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How to become a sought after female leader when you’re a generalist

Written by
Laura Kressmann
Published on
November 7, 2023

Is this you?

When it comes to career advices, such as:

  • "To be where I am, my mantra has always been: If I'm not all in, I'm not in at all."
  • "Be the go to person for one problem, and excel at it!
  • "To become a leader in your industry, be good at one thing and get known for it!"

I’ve found that despite making perfect sense, for some reason, they often felt off for me.

If they do for you too, well, you might be like me, a professional with a diverse background, skillset and who hardly defines their career aspirations within only one professional lane but rather a portfolio of careers. You like wearing multiple hats. You’re a generalist. 

But when looking for how to succeed in your career, you’re usually challenged not being able to focus, and be “jack of all trades”, while experts are usually praised in becoming the subject matter experts in their industry since they can go in depth in one area.

This feeling of not being able to conform to the specialist career success standards are way too familiar to me - As I had to overcome them myself in my early career and constantly see them in the work I do with my coaching clients.

And those uneasy feelings are real:

  • Generalists can feel inadequate
  • Generalists tend to see themselves as being flaky not having what it takes
  • Generalists often doubt themselves that they “are not there yet” having found that one thing, before stepping up asking for a promotion, changing roles etc…

And how does that tend to look like in a generalist career?

  • Job hopping by switching roles early and often not being sure where you fit
  • Feeling stuck because searching for your purpose in your career feels unreachable
  • Have a non-linear career path which might confuse people especially hiring managers

   

All those can look like serious obstacles for female generalist professionals trying to thrive in their careers so they can have more impact and fulfilment. This is particularly true in high growth industries, such as Tech.

Plus, when you consider the systemic issues in the workplace female professionals have to face everyday, such as:

  • Mental health issue: Suffering from imposter syndrome. “Due to a variety of external factors, 56% have been afraid that they won’t live up to expectations or that people around them will not believe they are as capable as expected”. Source 
  • Financial issue: With the pay gap, “women earn up to 28% less than their male colleagues in the same tech roles. Source. The percentage of women in tech leadership roles has fallen to 28%, according to DDI’s 2023 Global Leadership Forecast”. Source  
  • Health issue: With high risk of burnout. New research from a recruitment specialist suggests that almost half of women who work in the tech sector experience burnout. source 

You can easily imagine how it quickly adds up for generalists professionals and creates vicious cycles. But rest assured there are ways around it, which I’ll share further down in this article.

That said, before jumping into the solutions, you have to understand why this is so hard for generalists to thrive and confidently self promote? 

What is the root cause?

While everyone has their own career journey, over my +10 years experience in the corporate world, I’ve found that there is usually one common trait that characterises female generalists early years’ work experience: The lack of quality feedback which reveals to be a real trend for all female workforce across industries (source).

It’s hard enough to self-promote, but it becomes even more difficult to do so when you struggle to see what you are good at or where you have the most impact when you are a jack of all trades. And if your manager never brings light to those generalist strengths, those generic feedback can become overly confusing overtime:

  • “Keep doing the good work”
  • “With you, we know things get done”
  • “Too bad you’re leaving, you are an unicorn that will be hard to replace”

All the above are real feedback I’ve received in my career. Despite feeling somewhat positive, they gave me no indication of what my differentiator factor is in order to self-promote effectively. What problem I excel at fixing… What “go to” expert I am…

So as a generalist professional, I quickly realised that my default job on top of everything else is to educate and voice how I impact the bottom line.

I had to get clear on my strengths, proactively voice my career aspirations and effectively articulate how I add value and impact the bottom line.

So now that you understand where the gap comes from, I’m going to give you 3 tips to help you do exactly that. Tips you can implement now, as soon after you read this post.

How to thrive in your career as a female generalist professional?

  • Focus on your Mindset: You’re the CEO of your career and own the narrative of its journey. And as a generalist your job title doesn’t define what you do. If you’re like me, chances are your job title doesn’t say much anyway. So you have to learn how to introduce yourself so that it honours the portfolio of expertise you have.
  • Develop your Creative Confidence: Borrowing this concept from Tom & David Kelly, you cannot just rely on generic career advice to suit your unique career path. Therefore, you have to tap on your creativity to redefine the rules and go outside the box. For example, when answering the question “tell me about you” in interviews, stay away from a chronological review of your experience. On the contrary, build a strategic narrative that shows how you can add value stepping up in the role. And yes, that demands confidence to show up as you true self!  

  • Build a Brand: be the connector you naturally are by networking with purpose so people get to know what you stand for. By showing up often and meaningfully, you create the most reliable feedback loop for your growth: a diverse support network of mentors, peers, role models, influencers…Those will give you the perspective you need zooming back on your career. Plus, it’s what will attract real generalist friendly work opportunities for you. As a long game investment, this is a no brainer! 

I appreciate that those are just a few tips to start with and if you’d like to know more about me and how I help generalist professionals become the sought after leader they aspire to be, do not hesitate to connect with me on Linkedin here

I’ve been there, this is why I’m so passionate about supporting driven female professionals through my mentoring here at Femme Palette and my coaching practice with bespoke programs at Aspirationelles

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