Vickie Milazzo grew up in a shotgun home in New Orleans and struggled to make a living at what she calls a dead-end nursing job before she followed her dreams in 1982 and started her own company. She founded the Vickie Milazzo Institute, an education company and professional association for nurses, now a $16-million business.
Milazzo wrote her New York Times bestselling book "Wicked Success Is Inside Every Woman" (Wiley, 2011, $21.95) to inspire other women follow their dreams.
She believes as the economy recovers from the worst recession since the Great Depression women must get out of survival mode and get into success mode.
How? By embracing their wickedly resourceful minds. The book's interactive approach starts with the reader making five promises to herself.
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"It's all about the commitment. I started it because I was in a dead-end job. I knew that the same mind-set that got me in that dead-end job wasn't going to get me out," she says.
Believing in herself, especially when it seemed no one else did, was key to Milazzo's success.
At work, women seem to struggle with this more than men, she says.
"The female urge to be polite and hospitable prevents women from singing their own praises," she says. This is especially a problem because male colleagues tend to exaggerate their accomplishments, according to a recent Columbia University Business School study. The study indicates this as a reason for the shortage of women in high-level corporate jobs and as a reason women continue to make just 75 percent of what equally qualified men earn.
Milazzo says women often underprice themselves during job interviews and fail to ask for significant raises even when being given good performance evaluations.
"It's not about being rude. It's about being a little more assertive," she says.
Women should to commit to being lifelong learners.
"If you're being underpaid, improve your relationships, get another skill," she says.
Women also need to stop being modest about their work. "No one communicates better than a woman. If you're not getting paid what you deserve and your bosses aren't listening to your ideas, it's time to re-evaluate your options.
"This economic recession has put a lot of people in a state of fear... We should not be afraid of using our connections to get another job."
That advice can be difficult to follow when the demand for jobs is high, but Milazzo says women need to be believe in themselves.
"I don't think people should be afraid. Use common sense but don't stop trying to improve your situation."
Milazzo offers the following situational advice to women trying to do just that.
"Go for what you want. Achieve that wicked success," she says.
The Performance Review
In a performance review, your direct boss expresses what a great job you've been doing and sets a goal for you to improve on your customer satisfaction rates.
The Modest Way: "I see that I need to work harder. I'm sorry that my customer satisfaction rates have been disappointing. I'll certainly do everything I can to meet this new goal."
The Manly Way: "I've been working very hard, and I am glad that you see it reflected in my sales numbers. I love my clients so I welcome the opportunity to make them even happier."
"It can be hard for women to toot their own horns," says Milazzo. "To a certain extent, we're actually wired to nurture and care for others and to put the good of the whole over our own personal interests. While these impulses aren't inherently bad, it's time for a newsflash: if you don't announce your own achievements, you can bet that no one else is going to do it for you. With humility, make sure that you're keeping your name, your accomplishments, and your skill set in front of everyone. Welcome challenges to improve and when you reach those goals make sure people know about it."
The Team Leader
You've been selected to head up an important team. At the first team meeting, you introduce yourself to the team.
The Modest Way: "I'm looking forward to working with all of you. I just hope my expertise can match up to the stellar achievements that you all bring to the table. If you think I'm leading the team astray, please don't be afraid to ask me to take a backseat."
The Manly Way: "This is something I'm very passionate about. My last team and I were able to create a product that is now the number one seller for the company. I'm confident that I can lead this team to the same success and I look forward to working with all of you."
"A big part of moving forward in your career is showing that you can be an effective leader," says Milazzo. "For many women, I think the first step toward becoming an effective leader is realizing that you can't be everyone's friend. You have to set a course for people and you have to do with confidence. They have to trust that it's a good idea to follow you. You won't achieve that trust by pandering to them. You can only do it by proving yourself worthy of their respect through your own list of achievements and your confidence in your abilities."
The Pay Raise Conundrum
In a performance review, your boss asks you if you think you deserve a raise.
The Modest Way: "I've worked hard this year, but I think it's best if you decide whether my accomplishments are worthy of a raise."
The Manly Way: "I've played a key role in developing loyal customers and bringing in new business for the company during a difficult economic period. Given my extremely positive performance review, I certainly think I deserve to be compensated for the hard work I've been putting in.
"Again, never underprice yourself," says Milazzo. "When you do so, you diminish your accomplishments and you diminish the role you play within the company. When you're given opportunities to put a number on your importance within a company, take them. Be reasonable, but be bold in explaining why you deserve the amount suggested."
"Don't let anyone--including yourself--forget just how much you're bringing to the table," says Milazzo. "The men you're competing against for positions certainly won't. Practice talking about your achievements. Be proud of your strengths and abilities and learn to compellingly express them to others. When you can master the art of positioning yourself in an appealing way, you'll unleash wicked success that can push you to the top."