Despite combining multi-tasking with a lead foot, I’d backed out of my narrow garage countless times without mishap. Then came the morning of a mistake in judgment and a big car repair bill. Ugh.
Spending money on unnecessary repair bills cut into my shoe budget, so, after that, I backed out slowly and carefully, acutely aware of distance and speed. Repair bills and a ton of inconvenience were a mistake I didn’t want to repeat.
“Oh, that’s so sad,” said a gal pal to whom I recounted my morning challenge. “I hope you get your confidence back real soon.”
Get my confidence back? I hadn’t thought of my situation that way.
But now, the thought of a lack of confidence in my abilities was in my head every morning as I backed my car out. I wondered when my confidence would return. What a crummy thought to have so early in the day.
Low confidence. That was a malady I thought I’d escaped. Hair that frizzed in humidity, a weakness for chocolate that showed in a flabby belly, and a closet overflowing with shoes were issues I knew I had. Lack of confidence not so much.
My inner critic disagreed. It chirped that all women lack confidence.
Goodness, said my inner critic. Look at all the books and articles out there. Women having low confidence is an epidemic. Of course, you suffer from it. You’re not zipping out the garage like you used to, are you?
No, I wasn’t.
Confidence is a golden blend of self-esteem and self-efficacy. Were mine missing? Time to reflect and see if my inner critic was right.
As for self-esteem, I could check off all the boxes. I knew I was competent. I believed I deserved to be happy. I felt like I was useful and delivered value. All self-esteem systems were a go.
Self-efficacy is the judgment we make about our ability to master new skills, produce results, and succeed in specific situations. I’ve failed a gazillion times. Some days I even muck something up before leaving the house. But dusting myself off and trying again had never been a problem. One boss had even given me the nickname “Jane never-say-die Perdue.”
OK, self-esteem and self-efficacy were fine. So, what was going on?
While low self-confidence may be a common issue with some women, suffering from it didn’t square with my experience. (Stubbornness is another personal malady.)
Business women routinely make decisions, manage budgets, run households, and serve their communities. That stuff doesn’t happen in an absence of confidence; it only happens when someone has faith in their abilities. (Granted, they might occasionally doubt themselves a little, but humility is a good thing.)
Hmm. Is low confidence really just part of being a woman?
Could that supposed lack be a social meme, a cultural idea, that people believe because it’s plastered everywhere? Google “women and low confidence,” and there’s 274,000,000 results.
Could women’s alleged low confidence be a convenient social explanation for inequality? A cover for gender bias?
Don’t make my mistake
As I considered my situation more, I concluded low self-confidence wasn’t the problem. I’d let my pal put a thought in my head, and then I ran with it. My confidence was fine.
So, what was my deal? Cautiousness. I was being watchful and prudent. That’s all. Prior to the big repair bill, I’d operated on autopilot—car in reverse and go, with a thousand nondriving thoughts pinballing in my mind.
Fascinating how I’d allowed myself to get sucked into an unproductive line of thought by the power of suggestion from my pal and the ubiquity of the belief that women lack confidence. I won’t make the mistake of automatically buying that line of thinking any more. Being cautious is totally different than lacking confidence.
Times have changed. In these more enlightened days, professional opportunities for women are increasing. How to take the greatest advantage of those opportunities, however, is a complex question.
The more women enter the world of business leadership, the easier the next generation will find it. But how do you set yourself apart as a female business leader? In this article, I’ll share a few approaches that made it a little easier for me as the owner of a successful franchise.
Accept and Promote Your Unique Strengths
You will always have something to offer that others won’t.
Are you creative? Are you good at solving problems with logic? Are you very practical and hands-on? Working on becoming an all-rounder is a good idea, but it’s also very important to have a more specific set of signature skills to fall back on that will always impress.
I came to franchise ownership from a commercial scuba-diving background where I consulted on film and television productions. This background allowed me to bring unique element to my new-found profession as a restoration specialist —clearing underwater debris.
As a result of long-standing attitudes within the education of young women, females are often expected to facilitate the success of others rather than pursuing their own. Undo any tired conventions of this kind by positioning yourself as an expert early on!
Work, Work, Work
As a woman, it’s likely that you’ll come to the world of business from a unique angle. Typically—though this does not go for all women—the go-to attitude with which girls are raised is to nurture and support rather than to drive or innovate.
This may mean that you’ll need to push yourself to the extreme. Work to get your head around your role as a female business leader—be an “ideas woman” and the one who gets things done.
