Lack of confidence continues to be the number one barrier to women’s advancement.
It manifests as choices women make about how ready (or not) they are to apply for a promotion, or as an inability to effectively convince an interview panel they’re as good as their (often male) colleagues.
Despite women’s increasing education levels, the contribution they make and tangible evidence of our achievements, we consistently undervalue our capability and expertise.
It’s not because women are flawed or inadequate. It’s because poor management practices influenced by institutionalised gender biases, assumptions and stereotypes convey the message that women are not quite as good as their male colleagues.
When young women leave high school and then university, they are very confident, eager to start work and keen to demonstrate how much they know and can do. Then something happens.
Let’s consider a typical career journey for women by following Brooke’s career path:
Brooke is a bright young woman graduate recruited by an organisation that calls itself an ‘employer of choice,’ but has not yet eliminated gender bias from the workplace.
In her first few years, she’s given challenging work and many opportunities to prove herself. She out-shines her male colleagues by working harder and doing a better job. She asks for and is given more challenging work. She goes out socially with her peer group and attends Friday night drinks, plays golf and joins them in their rugby box.
She doesn’t notice any difference between herself and her male colleagues and is confident of her ability to advance her career without difficulty.
At her first performance appraisal, her supervisor tells her what her pay increment is, asks her what her career goal is, and points to a few courses on the intranet she should attend. It’s over in 30 minutes.
These type of appraisals are repeated by different managers. Brooke receives no feedback about the quality of the work she produces or her expertise. She’s not given any information about what her manager sees as her strengths nor her potential. When asked what she could improve, her manager tells her to focus on communication style, ‘you’re too abrupt.’
When considering how she communicates she compares herself to her colleagues, mostly blokes, and can’t work out what she’s doing wrong. In this vacuum of positive feedback and confusing messages about her communication style, the seeds of self-doubt sprout.
Over time Brooke gets promoted to a certain level but can’t seem to get beyond it. She is aware her male colleagues are moving more quickly than she is. Her self-doubt grows.
She has a baby, takes a year’s maternity leave and enters the fog of motherhood where she can no longer rely on her intellect and must draw on her feminine, maternal instincts to do a role that society devalues and doesn’t reward. In her absence her name disappears from the organisational chart. She returns to a new manager and must prove herself again. Although she is willing and has child care, she is unable to get the sexy work or high profile gigs because her manager gives it to her male or childless colleagues, without asking her. When she raises it, she’s told that he knew it would be more pressure and the position needed someone ‘reliable’.
Brooke, like so many women, has internalised consistent messages about her value, ability and potential and no longer believes she has what it takes to get ahead.
This is certainly not every woman’s experience, but if you happen to relate to Brooke, find a coach or mentor to teach you how to get ahead in your organisation and start lobbying your CEO to change the culture.