Occasionally a layoff comes as a complete surprise, but in most cases there are signs of impending doom for weeks, or even months, ahead of that pink slip hitting your desk. As a woman in business, most of us are aware that we’re at a disadvantage in the workplace. Not only are women more likely to be passed over for a promotion than men, we’re also fired at a higher rate. Studies have shown that women in high-ranking positions like CEOs are fired at a 10% higher rate than male CEOs. So while I never encourage paranoia, it doesn’t hurt to rationally prepare if you think your job is in danger.

Before you get too stressed out, read on to discover just how you can put your own self defense against a layoff plan into action so that if and when the ax does fall, you will have a Plan B in place, even if you would prefer to never have to make use of it.

Stay Calm

Sometimes workplace chatter about layoffs is merely the product of employee fear, but if the chatter gets louder, or you know that things are not going well for your company, ignoring the possibility that your job could be gone soon is not a wise move to make. But neither is panicking. Your goal should be to find a new job before the old one evaporates, but don't make any rash moves, like quitting out of anger or taking on a job you are going to hate just to "feel safe."

Stealthy Job Search

The object of a self defense against a layoff plan is to conduct your job search while you still have one. However, getting yourself fired because your current employer catches you hunting for a new job, whether you are doing it on their time or not, is not what you want to happen. Employers distrust employees on the hunt for a new job, so keeping your job search as low key as possible is the wisest course of action.

Not using your computer at work to conduct your job search should be a given. Many employers these days routinely keep track of their employees Internet activity on company time, whether they tell them about it or not. If your history continually includes multiple visits to monster.com, it is a bit of a dead giveaway that you are looking to move on.

Establish New Channels of Non-Work Contact

Handing out your current company issued business card at job fairs or networking events is not a great move. Neither is giving out your current office phone number or company email address. Even if a coworker has been your ally in the past if they happen to intercept a call about a possible interview while you are at lunch then the temptation to snitch may be too much (especially if they too are conducting their own stealth job search) Employers also routinely monitor employee emails too.

Instead, have a set of new, personal business cards printed up and include contact information that is purely personal. That means your personal cell phone number and a personal email (a gmail address is fine, as long as it is professional sounding) and while you can include your current title do not make any mention of your current employer. You need not include your address either – and really shouldn't for privacy reasons – city and state is sufficient.

Make New Contacts and Re-Establish Old Ones

Networking really is crucial during any job search, and although online networking is quicker and easier, ramping up your offline networking time is essential too. If you do not belong to one already, join a professional association or meeting group and make a point of showing up to, and participating in, any planned events. You should not be too obvious about your real purpose there (you never know who might know your boss) but you can begin mentioning your desire to explore your career options once you are more comfortable around your new acquaintances.

Now is also the time to re-establish old contacts as well. Look up old college friends, ex-coworkers, former supervisors, even high school classmates on Facebook, Linkedin or even by just Googling them, and try to re-establish contact. The larger your network, the better, because sometimes people only end up landing that perfect job because their ex-college roommate's wife's uncle worked at the company and knew of an available potion that had yet to even be advertised.

Increase Your Professional Online Presence – Carefully

You should also begin beefing up your professional online presence. Begin by Googling your own name, because that is exactly what about 80% of hiring managers and recruiters will do, even if they have your resume in their hands. If yours is a very common name you may want to consider adjusting your usernames on social media and professional sites to include your middle initial so that you show up more easily.

Ideally you want a Google search to give people a glimpse of your professional identity. It is likely that your social network accounts will show up first but you really want more than that. Create profiles on industry specific sites and contribute to their forums and discussions. If you possess decent writing skills consider writing a few short articles that relate to your profession and post them on larger article submission sites.

The reason for doing this is twofold. One, they should begin showing up in those search results and two people can republish articles they like from these sites on their own sites, as long as they credit the original author, which can help position you as more of an expert or authority in your field.

Make Practical Changes

However hard you try, a layoff still may come before you have secured a new position. For this reason you should begin building a “cash cushion” now by cutting your unnecessary expenses back as far as possible. This does not have to be as hard as you might think. For example, if you have been stopping at Starbucks on the way to work for years, start bringing coffee from home instead. The simple act of cutting out that $4 venti every morning could help you save up to $80 month. Looking for easy to cut items like these should help you save a little cash for that rainy day without too much pain.

Layoffs are rarely rational; usually people are in the wrong place – or perhaps wrong department – at the wrong time, and actual job performance has little to do with the layoff at all. Whether you work for a publishing house in New York, a firm of Pittsburgh personal injury lawyers or a software company in Seattle, the cold hard truth is that even great employees can be laid off through no fault of their own. So if you think your job is in danger, it doesn’t hurt to start looking for a new opportunity carefully.