All of this is in addition to the work that any business owner needs to undertake in order to be successful. In the first few months—perhaps even years—you’ll need to be willing to work twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week to keep your project alive and thriving.
Of course, you’ll need to take care of your physical and mental health, too. After all, you are your business’s greatest asset. Just because you’re a strong person doesn’t mean you have to do everything on your own—that’s an unhealthy attitude.
Talk to people, surround yourself with supporters, and allow yourself downtime and a social life wherever possible. Don’t punish yourself or work will become more and more of a mental struggle.
Female Business Leaders Communicate
Don’t be afraid to delegate, make requests, and give advice where needed. These acts alone will position you in a place of authority and set you on a positive path to becoming a female business leader who will be respected, relied upon, and listened to.
Work on being concise, firm, and positive when giving instructions—while at the same time showing that you are a friendly member of the team who is willing to get her hands dirty.
Learn When Not to Compromise
Listening and understanding are important skills for any leader in the world of business, and this is one area in which a more old-fashioned upbringing may benefit females. Typically, girls are taught to emote and appreciate others’ feelings, and this can be applied to your work.
However, it’s also vital to know when to put your foot down and stand your ground. As an expert, you need to exercise your right to make an executive decision, politely reject ideas, and silence naysayers.
All of your decisions should be backed up with solid facts, and you need to be reasonable and fair. At the end of the day, though, you’ve gotten to where you are because you’re great at what you do, and that should be respected and taken into account.
I was lucky growing up in that both of my parents were involved in the world of business, which made it a significant part of my mindset and something that always felt like an option.
However, I appreciate that getting one’s head around the rejection of long-held societal beliefs to pursue a career as a leader in business may be very difficult for many women. If you’re kind to yourself and if you take to heart the above advice, things may come a little easier.
As a woman in a leadership position, I’ve found that calling upon my individual skills and abilities, putting in the hours and effort, working on my communication skills, and standing my ground have all stood me in great stead.
Today’s guest contributor is Jennie Mills, a female business leader who’s the owner of a Rainbow International franchise.
Maybe she was just a bot looking to rack up a high follower count. That’s what I hope to be the case. Why? Because every picture on her social media account emphasized one of her body parts.
Her parts were lovely, but skin wrinkles. Boobs and bums sag.
So, this is what puzzles me. Why would a woman want to define herself by something that’s fleeting when so much of what makes a woman unique and wonderful is everlasting?
It breaks my heart to see a cover picture on social media of a woman’s dramatic cleavage or sumptuously curved booty instead of her face. Those body parts are amazing things to have (can only imagine), however, women are so much more than their body parts.
A woman’s whole self—her personality, intellect, abilities—can get separated from her appearance in unhealthy ways.
What we see in the media
Much of what we see in the media encourages gender stereotypes, unhealthy thinking about body image, or objectifies women. Consider:
98 percent of the women portrayed in advertisements are ultra-thin with large breasts. Only 5 percent of women have that body type.
Women were on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine 30 percent of the time between 1967 and 2009. 83 percent of those images were sexualized. Only 15 percent of the images of men were sexualized.
The average woman is 5’ 3” tall and weighs 164 pounds; the average model is 5’ 11” tall and weighs 115 pounds.
81 percent of 10-year old girls in the U.S. are afraid of being fat.
From 2006 to 2016, ads portrayed just one in four women as having a job (and to top it off women were 48 percent more likely to be shown in the kitchen).
Between 2006 and 2016 women were shown in sexually revealing clothing six times more than men. In 2017 that dropped from six times to five times, but the number of female characters shown in sexual revealing clothing overall remained the same (one in 10).
In some ads, a woman is a faceless object, reduced to features which are sexualized as objects of desire.
Women’s body parts are four times more likely to be included in advertisements than a man’s.
If women aren’t vigilant about monitoring these influences, they can begin to see themselves as a collection of body parts—only good for looking good. This inclination to reduce a woman to “piece parts” is borne out by the findings that women are more likely to be seen by other women and men as parts rather than as a whole person. Men are seen as a whole person.
What research says about a focus on body parts
This priming to focus on body parts and appearance negatively impacts women’s views of gender equality and social issues. Psychologist Rachel Calogero observes that “women who were primed to evaluate themselves based on their appearance and sexual desirability had a decreased motivation to challenge gender-based inequalities and injustices.” Ugh.
Are women and their worth doomed to being judged by their appearance and body parts?
