How to Make It in Management

by Deborah Prussel, WV Contributing Editor

These tips are from a recent seminar, “Wildly Successful Women Leaders.”

Maria Contreras-Sweet, Secretary of Business, Transportation and Housing, the first Latina in a California Governor’s cabinet, Leslie Margolin, a Senior Vice President for Kaiser Permanente and Melba Muscarolas, Regional President, Los Angeles for Pacific Bell discussed success, and what it really takes for a woman to make it to the top.

  • Learn the corporate culture. 
    Understand the company and its politics. Know the fundamentals of the company. Do not let the corporation stifle you. If there is something you do not understand, ask questions. Remember, the only dumb question is the one you do not ask.
  • Keep your eyes open. 
    Be observant, watch and listen. Learn from those you respect as well as those you do not. It is not just position or job title, but what women do with it.

  • Work hard.
    The stories of women working twice as hard as men to get to the same position is still true. Try to do more than the job description requires. Unfortunately, many times women are still assumed to be incompetent while the opposite is true for men. Reality is, they must work harder and put in longer hours than their male counterparts to advance in management.
  • Attend to the home front. 
    Strong family, spouse or significant other support is critical. Advancement in the corporate world may necessitate moving to a new location every few years. Balancing work and family is a challenge that affects women more than men.


  • Collect experience.  
    Do not hesitate to take different positions within the corporation, even if they are lateral moves. The more you know about the company, the more valuable you are.
  • Get a mentor.
    Find good mentors. Male or female will do. Learn the ropes, learn from their experience. Ask their advice. 
  • Be personable.
    Realize the importance of peers. Typically those above and beneath will be handled, but peers can also influence a career. 
  • Keep your eyes on your goal.
    Stay focused, no matter what happens. If something goes wrong, admit to the mistake and move on to other things. It is the old “keep your eyes on the prize” theory. 
  • Network. 
    Seize every opportunity to network. It needs to be brought into every facet of your life, personal or professional. Information and help can come as easily from cousin Maude as the Chair of the Board. Get connected with other successful, empowered women with common career goals. 
  • Be visible.
    Do not hide in your office. Develop contacts and resources.  Join professional and nonprofit organizations. Attend trade shows and professional conferences. These are all excellent learning tools and have the added bonus of networking opportunities. People cannot help, hire or even promote you if they don’t know you, or never see or hear from you. 


  • Develop your skills.
    Start a skills inventory and develop specific skills that can move you up the ladder in your field. Specialization is always an added bonus. Ask for opportunities to learn new skills and at the same time try going out of your comfort zone. Many companies will pay for university classes or seminars. If not, go on your own. Community colleges are excellent, low cost vehicles for education. 
  • Have a plan. 
    It does not have to be cast in stone, but the act of defining goals, thinking them through, visualizing and writing them down will bring focus. Continually re-evaluate your career plan.  Find someone bright and trusting with whom you can share and refine your goals. 
  • Keep up with the times.
    Be conscious of trends in the economy and in your particular industry. “If you are not the lead dog, the view never changes.” 
  • Go online. 
    Never underestimate the power of the Internet. According to Advancing Women, “Women today are using the Net to route around the power structure, transcend traditional and historic barriers and, finally liberate themselves by talking and networking with each other. Strong parallels exist between access to knowledge, access to levers of power, and the ability to enter and advance in the workplace.” 
  • Do your homework.
    Identify female friendly companies and go to work with one of them. The companies with high percentages of Women Corporate and Line Officers and top earners, according to a recent Catalyst Survey are: Avon, BJ’s, Dayton Hudson, Enron, Hannford Brothers, Kelly Services, Knight-Ridder, Mattel, Paine Webber, SLM Holding, Solectron, Southwest Airlines, Times Mirror, and Washington Mutual. Add to that list companies like AT&T, Pacific Bell, Sara Lee, Xerox, IBM, Deloitte & Touche and Motorola. Research companies to find which ones have enlightened policies for women and families. is an excellent place to start your search.  Its membership includes a large number of employers who believe in and actively recruit a diverse workforce. is committed to presenting diverse points of view. However, the viewpoint expressed in this article is the opinion of the author and is not necessarily the viewpoint of the owners or employees at IMD.