“Eminence building is not a process — it is a way of life”
Eminence may not be the first word that springs to mind when looking to further our careers. But professional recognition and eminence are inextricably linked. We achieve professional recognition by creating value. Eminence not only creates value, it also ensures value is communicated through journals, conferences, social media and other external forums, so that our ideas can inspire others, spark innovation and extend beyond our immediate sphere of influence.
For many reasons, women tend to be more hesitant to put themselves forward and attain professional eminence. Men in the workforce produce more published content, external presentations and marketing communications than women. So how do women attain eminence? We can start by defining eminence, why we need it, and how to navigate it successfully.
What Is Eminence and Why Do We Need it?
Webster’s dictionary defines eminence as a “position of prominence or superiority.” When put in a social and professional context, eminence is recognition for one’s superior knowledge and expertise in a certain industry of subject. Therefore, professional eminence is about being recognized and acknowledged for one’s expertise in their respective profession. Value is the utility of one’s work and skills in the context of one’s position, and eminence is a vehicle for building reputation in the marketplace. It relies on targeted communications that showcase one’s knowledge and experience, making it standout from others.
Women continue to be underrepresented and less frequently showcased in most industries. Two intertwined set of influences compromise women’s chances of attaining eminence: a) gender biases stemming from social norms pertaining to gender and b) individual choices while pursuing a career. As a result, many talented women remain hidden behind the scenes, consequentially reducing their opportunities for growth and promotion.
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Why Do Women Continue to Hold Back?
1. Reduced Visibility
With the introduction of the fourth Industrial Revolution, the commercial industry continues to improve its business processes and explore more competitive roles in organizational structures. The U.S. labor market is expected to increase by 6 million jobs within the next decade — specifically in healthcare, social assistance and information technology (IT). For perspective, women account for 14% of machine learning and artificial intelligence positions in the technical industry, while only accounting for 20% of the technical industry as a whole. And although women represent 58.5% of all graduate students in the U.S. (.3% higher from 2018), they are still a minority in the fields of science and business. Women account for 27.2% of students in Engineering, 32.2% of Computer Science, 38.8% of Physical and Earth Sciences, and 46.5% of Business. Women are unrepresented in fields that are at the helm of Industry 4.0. Couple that with the lack of recognition in the public sphere in similar topics, it is easy to see how women have reduced visibility.
2. Gender Bias
Although in recent years women have excelled in areas once predominately lead by men, unconscious bias endures in the workforce. Unconscious bias weaves its way into decision-making within organizations, leading to inequitable policies for women, who now balance career and other obligations with equal drive. According to McKinsey Global Institute, 42% of women in leadership roles do not want to be top executives due to the impact it would have on their families, as well as policies and a culture that present additional barriers for women within the workplace.
A stereotype born out of gender bias can cause unconscious bias towards women, and unconscious bias can inform stereotypes, causing a hinderance in a women’s career progression. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg addressed this stereotype threat to society, noting: “the more aware someone is of negative stereotypes, the more likely they are to fulfill the stereotype.” The continuation of stereotypes can have tangible consequences for women. For example, Sandberg shares a study in her book, "Lean In," showing that when girls are reminded of their gender before a math or science test, they perform worse.
As global markets become more competitive, growth-oriented and agile, it is critical for individuals to build their own eminence to distinguish themselves in the workplace. Before we discuss how to build one’s eminence, let’s put a few myths to rest.
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Myths About Eminence Building
1. Eminence Building Is Just Marketing
Although marketing oneself is a key aspect of eminence, eminence building goes beyond increasing professional awareness among peers. It digs deeper than day-to-day problem solving and looks at the bigger picture: What is my vision? How can I become a leader? Eminence is about having a point of view and sharing it with peers and leaders in the industry. It requires breaking comfort zones and increasing your recognition in the workplace. Writing a paper or presenting at a conference makes many of us uncomfortable. That is growth. When we learn to conquer uncomfortable situations and make it a habit to develop a strategic vision for the work we do, we grow as professionals.