The body parts researchers modified their experiment to prime individuals to think of women as a whole, not a body part. The result? “The sexual body part recognition bias appeared to be alleviated. Women were more easily recognizable in the context of their whole bodies instead of their various sexual body parts.”
For a little while some years ago, I let myself get sucked into to the appearance-is-everything mindset and became the gal with killer shoes and size 8 clothes.
I wanted to be known for looking good and for being smart and powerful. The last two were getting lost in the shuffle because I was leading with appearance. I was miserable.
7 ways to get comfy in your own skin
I learned to get comfy in own skin—liking myself no matter my dress size—after learning seven life lessons:
Appreciate that appearance is fleeting but that talents last a lifetime
Understand that the best power comes from the inside out, not the outside in
Surround ourselves with people who appreciate us for what we are, not how we look
Believe that we are not just a collection of body part but rather the beautiful sum of our looks, brains, personality, and talents
Accept that looking good, not air-brushed perfection, is enough
Boot the fellas who are more interested in arm candy than a woman with brains and opinions
Celebrate who and what we are, smiles lines, muffin tops, and less-than-perfect upper arms included.
What has helped you get comfy in your skin? What insights do you share with your daughter? Grand-daughter? Female friends self-conscious about their appearance?
At one point in my career, I was a vice president in a Fortune 500 company that had $2 billion in annual revenues. I successfully managed a department of 150 people, consistently delivering projects ahead of schedule and under budget.
When asked by the CEO to describe me, can you guess what my boss said?
He said I was a “soft and round Aunt Polly.”
Wow, that stung.
I can’t deny that I’m a woman. That I’m blonde. And that I’m overweight.
But why would my boss describe me by my appearance and sex instead of my accomplishments?
Because I’ve hit the trifecta of stereotypes. Tilt, tilt, tilt for being a dumb, fat broad.
It’s 2019, and gender stereotypes still exist that make it challenging for business women to be seen as both a good leader and a good woman.
That really troubles me.
What about you?
Is that the kind of workplace culture we want for our children and grandchildren?
For the women and men who want their kids and grandkids to have a different experience, now’s the time to partner up for change.
Provided both sexes are willing to modify a few workplace practices, together we can change how leadership is defined and practiced. Together, we can put an end to the stereotypes that limit the potential and passion of too many.
9 ways to say good-bye to gender stereotypes
Here are nine actions you can take to bring equity and gender-balanced inclusiveness to your leadership practices.
1. Be mindful of gender stereotypes that influence your thinking about which sex is better suited for certain kinds of work.
Social conditioning nudges people to think about leadership in terms of masculine traits, a practice that puts women and feminine attributes at a disadvantage.
If you find yourself thinking that men make the better bosses because they’re good at taking charge and women the better assistants because they’re the best at taking care, stop. If you always ask the women in your meetings to take the notes or plan parties, stop. If you question the leadership potential of a kind-hearted man, stop. If you describe assertive women as shrill, stop.
Stereotypes push us to apply a specified set of expectations to a whole group of people, whether they apply or not. When we do that, we ignore individual attributes and deny people their potential.
2. Check for inconsistencies in how you select a man or a woman for a job or evaluate their promotion readiness.
Research tells us that women are judged on their past performance, men on their future potential. Why not evaluate all candidates on both their past performance and future potential?
3. Assure that all voices are heard equally in the meetings you conduct.
If the men keep interrupting the women, call them out. If the women remain silent, call them into the discussion. If anyone co-opts an idea that someone presented earlier, assure that proper attribution is given.
4. Monitor how you pay your people.
If you supervise others, look for—and correct—any wage disparities that exists between sexes, ethnicities, etc., holding the same positions.
5. Sponsor both women and men and be proactive about it.
For anyone who has the audacity to insinuate that an inappropriate relationship exists in a mixed sex sponsorship, call out their boorish and stereotypical thinking.
6. Let go of the incorrect myth that power always corrupts.
There are those who use the power of their position for personal gain, but don’t confuse power with the selfish person using it. Power reveals what a person already was.
7. Avoid the “parent” trap.
When a man becomes a parent, it’s assumed he’ll be more dedicated to his work because he has a family to support. When a woman becomes a parent, it’s assumed she’ll be less dedicated to her work because she has a family. Be on the lookout for these incorrect assumptions. Along the same lines, don’t penalize either moms or dads for using family leave time.
8. Don’t confuse physical presence with true inclusion.
Just because there’s a woman or a minority on a team doesn’t mean there’s an inclusive, participative environment with meaningful engagement. Ask yourself some tough questions about whether your leadership practices are reflective of real participation or just window dressing presence.
