Too often our harshest critic is the one we meet every morning while brushing our teeth. Somewhere between wrapping the floss around our fingers and that final gargle, we manage to derail our days with thoughts of deadlines, unread emails, phone calls to make, dry cleaning to fetch, and cupcakes to bake for a school party. Can’t risk showing up with store bought, what will the other mothers say? Add to that the layer of self-criticism of how we look, the supposedly stupid thing we said yesterday, the shame of what we weren’t able to accomplish in the previous eight hours of work and well…it’s a heck of the way to start your day.
Right now you might be thinking, “How do you know all of that about me?” Simple, because I’m a professional woman. I too bought into a corporate culture that likes to market work-life balance as if it were a ready meal to pick up at the store instead of a complicated three-course feast with exotic ingredients.
As an executive leadership coach and trainer, I meet hundreds of people every year, most of whom are men. It’s no secret that men hold more leadership positions. CNN Money recently reported that only “14.2% of senior executive leaders in the S&P 500 are women.” The article points to something interesting that unless women are already in the leadership pipeline, they never make it to the top.
Here is why that happens.
It’s not that women aren’t educated. According to the US Government, National Center for Education Statistics, “Within each racial/ethnic group, women earned the majority of degrees at all levels in 2009–10.” This data may be a little dated but other sources point to the trend remaining the same.
Women edit themselves out of the pipeline. I’m not talking about taking time away from work to have children.
One day while working with clients discussing how to respond to a job opening, I asked, “What would you do if the job was one that would require you to stretch to perform? If you could meet approximately 75% of the requirements listed on the job opening?” The majority of them women said, “Oh, I wouldn’t feel comfortable applying. I’d need more skills to apply.” The men in the room said, “I’d apply and the learn the other 25% on the job.” So who will more likely secure the job? As a result, who is more likely to move further and faster in their careers? My response was: “What is the worst they could tell you? No? That’s okay! You’re gaining more skills through the interview process and identifying what skills you need to develop. And you never know, they may see something in you that you don’t see yourself. Apply!”
In my coaching practice, I like to observe my clients in action as it gives me a more 360 view. I watch them engaging with employees and participating in team meetings. Some of the minimizing behaviors I see include sitting toward the back of the boardroom instead of in the middle or closer to the speaker; saying yes to something that they shouldn’t be taking on; allowing themselves to be spoken over top of by a colleague; and staying quiet when they should be speaking up.
How do we work to change these? Recognize that you are worthy:
1·Don’t grovel for your very existence!
2·If someone tries to gift you a traditionally female-role task that is not in your department, say no and offer a potential solution.
3.When colleagues interrupt you and speak over top of you, look at them and say politely, “Just a moment” and continue speaking.
4.Learn to refuse the guilt that comes from standing up for yourself and saying no.
5.You were hired because you are good at what you do; make sure you never forget that!
In my book, ‘How Not to Act Like an A**hole at Work’, the main character Lou learns that her emotional intelligence is vital to her success as a leader. Working with her mentor, James, she learns the critical role that empathy plays in developing a successful team. They discuss the impact of her tone and body language, including her tone through the written word. All of this is critical to women as they claim their own roles as successful C-Suite leaders.
As women, we must wake up each morning and pat ourselves on the back. Start our days celebrating all that we have done and all that is waiting for us. It’s ok to say no. It’s ok to be imperfect. Cut yourself some slack – it’s ok to buy the cupcakes instead of making them. They’ll still taste sweet and your child will still be proud of you.
Melissa Davies is an internationally respected expert on developing workplace environments where people are able to show up better. She runs Wise Ways Consulting, which specializes in executive coaching, group facilitation, and high-engagement training. Melissa is also the author of How Not to Act Like a Bleep at Work, a business parable that delivers examples and lessons on how to create a business environment where team members are able to show up with their best selves and contribute to meeting the organizational mission.
Wise Ways Consulting – www.wisewaysconsulting.com
How Not to Act Like a BLEEP at Work – www.bleepatwork.com