07/20/17 | Gender, Media & Culture

7 Unspoken Codes of the Male-dominated Business World

You have serious career goals that involve a steep upward trajectory. You’ve obtained a good footing in your career, and there’s fire in your belly. So where do you go from here? How do you attain that top executive position you covet?

When you’re ready for the next challenge, but leads and promotions aren’t as abundant as with your male counterparts, what can you do to improve your prospect and secure your next foothold?

Come to grips with these seven important unspoken codes of the male business world. Observing them can help you achieve your career dreams.

1. Think through your commitment 

Reaching the C-Suite is not an easy undertaking. While many younger women gain momentum early in their career, it becomes more challenging the further you go. Trying to move into the managerial echelon is like being thrown from a boat: Suddenly you’re out in water in heavy seas. You notice that your male colleagues were all given life vests, but you were excluded. You take in gulps of salty water as you battle the waves and attempt to swim towards the lifeboat. That’s how it can feel once you’ve climbed a few rungs up your career ladder. Perhaps you’ve had some push-back you didn’t anticipate, or been passed over for opportunities. Mid-career, it’s like you’ve swung one leg into the lifeboat. Further up towards the C-Suite, well, that’s the roughest part. Propelling your other leg into the boat as it’s rocking in turbulent waves requires mustering every ounce of energy you have left to make it happen. Sounds daunting? Every C-Suite and executive career woman knows it’s true. You can do it, but before you weather that storm, be crystal clear of your values. What time commitments, travel, pressure, corporate politics and long hours are you willing to accept? Take some quiet time by yourself and write down the top 10 things in your life that you most value. Now number these in order of priority. The top five will help you determine what’s right for you. The next five, okay, fine–weave in and out of these when you have time, but drop the stress of perfecting all 10.

2. Become an outstanding negotiator 

Take an online course and role-play different kinds of negotiations scenarios. If you took debate in school, you have a head start. Board members and senior executives are top negotiators. Use negotiating tools during any less-than-perfect annual review to persuade the reviewer to rethink his analysis. Women tend to believe, “Well, they can see I work hard; they’ll notice me more in the future.” Not true. Enumerate on your accomplishments and defend your worth. Men negotiate and you should, too.

3. Build internal and external networks 

Cultivate contacts at every level of your industry, and find out who they know. Strategize ways that they can make an introduction and return the favor. Keep your ears open around your current company. When a position opens, it’s discussed in-house long before it’s posted with a recruiter. Have a reputation for being considerate, dependable, poised and sharp. Become someone that others aspire to be around and recommend.

4. Stay on top of your game

Continue to educate yourself in preparation for your next role, whether it’s getting a full handle on how the finances in the firm are handled, or new product development works its way through the pipeline. Stay up to date with the company’s annual reports, analyses of growth potential, industry journals and news articles. Initiate conversations with upper management to offer ideas for improvements — but make sure the conversation takes place in front of an ally in case the idea becomes theirs.

5. Learn to deal with strong personalities 

The higher you rise, the more likely you’ll encounter alpha males — and females for that matter. Learn communication skills to handle these domineering types. Declarative statements will hold more sway than detailed explanations. Never let them rattle your calm demeanor. Become an expert on body language. It’s helpful to read people before they speak. It gives you time to process and prepare how to handle them.

6. Know how to dress for top positions 

There’s no room for any mistakes here. Get a professional makeover for your hairstyle, wardrobe and makeup. Hire a stylist who understands the corporate world and can direct you appropriately. You won’t be in the advancement pool if you’re not dressed for it. We are cruelly scrutinized for what we wear. Fair? No. True? Yes.

7. Manage your stress 

Find an outlet to release your pressure valve to keep it from erupting. Run, practice yoga, meditate for 10 to 20 minutes each day–and know that Bridgewater Associates hedge fund founder Ray Dalio, along with many CEOs and millions of others make time for meditation because it works.

Yes, double standards continue to exist for businessmen and businesswomen. It’s unfair, but it’s reality. This makes it all the more important to throw a life preserver to your women colleagues whenever you can. The next generation of women is counting on you to move the needle in the corporate world toward better parity of pay and higher positions.


Marja Norris is the CEO and founder of MarjaNorris.com, a company dedicated to helping women achieve their career goals with style and confidence. With a distinguished career in finance, she has successfully navigated the male-dominated business world and is passionate about coaching women on how to be taken seriously, be heard, and get what they want at work. Her latest book, The Unspoken Code: A Businesswoman’s No-Nonsense Guide to Making It in the Corporate World, provides women with the tools to awaken their dreams and reach their highest goals. Visitmarjanorris.com.

Marja Norris

Marja Norris

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