9. Be willing to be vulnerable so your biases can be detected and managed.
While we all work hard to not be biased, we still are. Create mechanisms so that the presence of biases, gender and otherwise, can be safely and nonjudgmentally identified and eliminated.
Seeing someone else’s biases is much easier than seeing our own. That means using tact, grit, kindness, persistance, and grace are essential for achieving progress, openness, and inclusion.
Psychologists once believed that only bigoted people used stereotypes. Now the study of unconscious bias is revealing the unsettling truth: We all use stereotypes, all the time, without knowing it. We have met the enemy of equality, and the enemy is us. ~Annie Murphy Paul, journalist and author
As you head out to work tomorrow, remember the shining eyes and hopeful faces of your children. Build the kind of place where you would want them to work.
Ever have one of those days when you feel like you just can’t win?
Like when you left the job interview last week feeling proud that you’d put it out there and thoughtfully presented your accomplishments. Today you learn you didn’t get the job because you’re “too aggressive.”
Like when you counter-offered a higher starting salary and had the job offer rescinded because that’s “not how team players work.”
Like when you stepped up (as everyone’s been telling you to do) and asked to be paid fairly. The boss cut you off and didn’t talk to you for the rest of the day.
What’s going on???
Those on the receiving end of your interactions tapped into their gender bias and concluded you were acting too masculine.
Men, not women, talk about their accomplishments and expect to be paid at or above market.
Because of gender norms and bias, we expect leaders to be assertive, forceful, competitive, demanding, task-oriented, and self-assured—all actions society associates with masculinity.
Women, on the other hand, are expected to be modest, friendly, warm, supportive, and unselfish.
So, when a woman speaks confidently about her abilities or negotiates for more money for herself, she’s messing with people’s minds. Men are the ones who take charge, not women. Women take care.
Alice Eagly, a professor of psychology and management at Northwestern, says that leadership paradigms make it hard for a woman to be both a good leader and a good woman. So true and so awful.
Leadership practices need to change so that both men and women take care and take care.
That day is still in the future, which means we have to deal with gender biases today.
Dealing with the disconnect means women need to continue self-promoting and negotiating—keeping one foot in femininity and the other is masculinity.
3 ways good women leaders bridge the gender gap
Here’s how that works:
Start a conversation with your boss by asking how things are going for them (feminine) and then segue into about one of your recent work accomplishments (masculine). As you share your achievement, include a few details about how the team, company, department, the boss, etc., benefited by what you did. Demonstrating the advantages to others offsets your self-assurance with the cultural expectation of modesty.
Thoughtfully flex when using your pronouns. Especially “I” and “we.” Don’t shy away from using “I” when outlining your actions in successfully managing a sales project to positive results (masculine). Sprinkle the conversation with a few “we” remarks as you describe how the team contributed (feminine). Using both pronouns balances competitiveness externally with unselfishness.
Tactfully saying “no” or disagreeing (masculine), and gracefully offer an alternate solution or position (feminine). Offering help shows friendliness alongside assertive confidence.
Feeling a little annoyed about having to take the added step?
That’s OK, but try to look at from the perspective of laying the groundwork to level the leadership playing field as worth the extra effort. Women are the strangers in a strange land that unconsciously (sometimes consciously, too) favors the masculine.
This means—until the day arrives when a woman can be assertive and a man compassionate without raising eyebrows—that we need to be “double agent” while working behind the scenes to change the rules of the game.
Being too masculine stops us in our tracks: he’s assertive, she’s pushy. Relying only on the feminine derails us, too: she doesn’t have what it takes.
Women get caught up in negative stereotypes about women, too. We can be quick to point a finger. Who does she think she is?! What a pushy broad!
Ingrained biases die hard, however, we have to police ourselves so we can advance the cause.
That means valuing masculine attributes the same as the feminine ones.
When that happens, a woman who self-promotes and negotiates for herself isn’t doing something unusual, she’s simply doing business as usual.
When I was growing up, my mom told me I needed to be a good girl in life and doing that meant following a few simple rules. One of those rules was to never talk about myself or money. Never, ever. She said good girls just don’t do the self-promotion thing because talking about what you’ve accomplished is bragging and talking about money is impolite.
I listened to my mom, so do other women. 61% of women in a study said they would prefer to discuss the details of their own death than to talk about money.
In another study, 76% of executive women said it was difficult for them to draw attention to their accomplishments.
