Success for women means tossing off stereotypes, author says

Tuesday, October 24th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

By Patricia Lowell / Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News

The best way for women to get ahead in business is to stop relying on shoulder pads and masculine success models and start talking to other women.

That's the advice of author Susan Abrams, a visiting scholar at Northwestern University's Kellogg Graduate School of Management.

"America has this image of a successful career, and it's a model that was created entirely by men," says Ms. Abrams, a successful investment banker and management consultant who has written The New Success Rules for Women (Prima Publishing, $24.95 hardcover). "Women don't find this traditional success model very comfortable because it doesn't allow for the kinds of things women do well."

To determine the steps that will help women get ahead, Ms. Abrams interviewed 45 nationally recognized female business leaders about their struggles, strategies and the many lessons learned on the way to the top. The result is a book that highlights the last 30 years of working women and 10 rules they used for reaching their goals. These rules make up chapters such as "Never Take No for an Answer" and "The More People You Know, the More You Can Get Done."

Here, Ms. Abrams explains these strategies for getting ahead.

Question: What is the key to career success?

Answer: Women make up 46 percent of the labor force but have only 11.2 percent of the corporate offices. That's mostly for reasons that are stylistic, not substantive. For example, we've tried to move forward in a success model that just doesn't work for women. The first thing that women can do is start getting comfortable with going on the record, such as taking credit for their ideas and efforts, asking for important projects and asking for proper compensation. We're trained to defer to others' opinions. But to get ahead one must be willing to speak up, take credit and take responsibility.

Question: Is there anything different about today's work environment that will make it easier for women to be successful?

Answer: Definitely. The technology explosion has changed the business world dramatically. There's room now for all kinds of diversity, and that will make it easier for women to achieve career success. We're also very lucky for the groundwork put down by the women before us.

Question: What's the most important part of starting a successful career?

Answer: Find a job that you are absolutely passionate about. If you are passionate about sports but can't play on the field, then get into a behind-the-scenes sports job. If you are an accountant who loves music, be an accountant for Sony. Just keep exploring until you find something you really love. When you do, you'll benefit tremendously and so will the people who work with you.