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Step One: Know your worth and what you want. Step Two: Build the professional relationships needed to build your brand and advance your career.

That was the consensus of the women executives who took part in the “Taking Yourself to the Next Level” panel discussion at NJBIA’s recent Women Business Leaders Forum. The annual event is New Jersey’s largest professional women conference, bringing together hundreds of corporate and nonprofit leaders, entrepreneurs, and students for the shared purpose of increasing diversity in corporate leadership and empowering women to build successful businesses.

“Knowing what you bring to the table is imperative,” said Christa Newsom, Diversity, Inclusion and Culture manager at PSEG. Women who want to advance need to be able to advocate for themselves by keeping track of their accomplishments and sharing them with decision-makers.

“When you are ready to ask – because you do have to speak up when you want a promotion, a raise or want to join a new project – you need to be clear on exactly what it is that you are asking for and be direct about what you want,” Newsom said. “It’s really important to know what you want, what you bring to the table and for you to be prepared to share that with the right folks when you’re ready.”

Building relationships with managers, mentors and co-workers is also important for career advancement, the panelists agreed. Seeking feedback on opportunities for self-improvement is an effective way to both build relationships and advocate for yourself at the same time.

Martine Cadet, a content marketing coach and founder of Kaderique Media, advised attendees to invest in building cross-department relationships, not just those with direct supervisors and co-workers in your immediate department.

“You’re going to start developing ways for you to be that key person… connecting all the cross departments that are important to your own department’s success,” Cadet said. “Building relationships is absolutely key,” she said.

The panelists agreed that fostering professional relationships is more challenging in today’s hybrid remote work environment that so many professionals are struggling to navigate now.

“One of the ways to bring back that human touch that we used to have … is to reply to emails using Loom – not Zoom – Loom with an L, like Larry,” Cadet said. “What’s great about it is that you can share in the email a short video of yourself explaining what is in the email and that brings a personal touch as if you’re in the office.”

Tanuja Dehne, president & CEO of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, said that while cultivating relationships is important, not all interactions should be viewed as transactional.

“As you are advocating for yourself … you should also be advocating for others,” Dehne said. “And what happens is that your brand and your reputation as a giving person, as a mentor and a sponsor, as someone who is lifting others voices, that becomes a very powerful part of your reputation.”

When taking stock of what value you bring to the company, ask what you are contributing on a more personal level, Dehne said. “As we lift ourselves up, how are we going to lift up others?”

To view the entire Sept. 24 panel discussion, which was moderated by Jackie Lue Raia, president of Alexena Consulting, go here.