The First Step To Taking Control Of Your Career: Realize You Have It


woman at steering wheel


Bonnie Marcus
Bonnie Marcus
May 18, 2024 at 3:29PM UTC

Every week we learn of more research about how the current workplace culture affects women’s ambition. There is a consistent message that a lack of gender equality and pervasive bias and discrimination sabotages women’s careers. Certainly the reports validate our experience in the workplace. And while this information is critical to affect any cultural change, is it possible that these negative messages fuel our own sense of lack of control?

Deloitte’s global survey of millennials this year shows women (67 percent) are slightly more likely than men (64 percent) to leave their employers within the next five years. 48 percent of female respondents say they are “being overlooked for potential leadership positions.” What is also of interest, however, is that many of these women feel they have no control over their careers. In fact, only 29% feel they have total control.

I conducted hundreds of interviews with professional women to write my book, The Politics of Promotion: How High Achieving Women Get Ahead and Stay Ahead. These women were all working in predominantly male-dominated industries. Victimized by the politics in their organizations, many felt they had no control. They avoided politics to their peril and subsequently witnessed others less qualified being promoted over them. They blamed the workplace culture and bias for their misfortune. Many were stuck in unfulfilling jobs or left the workforce in frustration. They didn’t realize their victim mentality resulted in giving up their power and control. By learning to be more politically savvy they could have taken control. Control was available but they either didn’t see it or weren’t willing to take it.

Recently, I surveyed over 600 women ranging from 22 years old to over 50 about their ambition. 73% stated that they were very or extremely ambitious! But one third reported that their ambition was sabotaged by specific workplace situations including gender bias and unsupportive managers.

One of the women who took my survey stated, “I always had a passion for pursuing a career at a huge company and after college I did that. I found out how much politics play in corporate America and it turned me off. I went from someone being so sure of what I wanted to do to be successful and now that I have been exposed to the true nature of corporate I have no clue what I should do next.”

Another woman commented, “My last job I was very undervalued and not recognized for going above and beyond all of the time, where others I worked with did little to no ‘extras’. They always reaped the benefits and I was looked past. It frustrated me to no end and it made me want to give up and stop trying”.

What happens when we feel a lack of control over our careers? Often we are frustrated, unhappy, and paralyzed to take positive action. We fall into the victim mentality without realizing it. This contributes to career quicksand and discontent. This feeling of not having control over one’s career destiny is ubiquitous for women today.

I received three calls this week from women interested in coaching. The primary reason they reached out was they felt stuck; they’ve made no progress in moving their careers forward. I heard stories of toxic relationships and dirty politics. When dealing with these challenges, it’s easy to want to curl up in a ball and avoid all conflict and positive action. But these women reached the tipping point and realized that they needed to do something; that it is possible to take action and do whatever they can do to be successful.

Certainly our default behavior is to focus on our work. Our belief that our performance will help us advance is a fairy tale but that’s often our comfort zone. When faced with challenging workplace situations, a retreat back to our desk and do what we do best seems like a great idea. But when we do this we must realize that we have given up to some degree. Yes, we’re doing the work but we’re not taking control of our career destiny and doing the things we know will help us do better like self-promotion and strategic networking.

In the survey I conducted, the most ambitious women stated that it was their own grit and determination that helped them be successful. In other words, they realized they did have control of their ambition and embraced their personal power to reach their goals.

How can ambitious women take control of their career destiny?

Realize that you always have the power to take control. When you feel like a victim, you give up your power. Change your mindset to understand that taking control is an option. Yes, the reality of the workplace may not support your efforts and after you’ve tried all options, you may need to make a change. But isn’t it better to try to do something than sit back and wait for things to be different and continue to be frustrated and angry?

Let’s face it. We feel better when we are in control. We have more energy, passion, and purpose. You can take that renewed energy and focus on what it takes to get ahead and put a strategic plan in place.

Gather information and observe the workplace. Make the effort to understand the dynamics. What does it take to get ahead as a woman in your department/company? What type of behavior is rewarded and what is not rewarded? Who can be your allies and champions? Who has power and influence over your career? Build relationships with these supporters and create a power network based on your career goal.

Gather the intelligence, put a plan in place, and take action. Never give up control of your career. And avoid the tendency to let the negativity influence your ability to reach your goal. Yes, we need the research to understand the current lack of diversity. It’s imperative to have this information in order to affect any cultural change. But don’t let the bad news influence your mindset. Take control and put your best foot forward every day.


Award winning entrepreneur and Forbes and Business Insider columnist, Bonnie Marcus, M.Ed., assists professional women to successfully position and promote themselves to advance their careers, and consults with companies to retain and support their female talent. Her latest book, The Politics of Promotion: How High Achieving Women Get Ahead and Stay Ahead (Wiley, 2015), provides a road map for women to navigate the complexities of their workplace to get the promotion they deserve.

With 20+ years of sales and management experience, Bonnie’s extensive business background includes CEO of a ServiceMaster company and VP of Sales at MedicalStaffing Network and two others national companies in the healthcare and software industries. She has held executive positions in startup companies and Fortune 500 companies. honored Women’s Success Coaching three years in a row as one of the Top 100 Websites for Professional Women stating, “Women’s Success Coaching weighs on the many building blocks of empowering women in business, from assertive communication to self promotion to sensitivity training.” In 2015 and 2016, Global Gurus honored Bonnie as one of the World’s Top 30 Coaches.

In addition to Forbes and Business Insider, Bonnie has been published in Entrepreneur, Women in HR, Daily Worth, Reader’s Digest, Intercontinental Finance, Careers in Government, Diversity MBA, Upstart Business Journal, Washington Business Journal, and CIO Magazine. She has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc, Crain’s NY Business, Huffington Post, Fast Company, Fortune, Psychology Today, Men’s Health, and more. Bonnie received a BA from Connecticut College and a M.Ed. from New York University.

A version of this article was originally published on Forbes.


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