Women and Career Advancement

Common Career Related Concerns

I am often in conversations with women about their careers. These conversations include but are not limited to the following:

  1. Needing to address a problem with a colleague or superior and feeling uncomfortable.
  2. The desire to leave a position, but facing barriers of one’s own design (discomfort with change).
  3. Wanting to be offered a promotion but not pursuing it.
  4. Being underpaid and not knowing how to address it.
  5. The desire to do and be perfect in one’s work.

I am certain that men also face some of these concerns. I have had a few of these conversations with men. However, the vast majority of these career concerns are expressed by my women clients, colleagues, supervisees and friends.

The External Factors

It is well known that women face unfair treatment in the workplace. Even in woman dominated industries, women face challenges from their employers regardless of gender. Traditionally those challenges center around unequal pay and the lag in career advancement that women face due to child rearing. Those challenges also include sexual harassment and race or ethnicity based discrimination. This is an important consideration because often when “women’s issues” are discussed, general audiences consider “women’s issues” to be representative of white women’s issues…whereas women of color and/or minority women face twice the systemic challenges.

The Internal Factors

Beyond the external factors (like the value placed on women’s work, etc…) it seems to me that at the heart of many women’s struggles with career advancement include a few internal factors.

  • The desire to not hurt anyone;
  • trying to avoid feeling uncomfortable;
  • and the desire to be well thought of and well liked by others.

I am not suggesting that women should engage their career and collegial relationships without regard for decency and respect. What I am suggesting is that women might benefit from placing themselves closer to the center of their concerns.

Responsibility to Oneself

It is my observation from a very early age that girls and women are encouraged to be very thoughtful towards others. So much so that it becomes our worldview that others will look out for us in return. So in a woman’s career that might look like expecting for someone to see or notice our hard work and promote us. Because we tend to expect other people to be perceptive, women may think that what they want is obvious and “the right thing for someone else to do”, which can lead to not asking for what one wants.

In other cases, a woman may be mostly qualified but perceive themselves as less qualified for a position. This can lead to not applying or “waiting for the right time.”

Additionally, the fear of failure and rejection is very powerful. By nature women can be more cautious (which is a good trait), however when it is overused it can lead to failure to thrive in one’s career or business.

What Can We Do About It

As a therapist, coach, supervisor, consultant, colleague and friend I try to challenge these underlying beliefs and resulting behaviors that keep women for asking for what they want in their careers.

  1. I encourage them to depersonalize their fear of failure and/or fear of not being good enough. In other words, those are powerful cultural messages and teachings and it’s not only okay to challenge them but necessary.
  2. Stop trying to control the outcome. Let other people be responsible for their feelings and reactions. Trust that you can handle the responses you get when you respectfully work to cultivate the career you want.
  3. Being empowered oneself does not come at the expense of dis-empowering others. Women need to know that they can work toward what they want and it does not equate loss to someone else.
  4. Practice the difficult conversations with someone helpful and insightful. We tend to avoid what we imagine will be uncomfortable. That gets easier if we practice.
  5. Reflect on what you are good at and be proud of yourself. Most of us have been taught about the dangers of too much pride so we opt for too much humility to compensate. We don’t have to be at either extreme.

Dealing with Systemic Problems

Regarding the external factors that impact women’s career advancement, the most important thing women can do is seek support so that discriminatory policies and practices can be approached thoughtfully and without having to re-invent the wheel.

Women must remember that one of our greatest strengths is our ability to come to one another’s aide and care about what is happening to others. We can use that strength to guide us when it comes harmful systemic practices.

Copyright © 2018 Ruby Blow. All rights reserved.

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