Success lessons for women in the workplace

Find creative ways to manage career breaks, tell your boss you want a promotion instead of waiting for recognition and make the most of your relationship with mentors.

Those are some of the main success lessons for women highlighted in a new report by TD and the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, which polled 334 Canadian women.

Manage career breaks to your advantage

When women choose to take a break from work, they can lose wages and the opportunity to advance their skills, cautions the report, released in honour of International Women’s Day.

That doesn’t mean you can’t have it all, Vanessa Iarocci, director of TD’s women investor program, said in an interview. You can – just not at the same time. There will be periods when you will focus primarily on your family and periods when you will focus on your career.

When you focus primarily on family, find creative ways to stay involved with work, Iarocci advised.

For example, after her son was born eight years ago, she was able to negotiate a part-time role (at a different job in finance) with her managing director for at least two years.

“That kind of kept my foot in the door while I did spend more time with my son. As a result, it was much easier for me to reintegrate later,” Iarocci said. “I wasn’t in a sideline role. It was a very meaningful role where I was able to make an impact. I was still moving my career forward.”

Express your aspirations

Tell your manager you want a promotion or an executive position.

This is one Iarocci has learned the hard way. “You feel that if you put your head down and you’re working really hard and you’re doing great work and you’re at the office later than everyone else — I made the assumption, like lots of women — that that’s what got you ahead,” Iarocci said. “And suddenly you look up and you realize you haven’t really told anyone what you want to do. […] Often women just don’t ask. You learn that over time, when you look right and you look left and the people that were next to you were moving forward and you’re not. It’s such a common story for women.”

And, Iarocci added, do ask for help with learning the necessary skills and anything else that might be required for you to move forward.

Make the most of relationships with mentors and mentees

Women should look for mentees in order to hone their leadership skills and leave a legacy as well as for mentors in order to get career support, the report advises.

It’s also important for women to turn their mentors into sponsors. “A [sponsor] is somebody who takes a more active interest in moving your career forward,” Iarocci explained. “Mentorship is something the company can do. Sponsorship is how you turn that relationship into something that can help you further your aspirations.” So, to turn mentors into sponsors, let them know what you’re aiming for and then ask them if they’d be willing to support you along the way.