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Trapped at Work?

by Tory Johnson

Just back from Houston and I’ve got Texas women on my mind. I spoke to more than 5,000 attendees at the Texas Conference for Women last Wednesday. Hundreds talked to me individually—and twice as many have since emailed to share their stories.

Unlike many of the people I meet in my travels, not one of these women is out of work. They’re all gainfully employed by some of the biggest players in the world-from oil giants to drug companies. Yet they share one common trait: they feel trapped.

“I don’t see an opportunity to advance.”
“I doubt there’s a future for me here beyond my current role.”
“I wonder what I could be considered for besides this.”

They were sheepish—almost apologetic—in expressing this frustration. After all, with 26 million Americans un- or under-employed, nobody with a solid paycheck wants to be seen as a complainer. We found ourselves half-joking about the golden handcuffs.

I’ll tell you what I told them.

1.) Talk to your manager: Instead of assuming someone is looking out for your career interests, you must be willing to speak up. Schedule a meeting with your manager to share your desire to plan a path for advancement. Get feedback on where the boss sees you in the next 6 to 12 months and ask directly for support on fulfilling your specific goals. Suggest some of the skills you’d like to develop and the projects you’d enjoy working on. Map out a plan, along with a timeframe for achieving it.

2.) Seek support from internal networks: Large organizations have internal groups, including women’s networks, designed to engage participating employees. Don’t just join; get involved. Take on a leadership role. Volunteer for a committee. Make yourself—and your career goals—known. When someone gets to know you and your interests, they’re more likely to make introductions or recommend you for opportunities.

3.) Poke around outside: If change in your current organization isn’t possible, start putting out discreet feelers to see what else may be available at other companies on your target list. This means getting your resume ready and taking proactive steps to finding something new. Having a job puts you at an advantage over those applicants who are unemployed.

4.) Consider a side hustle: Perhaps you have no interest in launching a full-blown job search and you’re not really interested in giving up the pay and perks of your current position. Starting a side hustle—building or expanding on a small business idea (as long as it’s not against company policy) may bring the stimulation and excitement you crave. Spark & Hustle is a great resource to help if that’s the route for you.

Taking some form of action is the best way to get unstuck. It’s so easy to complain about our situation, but if we don’t do anything about it, we lose the right to whine.

If you’ve found a way to get “untrapped” at work, tell us here how you’ve done it.

2010 Texas Conference for Women keynote Tory Johnson is a New York Times bestselling author, the workplace contributor on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” and the founder of both Women For Hire and Spark & Hustle.