The Single Biggest Mistake Women Make At Work

by Ellevate Network

Over my years in business, I’ve worked with a lot of women, I’ve managed a lot of women, I’ve promoted a lot of women, I am a woman.

And the biggest mistake that I’ve seen women – and particularly younger women – make at work is……..

They kinda mistake it for school.

Huh? You may be saying. Are you nuts? Of course work is not school: There’s no tailgating, I can’t remember that last time I pulled an all-nighter, there’s not a quarterback in sight.

But stay with me for a second. Because I can’t tell you how many women I’ve spoken to who think that delivering a great project on time, ticking and tying the budget, landing the new client are the keys to success. In other words, getting an A.

With a bit of prodding, they further tell me that they believe that if they keep their heads down and “get that A,” they will be given the next great project or be promoted or granted the raise. In other words, that they will be rewarded for a job well done.

Maybe. I hope so. But what made us successful at school is not always the same as what can make us successful at work.

Because here’s what nobody really tells us: Yes, you need to be great at your job, but it may not be enough. Instead, networking has been called the #1 unwritten rule of success in business. We didn’t need it at school to be at the top of the class. But, in business, your next business opportunity is more likely to come from a loose connection (one of the many folks you met at the recent industry gathering, with whom you keep in intermittent contact) than from Mike in the next office. That’s because you and Mike mostly traffic in the same information; it’s through a broad network that you bring in addition information. So you can be really great at your job, but if you’re not hearing about the new opportunity, you’re not going to get the new opportunity.

A corollary: Your good work doesn’t count if nobody knows about it. I was fortunate to be told this early on by a senior analyst at Bernstein who took it upon himself to “mentor” me: that my research calls could be right, could be the best in the business. But if I wasn’t out there communicating them, and so nobody knew about my work except for me (and my boss), I wasn’t going much of anywhere.

So developing the sometimes-dreaded personal brand is another key to getting the next great opportunity. (And you don’t have to go all “become a thought leader” on this front; a personal brand is simply what people say about you when you leave the room. You want it to be representative of your strengths.)

The other place I see women’s drive for the A hurt us: in investing. (“Now what in the world is investing doing in an article about women’s careers?” you may say. Well, I firmly believe that some of the best career advice women aren’t getting is to invest. We have a “gender investing gap” in this country, which can cost some women tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands of dollars, or more in comparison to the guys. And do you feel more confident at work when you’ve got more money to your name? Yeah, me too.)

I hear from so many women that they’ve taken to heart the implicit messages they receive that we women “need more financial education” in order to be ready to invest. So they buy the investing book, print out the prospectus, put them both on the bedside table…..and then never pick them up again. Dust bunnies everywhere.

I’m all for more financial education. Believe me. But if you wait until you feel like you “know everything” (ie, can get that A) about investing, you won’t invest; and, historically, this has carried a real cost. And here’s a newsflash: guys need more financial education too. But they invest to a greater degree anyway, and they have historically profited from it.

So my best advice is to start investing, a bit out of every paycheck. Here are some thoughts on how to find a firm you like, then stick to some tried-and-true investing tenets and make it a habit. And, for fun, here is also our reaction to what John Oliver had to say about choosing an investing firm.

The moral of the story: let’s not confuse what made us successful in school for what can make us successful in our careers.

Top image: Mad Men

This article previously appeared on LinkedIn and Ellevate and has been reprinted with permission.

Sallie Krawcheck is the Co-Founder and CEO of Ellevest, a digital investment platform for women. You can sign up for VIP access here. She is the Chair of Ellevate Network. She is also the author of the forthcoming book “Own It: The Power of Women at Work,” to be published early next year.

For information about Ellevest, a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) registered investment adviser and its financial advisory services, please visit the firm’s website ( or the SEC’s Investment Adviser Public Disclosure website (

Ellevate Network is a global women’s network, serving as the essential resource for professional women who create, inspire and lead. It is operated on the belief that the research is clear: companies and the economy perform better when women are fully engaged. The most dynamic network of its kind, Ellevate is made up of successful, motivated and passionate professional women from various industries and walks of life with one common belief: that investing in themselves and in other women is good business. To learn more, go to

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