Five habits women need to give up to get ahead.

Angela Barbee, Vice President – Engineering & New Product Development, Global Faucets, Kohler, Wisconsin

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When I was in eighth grade, I visited IBM as part of a youth STEM program. The keynote speaker was a female engineer. For a girl that grew up under the hood of a car in her dad’s automotive shop, that woman was bigger than life. I had never seen a female engineer before, and I remember thinking “I want to do that.”

I knew it would be difficult—as a woman, as an African-American woman—to break into a field so dominated by men. One pivotal moment for me was attending Milwaukee Trade and Technical High school—as one of just six women in a class of 150 pre-engineering students. I didn’t let it deter me. Instead, it sparked something in me that I carry to this day: a drive to always innovate, always explore, always discover.

Over the years, I’ve tried to remain true to those ambitions, and I’ve learned some incredibly valuable lessons from some great mentors. Turns out those lessons were not so much what to do, but what NOT to do.

Yes, these apply to women, and women engineers, and women of color. But, really, they’re important for anyone who wants to get out of their own way and maximize their opportunities.

  • Stop being risk averse. We need to give ourselves more credit and take more leaps of faith career-wise, especially when it comes to taking on senior positions or more responsibility. Research has shown, men will apply to a job in which they only meet half the qualifications; while women will meet all but a few of the criteria and still will not apply. We all (but women especially) need to stop believing that our actions will speak for themselves and start to speak up and verbalize our achievements to get what we want.

  • Stop apologizing and over explaining. Women sometimes apologize or overexplain out of politeness, or as a way of being empathetic. However, it can make us appear less confident and insecure, and it undermines our authority. Instead of overexplaining why you were late, just say, “Please excuse my tardiness; what did I miss?”

  • Stop saying yes to nonvalue tasks.This one is simple. Stop volunteering for work that no one else wants to do. We need to dismantle the stereotype that “women take care and men take charge.” Be selective about where you place your energy and determine if it will result in professional growth or better pay.

  • Stop doubting yourself. Walk strongly into a room, be vocal early in the meeting and don’t second guess your contributions. Even if you agree with what’s already been said, you can still express your opinion by leveraging statements such as “I was just reflecting on the point made earlier, and it has a lot of merit,” or “I support that recommendation and suggest we move forward with it.”

  • Stop underestimating the importance of other’s strengths. Holding others back won’t help you get ahead. When you’re in a position of influence in a room, use that to empower other women. Ask the women in the room what they think, and use subtle ways to elevate their authority, by saying things like “Make sure that gets in the minutes” when they make a point. Let’s all look out for each other.

Several years into my career, I was working at an automotive company. As a girl that grew up tinkering with cars, it was a job that totally won me over. We had over 10,000 acres of test tracks, and I was responsible for testing vehicles and figuring out how to fix any defects. I remember calling my dad and telling him “I can’t believe they’re paying me to do this. I would do this for free.”

There I was, a young woman of color, working in a male-dominated job in a male-dominated industry—and I was killin’ it, if I do say so myself. Sure, I’m a geek—I take that as a compliment. But I truly loved what I did (still do!), and it’s a great feeling. One that is too rare.

If we want to innovate and explore and discover, we need to bring more women to the table—not just because we represent 50% of the population, but because we bring skills and perspectives and energy and ideas that can change the world.

Your Kohler story begins here.