What do women need to know to keep ahead in today's competitive professional world? It's a difficult question, and nearly every executive woman has her own set of answers. Here are a few garnered from some top women in the home-furnishings field.
Nancy High, director of communications for the Southern Furniture Manufacturers Association in High Point, N.C., says, ''I work primarily with men , but I would say you must first and foremost, and always, be a lady. Find a mentor who can help you grow. Be a mentor to someone else and help them grow. Women have been queen bees over too narrow a setting, such as their families and communities. We must now learn to stand back and see the whole big picture and move out into a vaster arena, just as men do. We must also, just as men do, learn to be team players.''
Annette Johnson, executive editor of House and Garden magazine, replies, ''Know how to keep a smile on your face, no matter what. I learned long ago that you can really make a lot of points that way. Be firm. But be a lady. And smile. There are a lot of good women in business these days, and they are well equipped and have done their homework well. I find them to be well-rounded individuals who can usually handle a lot of things at one time. But I still say that the ability to smile enhances a lot of things, including prospects for the future.''
Virginia Jackson, home fashions coordinator for Celanese Corporation, says, ''The thing women have to learn in a big corporation is how to adjust to a world of men and to find a way to follow through on their jobs within a highly managed structure. There are survival techniques that must be learned. But primarily, you have to learn to take a job, and then flesh it out, fill it in, amplify it, until you've made a 'real' job out of it that has real substance to it.''
Karen Gillespie, adjunct professor at New York University, reasons, ''Every job is political. You must learn the way in which to work with the people who are in your organization. You must stay within that framework. I have made it a practice never to rail against people, nor condemn them. I have always tried to work amiably on a one-to-one basis, and I've gotten things done.''
Muriel Chess, editor of Designer magazine, says, ''I think assertiveness is a basic ingredient to making it in a man's world, and don't ever kid yourself about that. It is still a man's world and becoming more so all the time. So you simply have to assert yourself, and put aside all that training that dictated that a woman must always smile and say, 'Yes, dear.' My generation has had to work very hard to get where we are.''
Arlene Petroff, home-fashions coordinator for the J.C. Penney Company, replies, ''I think every working woman has to learn how to put forward her best points, whatever they are, and make them work for you. I call it capitalizing on the positive. I tell women to quit recounting their faults, foibles, and imperfections; to underplay them, and to underplay corporate faults as well.
''Know your work environment and learn how to work with the people within it, '' she continues. ''Encourage people to be supportive of your programs by helping them understand what they are and what you would like them to contribute. Help them see the vision behind a project and to feel a part of it.
''Finally, I always tell women who work with me to look their part and dress their part, and look what I call 'together.' If they want a higher position, I tell them to dress that part, even before they get it.''