Office Politics

By Karima Wood

Essentials for working women: engage in office politics and self-promotion!

The working women among us are talented and ambitious and yet often frustrated that we have no visibility in our work environment. Are we thinking strategically about our career? Are we managing our careers the same way we manage our businesses? By keeping our heads down and doing a good job we think we might get noticed, well wake up…we need to take control of our career! What we need to do is manage the formal and informal decision-making processes that can lead us to where we want to be! We keep planning our households, jobs, paths, technical expertise and skill sets and in addition to these we can also add to the list; career planning, managing political connectivity and work politics.

Office politics has a bad connotation, but it is essential, as we need to be politically astute and lobby for support. We need to forge and cultivate relationships that are based on mutual interest. Understanding office politics is the art of influencing and manipulating the course of affairs in an organization, through informal lines of influence, aimed at certain goals. Office politics should be used positively and consciously to increase your career opportunities without harming others.

“I don’t do office politics, I don’t need that,” you will likely hear this comment from friends and colleagues. However, office politics are a reality that we all must face and avoiding them altogether risks not having a say in what happens. It also allows people with less experience, skill or knowledge than you to influence decisions that affect you and your team. “Good” politics can help you to get what you want without harming others in the process.

So, women need to work their office politics. Three tips for office politics without becoming a dragon.

  1. Know your political minefield
    Analyse the organization chart and understand the informal network. Know who to influence. Who has the power to make decisions within your organization? Who are the informal forces?
  2. Build relationships
    Make the most of your network- Develop your “people skills.”
    When you communicate your achievements to your connections, they might open up opportunities to “shine” for you, your team, and your boss. They can also act as a “bridge” between you and other colleagues
  3. Think bigger – be brave
    Do not doubt your ability to exert influence. Women must therefore dare to think bigger and aim higher. Because if you never try, you will not get any further.

By using personal influence, mentoring others, maintaining credibility and visibility and leading and inspiring others we will achieve a position leveraging your talent. Politics is a way of maintaining status, promoting ideas and helping others to move up the ladder. It is quite competitive at the top so a lot of time and energy will be spent on working the politics. It is important for your career development. It is a matter of focus and intention and nobody is born astute so it can be learned by all of us. It is an interpersonal skill and we can learn strategic networking. For example, in order to identify key stake holders and influencers- you need to actively network. Also, we need to tune in to how decisions are made and who holds the power and influence to make these decisions. Build relationships with allies, champions and mentors as well as bosses and sponsors.

Many women suffer from the imposter syndrome, where they think that they are not intelligent enough and are concerned that their status is over elevated. That is why they don’t dare to aim too high in their career. For example, men will be more likely to apply for that good job or start their own business, while women may think about it for a long time, give up sooner or aim lower.

Arabic and western business people portrait. Motivational concept

Promoting ourselves doesn’t come naturally to many of us due to the importance women attach to good relationships and keeping harmony. In general women do not like to talk about their strengths because they do not want to alienate people who are less successful. Whatever the reason, the hesitation to promote ourselves may harm our own careers. The business world is simply competitive and those who shout the loudest have the greatest chance of getting higher. By trivializing our achievements and honouring others, we are our own worst enemies.

Women and self-promotion are a difficult combination. For example, most women take the stage less readily (than men) and they think they should be seen primarily for their good work. To be seen, you must show yourself with all your qualities, unfortunately, this is also not the ultimate approach. Research shows that women who literally state their competencies are experienced as competent, but always at the expense of their likeability.

3 tips for ambitious working women:

  • First, make sure you have your affairs in order e.g. get the right diplomas, good work experience, and focus on volunteering and on your network;
  • Second, recognise when you need help. Women, unlike men, often do not dare to ask for help. Use your networks if necessary and ask friends for favours;
  • Finally, during a job interview attention is paid to charisma, self-confidence and ambition. You can do that by be an active listener, watch your posture, pay attention how you speak, dress impeccably and smile more often. Men are still better at this than women, we are still raised with modesty, but the labour market no longer works like that. So, practice that charisma, so that you stand out during a job interview.

It is essential to take all of this into account when you are career planning. Don’t assume that your work alone will get you promoted. Be politically savvy and socially intelligent!

Last week I read the ‘Little Black Book’ from author, entrepreneur and founder of Women Who, Otegha Uwagba. The book takes you through all you need to build a successful self-made career. It is written for women in the creative business but whether you are a thinker, a maker, an artist or an entrepreneur it contains a mine of useful advice. It is an easy to read pocketbook and is extremely practical for working women. It is direct, motivational and overflowing with woman power. Certainly, it inspired me!

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