Twelve habits that hold women back in their careers
women tend to critique themselves instead of others, they say, while men often prefer to deflect blame. This opens women up to certain behavioural habits that can mire them professionally. To get unstuck, first you need to recognise that these behaviours are not intrinsic to your character – then you can begin to rewire your brain to support new, more helpful habits that, with practice, can become your default mode. How many of these habits are you guilty of?
1 RELUCTANCE TO CLAIM YOUR ACHIEVEMENTS
Many women struggle to bring visibility to their successes; they’re uncomfortable using the ‘I’ word and would rather be ignored than risk looking arrogant. The cost of this is most significant when you’re trying to move to the next level. It sends a message that you don’t value your achievements – so why should others?
The corollary of habit 1 is that many women hold the belief that ‘great work should speak for itself’. If you take this approach, you may be diminishing your job satisfaction, because you’ll end up feeling under-appreciated and your hard work may be overlooked.
3 EXPECTING OTHERS TO SPONTANEOUSLY NOTICE AND REWARD YOUR CONTRIBUTIONS OVERVALUING EXPERTISE
Trying to master every detail of your job can put you on an endless treadmill. Meanwhile, your male colleagues may be taking a different route, doing the job well enough while focusing on the relationships and visibility that will get them to the next level. The top jobs involve leading others who have expertise, not providing expertise yourself.
4 BUILDING RATHER THAN LEVERAGING RELATIONSHIPS
Why don’t women benefit more from their ability to build relationships? Because great careers are built not only on talent or hard work, but also on the mutual exchange of benefit – something men are more often comfortable with, as women don’t want to appear self-serving. Ask yourself: could this person’s connections be useful to me? Is she poised to become more powerful? And what can I offer her that will make her eager to share her network with me?
5 FAILING TO ENLIST ALLIES FROM DAY ONE
Women in new positions often keep their heads down until they feel confident they can perform superbly. It’s more effective to start by asking: ‘Who should I connect with to make this job a success?’ This delivers more support, better positioning and greater visibility, while also being less work. Allies are the heart and soul of a successful career.
6 PUTTING YOUR JOB BEFORE YOUR CAREER
Talented women quickly ascend, but may then find themselves plateauing. This is often the result of getting
‘Striving to be perfect distracts you from the big picture. Focusing on the details of what might go wrong can create a negative mindset – negativity is never valued in a leader.’ How Women Rise by Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith (Random House Books, about R240) is out now.
caught in the loyalty trap. Staying in the same job too long because you’re loyal to your boss or your team can undermine self-worth and longterm satisfaction, and negatively impact earning potential. It sends a message that you don’t believe you deserve better.
7 THE PERFECTION TRAP
Striving to be perfect distracts you from the big picture. Focusing on the details of what might go wrong can create a negative mindset – negativity is never valued in a leader. The fear of mistakes may be seen as proof that women can’t make the grade. In order to rise, you have to be open to risk-taking, learn to trust yourself and others, and be willing to delegate.
8 THE DISEASE TO PLEASE
The desire to be wonderful in all circumstances – to be thoughtful and nice and make everyone around you feel good – is prevalent among women. But if you fear disappointing others, it can rob you of authority, distract you from your true purpose, and squander your time and talents by saying yes too often.
9 PHYSICAL AND VERBAL MINIMISING
To make room for others, women often minimise their own physical space. Constant apologies are also minimisers. Shrinking yourself undermines your ability to project authority. Avoid language minimisers too: ‘I just need a minute of your time’, ‘Maybe this isn’t important’, ‘You may have thought of this already’. Just say what you mean.
10 TOO MUCH INFORMATION
Women often receive feedback that they’re too intense – too much emotion, too many words, too much disclosure. Emotions are the wellspring of your intuition, energy and passion, but speaking in the grip of emotion is a bad practice. Learning to be concise will pay dividends.
11 RUMINATING ON MISTAKES
Research shows that women are more likely to relive their setbacks and blame themselves, which can obstruct their ability to resolve problems. The more you chew over past events, the more your brain gets accustomed to it. Interruption and distraction are the most effective means of letting go of negative thoughts and moving on.
12 LETTING THE DETAILS DISTRACT YOU
One of women’s great strengths is the ability to notice a lot of things at once, but many organisations still regard laser focus – ‘just get to the bottom line’ – as leadership behaviour. Tuning in to too many noises can make it hard to filter out distractions, but it can be corrected by reframing what you notice.