How Women Sabotage Their Careers
Many successful women have devoted their time, energy, and talents to climbing the corporate ladder, only to find themselves shelved–left stranded on a career plateau that’s both frustrating and perplexing.
In the past, many of these women attributed this leveling of their career to the lack of support from senior male managers for women in the organization, but that is not often the case today. Although it may have been comfortable to point to others as the source of their frustration, women are starting to discover that others are not solely to blame for their restricted career growth. In MY experience, many women hold themselves back with self-limiting beliefs that translate into fears. These fears keep them from meeting challenges head on.
Here are just a few of the more common “traps” as I will call them that can and often do sabotage a woman’s career aspiration:
FEAR OF FAILURE TRAP: For example, taking risk is still seen as “scary” by many women. Women don’t like to fail. Men, however, embrace risk as a challenge to overcome and treat failure as a temporary setback.
Women hear “no” to mean forever; men hear “no” to mean a temporary delay. How can women feel motivated to try new things when they are fearful of hearing “no”?
The Relationship Trap: Relationships are so important to women, but this worthy consideration sometimes locks us into a job. This is because we often place greater value on the relationship than the opportunities for advancement, choosing instead to be “loyal” to a boss who has been good to us. While focusing on relationships and being loyal are in and of themselves commendable traits, we have to honestly assess these values so as not to shoot ourselves in the foot.
In other words loyalty in relationships is a two-way street, and if for example your boss truly values his or her relationship with you then they will want the best for you. Even if this means that they lose a valued member of their team to a greater opportunity.
The Assertiveness Trap: Women limit their opportunities to be heard because they fear being judged as too aggressive, pushy, or disagreeable. They stand on ceremony and often avoid speaking out to avoid criticism. Meanwhile, male colleagues naturally take the risk, present the same idea, and are applauded for their insights.
The Likeability Trap: Women are still concerned about what others think, and they fear criticism. They have a strong desire to be liked by others. It’s part of the way we’ve been socialized. We often get caught up in the “Good Girl Trap,” believing that being liked is a priority. This translates into the belief that unparalleled commitment and achieving results are enough to move up the ranks. Men have cleverly figured out that they don’t have to do all the work as long as it gets done.
The Imposter Trap: We don’t give ourselves credit. Women seek external validation to a fault. Consequently women look for confirmation of their self-worth to others and often wait to get promoted instead of asking for it upfront. They often sabotage future opportunities by questioning whether they are fully qualified enough to take on greater responsibilities, often missing the opportunity of a lifetime.
The IT’S NOT NICE TO BRAG TRAP: Women are averse to playing in the political arena, as it feels unnatural and fake. Therefore, aside from resisting the networking activities, they avoid discussing their accomplishments with senior management when opportunities to do so arise. The idea of “tooting their own horn” brings on stress and discomfort. However, they must make sure that management is aware of their accomplishments rather than hoping that hard work will speak for itself.
In my Art of WOW DVD – which was recorded before a live audience, I provide many additional insights as to what women do to unconsciously derail their careers, as well as provide concise pointers on what you can do to take more risks and accelerate your success.
Here are just a few tips taken from the DVD:
Speak up! Make it a habit to give your opinion at least once during every meeting. If you fear that you will be seen as too aggressive or opinionated, speak up but invite others to voice their thoughts as well. This illustrates that you are collaborative and value others’ opinions.
Ask for what you want! While it will take courage and tenacity to do so, let my personal story serve as an example of why asking for what you want is important.
Early in my career I had the opportunity to work with Ralph Lauren. At the time I was hired I had asked for and received a particular salary. About a month later my new colleague Gordon joined the firm, having recently graduated from Harvard.
After six months with the firm, Gordon started to complain about his pay. While I had thought that he was making less than I was, in reality he was earning $20,000 more.
Surprised and more than a little disappointed at the disparity in pay, I went to my President to complain. He said – and these words still resonate with me to this day, “Why are you complaining? You never asked for it!!!!”
Not only is this a testimony to our propensity to undervalue our contributions but, it also speaks to the fact that we have no reason to complain if we consistently fail to lay our cards on the table.
Attack overwhelming problems systematically! Identify the obstacles you face, and what you need to do to overcome them with a logical, step-by-step plan of action.
Don’t get stuck in the negative! Abandon a “why it isn’t happening” spectator mindset, and adopt a proactive “how can I make it happen” take charge attitude.
Don’t go it alone! Always surround yourself with a good team to make change happen. Build relationships so you can secure champions and sponsors within your organization.
Be a General! Have a good understanding of corporate politics, power structures, and alliances. Pick your battles wisely. A above all, don’t be paralyzed by waiting for the “perfect moment” to make your move, as there is no such thing as the perfect moment.
Build your “net worth!” Look at networking as your “net worth” and book time in your calendar to follow up all leads–even superficial ones. This is how men boost their visibility and make business connections.
One final thought . . .
There will be failures along the way, but the greatest lessons in life are as a result of failures. Women have to reframe “failure” as courage—courage to venture out of their comfort zone. Confidence comes from celebrating lessons learned, rather than focusing on what didn’t work. And confidence creates the foundation needed for taking risks. Embrace your fear—and use it as a motivator.