2. It Isn't for Everyone
Eminence building is about creating value and driving one’s value to the highest levels. In a professional setting, value is the benefit one provides in their workplace or industry. The greater one’s benefit, the greater one’s value. We create value through every idea and project on the job. Therefore, there is no reason to believe eminence is exclusive. Professional eminence is for everyone who wants to grow as a professional. The earlier we introduce eminence building to our workforce, the easier it is for them to navigate their careers.
3. It Cannot Be Taught
Studies have shown that writing a paper, submitting conference abstracts, taking social media trainings, and all other forms of eminence building can be taught through targeted exercises and workshops. In the next section, we cover some very basic steps needed to build an eminence mindset and make it a habit rather than a forced activity in our professional lives.
Tips and Tricks for Building an Eminence Mindset
“Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.”
My personal experience with eminence has been guided by one principle: I don’t see eminence as a process, but as a way of life. I have always used work issues as a foundation for designing innovative solutions, writing whitepapers, or presenting my experiences and recommendations.
How many of you have found yourself in a situation at work where you think you have a novel solution to a problem, but no one is listening to you? Well, you just found your next whitepaper topic! Put pen to paper, document your idea, bring clarity to it, and present it to leadership. Even if it is not implemented, it will provide you visibility — you will learn to assimilate your thoughts and build your eminence.
So Where Do I Begin?Many of us would like to achieve professional eminence, but do not know how. Below are six proposed steps to help guide you in your eminence journey.
- Define Your Eminence Goals and Have a Point of View: This is perhaps the most important step in building a market brand and eminence.
- Determine Your Expertise: This need not be something you are currently working on. Ideally, it should be something you want to be known for and would want to dive deeper into. Pick ideas from current technology trends, emerging technologies, industry and market trends, client challenges and proposed or proven solutions. Find like-minded people to brainstorms ideas and direct your energy towards achieving your research goals.
- Identify Your Target Market: Have a holistic understanding of the market you want to enter. Know your consumer’s demographics, expertise and demands. Ideally aim for a space where there is a demand and yet a dearth of material. Search your organization for other experts and make sure you know what they know. Use your new knowledge to your competitive advantage and incorporate it into your daily routine.
- Pick Your Medium: This could be journals, conference presentations, volunteer positions with technology councils, or even social media. The medium could be offered within your organization, external organizations, or industry conferences. Your medium is how you want to be heard. It is your recognition tool.
- Peer and Mentor Evaluation: Your peers are often your best sounding boards.
- Rinse and Repeat: The saying ‘practice makes perfect’ holds true in achieving professional eminence. Continue this process until it becomes a part of your professional life.
This may sound intimidating, but it is about taking the first step. As a woman leader and executive within technology, I have mentored many women and young girls. This step-by-step approach is the outcome of my experiences over the years.
Many Paths, One DestinationThere are many ways to obtain eminence both within your organization and externally in the industry. Below are some pathways, along with guidelines for making headway as you move towards making eminence a part of your professional life.
Tracking Your Eminence Throughout Your Career
We live in a highly competitive, agile world. We need to keep abreast of changes and become part of the innovation process as new technologies emerge. Our success depends on our ability to think innovatively and communicate our ideas to the market effectively. Moreover, as leaders, we are expected to establish progressive eminence in our focus area. To increase the number of women at the top of market we need to inspire women early and assist those who feel intimidated or restricted in their careers. Building eminence through internal and external contributions encourages multifaceted growth. It helps you think, communicate, and build your brand — whether personal or professional, you will extend yourself towards something new. This growth doesn’t operate alone. Individual growth feeds organizational development.
Professional eminence serves as a steppingstone for women to overcome challenges in the workplace and gain footing in managerial positions. By incorporating the tips and tricks suggested above, women will be a step closer to capturing recognition in their area of expertise.
It is important to identify your skillset and run with it. Become the expert in your field and choose a medium to be heard by the workforce community. Eminence is for everyone, do not let the high visibility discourage you. With small steps, come larger ones. The moment you start progressing in your journey towards eminence, so will your career goals. Career growth and eminence are complimentary, each improves upon the other.