaborators. “But women don’t see the skills they’ve been using as valuable work experience,” she says. “They don’t think those skills can be translated into the corporate world.”
Trignano will discuss how women can utilize their skills and land high-powered positions in the business world during “Women & Leadership: Understanding Your Road to Success,” a seminar offered by the New Jersey Association of Women Business Owners NJAWBO on Wednesday, October 21, at 6 p.m. at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison. The event is free, but registration is required. Call 973-507-9700, or visit www.njawbo.org.
“Women have traditionally had to push a little harder to get into leadership positions,” says Trignano, a former certified corporate recruiter for AT&T. “The need for women to work on leadership skills is reflective of the need for women to continue to move up in the ranks.”
Trignano earned a bachelor’s in communications from Ramapo College and a master’s in management and supervision from Montclair State University, as well as a human resources certification from Rutgers University and a project development certificate from Stevens Institute of Technology.
A certified career coach specializing in job interview techniques, she now is an independent consultant with HR Performance Solutions in Wayne, which focuses on business training and development. Typically, she says, she visits workplaces and assesses skill sets and skill gaps for employers looking to operate more effectively.
“I love the diversity of who I’m working with and what skills I’m working on at a particular time,” says Trignano, a self-proclaimed Jersey girl whose mother worked as a payroll supervisor. “Every day is a new challenge. Every day I work with new people.”
Becoming a great leader. Great leaders are able to set visions and motivate others to follow them, Trignano says. They are confident, decisive, strategic, focused, and open to feedback.
“It’s the skills within that women really need to look at and develop,” she says. “How do you motivate somebody? How do you create vision and strategy? How do you get people energetic about your strategies?”
Gender and leadership styles. Gender does not determine effective leadership. The same skills are necessary for men and women to succeed in a corporate environment, Trignano says. However, gender can affect leadership styles.
“Men are typically more aggressive,” she says. “If a woman adopts that style, she’s seen in a negative view, and often will shrink back from those behaviors in order not to be viewed poorly.”
That leaves many women struggling to balance being an effective leader with being well-liked. If they are too aggressive in the workplace, they could receive backlash from employees and be subjected to harsh name calling; however, if they’re too gentle and nurturing, they could be considered pushovers, she says.
“When we discuss that topic at seminars, women really respond,” Trignano says, adding even if men are not well-liked in the boardroom, employees often still respect them and their opinions. “It’s a common experience.”
Recognizing and utilizing leadership skills. Women must utilize valuable skills — organization, communication, time management — or risk missing out on career opportunities that could lead to additional power and recognition, as well as a salary bump.
“Take the lead on a project, go after it,” says Trignano, who encourages women to see themselves as leaders and take charge of their careers. “Today women are over-represented in middle to lower ranks in corporations and companies, as opposed to moving up into the top half or third.”
However, Trignano says, she recognizes that climbing the corporate ladder can be a complex issue, especially since women, more so then men, must often also consider childcare and work-life balance. “We certainly have more opportunities, and more companies are recognizing the benefit of having women,” she says. “But women have to wrestle with childcare, and they become concerned about that diverting attention from their job.”
Filling the gaps. In addition to utilizing existing skills, it’s also crucial for women to recognize their skill gaps. To acquire additional skills, Trignano suggests finding a mentor or volunteering for a project that could, for example, explain how to organize a fundraiser or launch a new product. “Find things that will help you advance your skill set,” she says. “It makes a big difference.”
Final touches. Strong leadership skills can become virtually useless if women cannot communicate effectively with others or if they fail to present a well-kept image, Trignano says.
“We all come to the table with our own particular style of interacting with others, and it’s important that you can be flexible and incorporate that style to the person who you’re speaking with,” she says. “Knowing how to communicate with everyone gives you an edge.”
And image is important. “It’s the impression you make when you’re standing in front of a meeting,” she says. “It’s how you speak, how you sound, and how you look. Women have to look the part, and they need to pay attention to that.”