Be in the driver’s seat

by Gaye Wilcox ([email protected]) 1,157 views 

I began working for Arvest Bank in high school, so I can attest to many changes in the banking world during my career, as well as offer some helpful observations and advice to those younger women looking to start a career or transition into a new one.

Women in the workplace are no longer outliers. This is probably a given to most young women either looking to start a career or transition into a new one, but not too long ago it wasn’t the case. Older women understand how far we have come in the workplace.

According to the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, women account for 52% of all workers employed in management, professional and related occupations, somewhat more than their share of total employment (47%).

However, women continue to face challenges, especially in occupations that continue to be performed mostly by men. For example, women make up 20% of software developers, 27% of chief executives and 38% of physicians and surgeons. I’m fortunate that I haven’t had to face the challenges so many women have had to overcome, but I hear stories from friends and other women on the subject.

I consider myself lucky to have worked for a company my entire career that has grown massively, in both Northwest Arkansas and the surrounding region. That kind of growth has given more opportunities for women, particularly in regard to leadership positions and options more readily available to women at the beginning of their career.

Still, I’ve noticed men tend to be more likely to speak up and share thoughts and ideas. For women, it may not come as naturally, but to grow you have to challenge yourself. You can’t be afraid to put yourself out there and make mistakes. You’ve got to learn from your mistakes and move on.

Also, women need to understand how important it is to build relationships and connections. One of the things I’ve learned from being a manager is the team around me is crucial to my success. Their success is our success. You have to be willing to trust. It’s so important to know and understand there are very few careers where you can do it alone. To truly succeed, we all have to have a strong team around us.

For women who want to grow in their career and rise in their company, I also would highly recommend becoming an active board member for an organization dear to you. I volunteer and serve as a board member for Habitat for Humanity, and I feel it’s helped me advance in my career by instilling in me a better sense of organizational structure and what it takes to lead.

When I look at the up-and-coming generation of women, I see a remarkable, highly intelligent group who care so much about their community and others around them. They wholeheartedly want to make a difference but are often confused and stressed about what career to choose and how to give back. I want them to know it’s OK — we’ve all been there — and the two don’t have to be exclusive.

Along with finding a company that understands your long-term goals, like planning for a family, women who want to be active in their community should ask employers about the company’s community involvement and volunteer opportunities. Most companies help out in their surrounding community, either through event or nonprofit involvement — or they would gladly welcome new ideas to become more involved.

As women, it’s crucial we find a healthy balance between work and life. Compared to previous generations, women today more often focus on their career before starting a family. While it’s great to be passionate about your career, make sure not to let it overtake your life. Learn to unplug and enjoy time with friends and family.

More than anything, women, don’t be afraid of change as it comes at you. Embrace it and run with it. Women are often the driving force of change, so make sure you’re in the driver’s seat of your own life.
Editor’s note: Gaye Wilcox is a sales manager for Arvest Bank in Fayetteville. The opinions expressed are those of the author.