by Phyllis Levinson, PCC

“Not being automatically part of the workplace power club is a given for women and minorities. We can bemoan that fact or we can take action.” - Phyllis Levinson

“Not being automatically part of the workplace power club is a given for women and minorities. We can bemoan that fact or we can take action.” – Phyllis Levinson

Study hard, get good grades, go to college. Study hard, get good grades, go to graduate school. Study hard, get good grades, get a good job. Wash, rinse, repeat. This path, built on intellectual attainment, is supposed to be our golden ticket to a lifetime of career achievements, progress, and success. “Nose to the grindstone” is the mantra.

Then, for too many women and minorities, reality hits. Suddenly, being smart is not enough to move ahead. Nose to the grindstone does not result in promotion. Burning the midnight oil does not translate into making partner. What went wrong?

Nothing. Our plan was not incorrect, it was merely incomplete. Being intellectually intelligent (IQ) is necessary, but not sufficient, for career success, especially for those who are not straight white men. Academic achievement gets one in the door. Staying in and succeeding, is the challenge.

Emotional intelligence, or EQ, was popularized in the mid-1990s by Daniel Goleman. EQ is our ability to manage ourselves and our emotions. In the workplace, this means acting and reacting to events appropriately, such as maintaining your composure and ability to perform under pressure. However, as important as EQ is, it is also necessary, but not sufficient, for success.

Social intelligence (SQ), far less known and discussed, is the missing piece needed by everyone, particularly women and minorities, for career advancement. Having a high SQ means being able to understand and successfully navigate the workplace culture. Goleman describes SQ as our ability to be intelligent about our relationships. If EQ is inner-regulation, then SQ is inter-regulation.

Confidence in navigating the workplace culture—high SQ—is the major obstacle for women and minorities. Culture is largely shaped by the dominant group, which for most workplaces is straight white men. This is not a conspiracy or a plot. We all tend to befriend people who are similar to us, or with whom we have the most in common. We take work breaks with our buddy. We grab a quick lunch with our friend. Women do this. Minorities do this. Straight white men do this. For the latter group, however, this often results in power begetting power.

Women and minorities, in particular, need to have high SQs. They need to be perceptive, vigilant, and deliberate in how they navigate the workplace culture. There are six keys to unlocking the workplace culture door:

  1. Entitlement. You are smart and have proven your worth. This entitles you to attend the important business dinner or the client pitch, or get your piece of the new project. If you are not getting your fair share, speak up. Claim what you have earned. You must truly believe you are entitled or nothing will change.
  2. Mentors and Champions. Some people are fortunate to easily acquire great mentors who help them shape a successful and rewarding career. If this is not you, then make it happen. Identify people from whom you can learn or whose work you admire. Ask them if you can talk on a regular basis—perhaps during early morning coffees, monthly lunches, or weekly fifteen-minute check-ins. Be honest and direct in your request.
  3. Real vs. Imagined Conversations. Too often we play out in our minds how we think a conversation would unfold, reach a conclusion, and then never have the actual conversation. Preparing for a conversation is wise. Having the actual conversation is a must. Even if the conversation does not prove fruitful, you will have been heard and are now on the person’s radar.
  4. It’s Not About You. We too often personalize things that are not about us. This can be more challenging when we are not part of the power group, because we are less adept at reading the signs and signals from those in control. Most people are not being deliberately rude or dismissive. The felt slight from the person who walked by you without a hello is not reason for you to reach any conclusion without more information. Perhaps they just received bad news or are late for a meeting. Not sure? Ask.
  5. Topic Sentences. A topic sentence is the first sentence of a paragraph that lets the reader know what is to follow. Powerful speaking works the same way; give the listener the topic sentence and then fill in the details. When our insecurities get the best of us, we unnecessarily preface our statements, thereby diluting our message and our power. “You may not agree with me” or “I don’t know if this will work, but…” automatically lessens the impact of anything that follows.
  6. Option C. We humans are an either/or, yes/no, right/wrong species. We do not give ourselves enough choices. Either we a) go to the gym for an hour or b) we sit on the couch and watch TV. We do not consider c) walking around the block for fifteen minutes. Such either/or thinking can sink careers. Not invited to the important dinner? Ask if there is an available seat. Not included in the project-planning meeting? Voice your desire to be involved. You can tell yourself that “if they wanted to include me, they would have, so I am not going to ask,” or you can speak up and advocate for yourself. Option C, is the high SQ approach.

Not being automatically part of the workplace power club is a given for women and minorities. We can bemoan that fact or we can take action. Taking offense or feeling hurt keeps us stuck. Successfully navigating the workplace culture—demonstrating high SQ—is the key to career growth and success.

Life-ku: 101 Life Coaching Tips 17 Syllables at a Time by Phyllis Levinson

Phyllis Levinson, PCC is a certified life and executive coach with clients and speaking engagements throughout the United States. Her book, Life-ku: 101 Life Coaching Tips, 17 Syllables at a Time will be available early October 2014 through Amazon.