How women undermine their own power - and how you can change this!

How women undermine their own power - and how you can change this!

I know we are all unique and I know that generalisations can often be hurtful. Still, many of us women tend to undermine ourselves when it comes to our professional success.

I am always puzzled by the fact that throughout our school years, we tend to come home with much better grades than our male peers, yet if we look how it further translates itself into the number of top positions women hold, the numbers are horrifying.

I do not want this article to be a crusade against men or full of self-pity. I want to see what it is that we can do ourselves, which actions we can take that are within our control, so we do not give away our own power. Below, I focus on some good ways us women undermine ourselves and how we can fix this.

Not being visible / not putting yourself forward

Being praised not only for good grades but also for working hard and being, in general, “a good girl” is often a recipe for an early burnout. Working hard and hoping that someone will see your efforts and promote you and your work accordingly is a risky tactic.

A famous internal Hewlett Packard survey showed that women would only apply for a job or accept a new project if they felt they met 100 percent of the requirements, whereas men on the other hand would apply if they feel they met 60 percent. This shows that women put themselves forward ONLY when they feel they are 100 percent knowledgeable and have all the experience, skills, etc. Meaning: NEVER.

How can you fix it?

The key to reclaiming your power lies in transforming your mindset from a fixed one to a growth one. Applying a growth mindset means that you are not defined by how smart you think you are. In the centre of applying the growth mindset lies love for learning and trying out new things - basically, putting yourself out there.

Failing in things is the only path towards growth. I know it is easier said than done, as I, myself, am someone who really gets uncomfortable when thinking about failing. But once I started to apply curiosity rather than fear, it became easier.

Another aspect of it, is to start taking the credit for the great work and the value you add to the organisation. Although team effort is important and your boss’ reputation is as well, it is important that you start recognising your own work first of all, and start to show it in a way that others can see it.

When the work done is a success, we often tend to say, “oh, it was the team’s effort," or “we did it!” Us women are often inclusive, which is great, but it is also important to talk in the “I” form and not shy away from the spotlight. When preparing my clients for job interviews, this is something I almost always talk about with my female clients, much less so with men.

Being too focused on the content of your job

Being serious about your job is definitely important, but your job is not only about its content. If you want to feel empowered and empower others around you, you need to pay attention to the following aspects of building a successful and fulfilling career:

  • Be good at what you do
  • Love what you do
  • Continuously develop yourself in what you do
  • Be recognised for the value you deliver
  • Have a “cheer club” to support you

How can you fix it?

So, you see that focusing on the content of your job is only one of the elements. I assume, hopefully correctly, that you really enjoy what you do, as this makes the other points so much easier. In order to thrive in your career, it is not only a matter of doing what you have already learnt, in such a fast-paced world as we live in now, wealso  need to learn continuously.

Building your “cheer club” and being recognised for the value you deliver is inevitable if you want to get promoted. What do I mean by a “cheer club”? I mean people within and outside of the organisation who can help you along the way.

Think of people like a coach - who, through questions, lets you discover your own strengths and blind spots - a mentor who can share their experiences and advise on how to tackle business-related or political issues, and finally a promoter, but also someone high in the organisation that can “pull the strings."

Striving for perfection / imposter syndrome

Flowing out of the conviction that we built as little girls - that we need to be THE BEST in whatever we do - we start striving for perfection in all the things we deliver, even the teeny-weeny bits. Although we believe that by trying to do our best all of the time we will be successful, often the opposite becomes reality. Perfectionism is really dangerous, as not only does it takes us away from well-deserved success but it can make us physically and mentally sick.

How can you fix it?

I know based on my own experience that this challenge is not that quick to overcome, as we tend to develop an “addiction for perfection”. What helped me personally, and the clients I work with, are two simple things:

Imprinting in your head a new mantra: “Done is better than perfect.”

How much time have I lost on perfecting something, which I now know was a pure waste of my time, energy and money?

Focus on the 80 percent you need to get right and let go of the remaining 20 percent

For example, if you look at your presentation, focus on what IS truly important: the content. Sure, it is important that it looks good, but even you yourself probably know deep down inside when you are really overdoing it, i.e. will the size of the font really matter, or the picture that goes with it?

Not being clear about your career path

Last point, although I am sure not the last challenge, is your career path. Do you have clarity for yourself on how YOU see your next career steps going? And if you know that, do you also know what is needed to realise this path? What do you need to learn? Who can help you along the way?

People around us are busy. You can, of course, hope that the HR department or your manager will figure something out for you. But, first of all, they might simply not have the time for that, and, secondly, even if they do, will they come up with a plan you will like?

How can you fix it?

Take ownership of your own professional happiness and be proactive about it. Do not wait for others to arrange it for you. Arrange it for yourself. Start by asking yourself where you see yourself in one, three and five years. Sure, this might change, and it is not carved in stone, but having a flexible plan is definitely better than having none at all.

Us women definitely do not have an easy job to do, especially when combining our career with a family life. But we gain nothing by complaining and gain everything if we take charge of our own life and career. We can do so much more than we think!

Dorota Klop-Sowinska


Dorota Klop-Sowinska

Official Member of Forbes Coaches Council. I specialize in international career and expat coaching. I am the author of the book Career Jump! How to Successfully Change Your Professional Path...

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