Brothers hear their moms say these things to their sisters but not to them, so they carry these socially approved notions—OK for boys to do it, not OK for girls—with them into the workplace.
Some women don’t ask for the raise or higher starting salary and receive neither. Other women do talk about their accomplishments and are branded as selfish, non-team players. Business women are caught in the crossfire between social conditioning, stereotypes, unconscious bias, and leadership norms.
One element of that nasty crossfire is the double standard—women who behave in a manner more expected of a man are criticized when men aren’t. Women should care for others and not themselves. That man understands his worth.
Another element is how people evaluate us is by our accomplishments, successes, abilities, and potential. If business women aren’t providing that narrative, people draw unflattering or incomplete conclusions about our abilities or fail to give us credit for them.
And yet another is a lack of critical thinking and curiosity. Paola Sapienza, professor Northwestern Kellogg School of Management, points out that “men tend to overstate how well they do relative to women. And the people who are making the decisions after hearing everyone speak tended to take most people’s statements at face value. You’d think that people would discount what men say somewhat and inflate what women say about themselves. But in reality, they didn’t do that.”
The bottom line impacts of all these elements?
Bosses criticize women for playing against social expectations of being modest when they ask for a raise.
Bosses bypass women for opportunities because it’s assumed they have no achievements because they haven’t talked about them.
Business women can circumvent the crossfire and begin to change social norms about women talking about their accomplishments by doing four things.
4 ways for women to bypass the barriers to effective self-promotion
First, women have to get right with their own reservations about talking about their accomplishments and give themselves permission to do so.
From all those years of “good girl” messaging, I thought talking about my achievements was bragging, and I didn’t want to be that icky person who was always talking up what they’ve done and how wonderful they are. I had to learn a couple of things before I could get past that line of thinking.
Bragging and self-promotion are two totally different actions. One is a social turn-off; the other is a leadership skill.
Bragging is “me-focused.” I landed the big account; I was the one who convinced the boss to change his mind, I did all the work on that project.
Self-promotion is me-sharing-how-I-can-serve-you; it’s “we-focused,” and it’s a valuable leadership skill.
Second, women accept that talking about their successes and skills is a just another part of being an effective leader. It’s also a way for women to change the social norms that say women who talk about their performance are being immodest.
“Self-promotion is a skill that produces disproportionate rewards, and if skill at self-promotion remains disproportionately male, those rewards will as well.” ~Clay Shirky, NYU professor
Until people begin “discounting what men say and inflating what women say about themselves,” women telling their story isn’t optional; it’s mandatory.
I had a hard time getting my mom’s voice out of my head when it came to talking about myself. Then I learned about the smorgasbord of opportunities in which I could share my expertise and accomplishments and not come across as the braggart beating his chest.
Consider these avenues of action. You can:
Write an article for the company newsletter or blog in which you share a story about a skill and a success it brought you and how others might benefit from doing the same.
Send short emails or texts to the boss about a successful outcome, just want to let you know that blah-blah good happened.
Speak up in meetings.
An important part of getting good with this skill is learning to take the praise when it’s offered and not attribute the positive outcomes to luck.
Third, women frame the story they tell about themselves to include both their performance and their potential.
The business world evaluates men on potential, women on performance. Until there are enough women in senior positions to change that orientation, business women have to own closing the gap.
Because most people don’t make the automatic leap we hope they will, we have to do it for them and say things like, with help from my talented team, I made our department the highest performing one in the company. I’d like the opportunity to do the same with the northeast division.
A study conducted by Catalyst, an international nonprofit focused on advancing women, found that women who consistently made their achievements known did better than women who didn’t.
This both/and approach is a way to bridge existing social expectations and ultimately change social norms. In interviews, meetings, and other venues, we bridge social bias by talking with grace about our past performance, future potential, and how the organization benefits by what we do.
Fourth, women support other women who are learning to get comfortable with self-promotion.
This support is crucial—it helps to make it OK for women to talk about themselves and their accomplishments and not feel like they are doing something wrong when they’re really doing something right.
This support can take lots of forms.
It may mean gently reminding a male colleague how men receive accolades (and promotions and raises) when they talk about themselves, so let’s be fair and do the same for women.
It may mean coaching a female colleague to get go of her fear and talk to her boss about her achievements while asking for a raise.
It may mean asking a colleague to support us as we bravely apply for the job we really, really want, even if a few performance gaps exist.
Take the leap with knocking knees and courage
Despite what our moms may have taught us, we have to learn to be fearless and go for it because self-promotion matters.