Today’s reality is that you’re bound to meet challenges and obstacles as a professional woman, especially when you reach the management level as you build your career. You’d assume that companies would advocate for equal opportunities, compensation, and better working conditions in this day and age. But this is not always the case, especially regarding women and workplace politics.
What is workplace politics?
We can define workplace politics as the demonstration of power dynamics among co-workers, also known as office or organisational politics. Most companies usually see workplace politics as dirty, self-serving, socially undesirable, and illegitimate. It involves the use of manipulation, intimidation and blame for climbers to succeed in their selfish goals. Workplace politics can be positive and negative, depending on the working environment.
But let’s not confuse workplace politics with gossip, which is informal communication (idle talk or rumour mongering) among co-workers about others’ personal or private affairs.
Picture yourself on the first day of work, innocently asking the wrong co-worker a question without knowing it’s a political faux pas. It could leave you walking on eggshells and feeling uncomfortable at work.
Studies show that women can carry out their roles as well as men, especially in terms of merit base, yet fail to undertake as well in the political part of the organisation. As you may well know, office politics is inevitable and, without proper understanding, could lead to:
- Lack of Concentration
- Negative ambience
- Attitude change
- Lack of motivation
- Occupational stress
- Salary gap
While reading this, you may wonder what step you could take to navigate workplace politics. Here are a few steps to give you the boost you need:
- Change your mindset
Your mind is a powerful tool. What you envision has a weird way of coming true or manifesting itself. You need to question some of your beliefs involving work and career. For example, why are you scared of confrontation, or do interpersonal dynamics challenge you? Learning this could help you strengthen your mind frame and establish a new optimistic viewpoint towards workplace politics.
- Be clear on your motives and goals
You may find the reason for shying away from workplace politics is that you don’t quite know what you want. Having well thought out motives and goals can help earn some confidence in what you’re doing.
- Understand your co-workers’ personalities and intentions
As crucial as it is to understand your motives, so is it crucial to understand the motives of your fellow co-workers. We know this may not be easy with all the different personalities and motives but be observant. Don’t be in a rush to judge. Find out their agenda and what motives they have toward a particular project or assignment. This information could help you to plan, prepare and manage political situations strategically.
- Stand up for yourself
Don’t mistake this for defensive behaviour or promoting one’s needs all the time. What we mean is placing yourself in situations that show your skills and expertise. Take advantage of these situations to share results you’ve achieved or show how beneficial you are to the company. This will give you a competitive edge without the need to toot your own horn.
- Build relationships
It will be very beneficial to you to identify key power players at work. These are the most influential, respected and listened to co-workers. Forming strategic alliances will help you gain information, propel your career and navigate workplace politics.
- Leverage informal networks
While undertaking steps 4&5, identify what social networks run in the company. Which groups or squads exist, what feuds are there and who gets along with whom. Knowing the social networks around you will assist you in navigating influences at play and avoiding faux-pas in your career.
- Keep your enemies close
‘Keep your friends close and your enemies closer’ – this phrase couldn’t be more relevant. Understanding the power players and their motives will ensure that you steer away from negative politicking or being used to drive other people’s agendas.
- Seek sponsorship over mentorship
You need both roles, mentors and sponsors. A mentor will offer guidance, knowledge and wisdom, while a sponsor is there to advocate for you and lead you to better opportunities. We could term this “a godfather” of sorts. Sponsors are usually found in a company’s upper management.
- Use emotional intelligence
As a professional woman, you may be of the notion that emotions are a sign of weakness, especially when dealing with male counterparts. On the contrary, you need to get attuned to your emotions to identify the kind of people you work with and your environment. This will guide you while politicking.
- Adopt a successful behaviour
Surround yourself with successful people; model their behaviour, but above all, work to improve yourself. Add new skills to your resume, take care of your well-being and have a good balance between your work and personal life.
You’ll likely face many obstacles along your career path, so always be prepared, remain professional, humble and respectful of others. Workplace politics can be a dirty game, but don’t be shy to take the bull by its horns when you need to.
Sources: Inspired Executives, The Corporate Sister, hbr, Forbes, hbr, Management Study Guide