Stop leaning in—career capital is what really matters

More than ambition.
More than ambition.
Image: AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi
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Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, still sits on the bestseller list, but new research finds that women have a different idea about what they need to thrive at work.

Workers believe that building “career capital” is the key to their success, according to a new report from Accenture. This refers to skills that differentiate and deepen someone’s stock of job, industry, and network knowledge and abilities.

Accenture’s Nellie Borrero, managing director of Global Inclusion and Diversity said:

“Career capital is a way to think about what skill sets a person has acquired and how they match what’s needed for the rest of the career journey. In particular, people need a pause from the busy day-to-day demands to assess their deficiencies, and embrace a plan to close the gap between where they are and where they want to be in three or five years. That assessment can cover functional expertise, marketing yourself, as well as goals such as learning new technologies and social media.”

In Accenture’s survey, 89% of women said building career capital is critical and 84% actively work to increase it. An elixir of workplace success, career capital offers job growth opportunities, influence over decisions at work, credibility with peers, and job security.

How to build this critical career capital? Exhibiting an ability to adapt to change successfully by learning new things is by far most important attribute.  And about 75% of respondents said on-the-job experience is more important than education. Two-thirds said knowledge or competency in a particular area (such as marketing, manufacturing, or technology) also builds career capital.

Accenture surveyed 4,100 business professionals in medium to large companies in 32 countries. The sample was evenly split between men and women across three generations.

Thirty years ago, management expert John Kotter wrote that a successful business career requires people to dig in to the “nitty gritty” of their jobs, industries, and networks, investing continually to build career capital. It was “lean in” advice for mostly male managers. Today, women too understand that dividends accrue to such investments.