Tips to Empower Female Up-and-Comers

Terri Lee Ryan, a headhunter, says she understands the challenges some women face while working their way up the corporate ladder.

Twelve years ago, Ryan established her firm Human Capital Solutions in Chicago, where she specializes in recruiting, outplacement, coaching and job transition services. Her latest book, Life Is One Big To-Do List, touches on a variety of topics that occur in what she refers to as the second third of a woman’s life.

Telecommuting has become controversial. What are your thoughts?
Telecommuting is not for everyone. Working at home has many distractions, especially for women who end up with more home responsibilities. It is challenging to focus on your work with your dog barking at the mailman, your teenager crying because her boyfriend broke up with her and your mother calling just to chat in the middle of your work day. Most people do not respect your work privacy, which leads to a lack of focus and more stress than there should be. Personally, I believe that most people work better in an office environment, where there is a clear separation between your office and home life.

What myths exist today regarding gender diversity?
There is still a stigma of women not being as proficient as men doing the same job. This is why men are still being paid more than women in many cases. Women are still thought of as not being as available to work as hard as men because of their home responsibilities and ensuing distractions.

Unfortunately, many men see their wife when they hire women, unless they have had a very successful female hire in the past. It is wrong, but certainly a real concern. In addition, female managers are often not much better in hiring. Many do not empower women as they should because they are insecure about their own role and angry that they had to work so hard for their own success. They are often competitive with other women due to their own insecurities. We need more female managers who mentor and help other women succeed. Also, women need to learn how to ask for the same wages as men and polish up on their negotiating skills.

How have women’s issues evolved during the past few decades?
Women are inching their way to top-level positions with more female CEOs during the last two decades, yet we have a long way to go. There are still only a small percentage of women running companies. More senior-level female executives are leading the way and breaking the glass ceiling for other women than in the past. The social media trend is also helping level the playing field for women in this industry.

How can women empower themselves outside of the workplace — in particular, those nearing middle age?
Women over 40 have much to offer in terms of experience. They have most likely reinvented themselves a few times now, working in a couple of careers. Some have raised children and have made concessions in their careers and need to redefine who they are, what their passion is and what their financial goals are. Everyone is in a different position at this point in their life, which will affect their options, yet all need to pay attention to what they are striving for since these next 15-20 years are the most important to securing a comfortable and fulfilling future. This is a time where women need to do some serious soul searching. I call this the second third of your life.

It is also the optimum time to leverage skills to maximize their earning power. This passage is the most critical in their careers and they need to stay focused on what their financial and personal goals are so they can assure a comfortable retirement and a solid foundation for their future. This is the time to make and save money. Women over 40 have leverage due to their life and work experience. They are still quite marketable in the workforce. Companies need their expertise. Yet, they need to stay current in their skills to compete with a younger, hungrier workforce.

Women need to become conversant and experts in the social media field to have an edge over their peers. Being current also applies to how they present themselves in the workplace. It is not how young or old they are as much as having “youthful energy” and looking fresh that companies embrace. Having this asset paired with solid experience will keep this over-40 crowd employed and a valuable asset to an employer.

Jennifer Kahn is an editorial intern at Diversity Executive magazine. She can be reached at