As the 2019 Women’s History Month comes to an end, there is probably no better time for female professionals to take control of their growth and promise themselves a breakthrough year. While the role of employers can not be overemphasized, taking control of our lives and careers is definitely much more powerful. But taking control is not just about making a decision to do so. It takes making major mindset shifts to unleash our full potential as female leaders and professionals. Some, if not all, of these mindsets also apply more widely to non-gender based minorities.
- Avoid anticipating bias. The anticipation of bias and/or discrimination can be one of the most inhibiting self-limiting beliefs. It’s a form of bias against oneself.Many career and business opportunities are being missed everyday because of this expectation. Showing up without all of our confidence and enthusiasm is a sure way to project that we are not prepared to perform at the right level for the new opportunity. Earlier in my career, I recommended a friend for a job (with my employer then) that he was more than qualified for. Being a recent immigrant, he went into the interview with little faith that he would end up with the job versus an American born citizen. He lost the opportunity for sure, but to an even more recent immigrant. The hiring manager was concerned about his level of enthusiasm and interest in the job!
- Reflect on rather than reject feedback. It can be very easy to mistakenly assume preexisting conscious or subconscious gender biases are the source of most constructive feedback from male colleagues. It certainly could be the source of some feedback. Yet, bias against unpleasant comments as gender-biased opinion can waste much time and energy on defending oneself and proving colleagues wrong. As a result, we can easily miss the opportunity to identify and address real development needs reflected in the feedback. Another risk is bruised relationships with well-intended colleagues and discouraging others from providing honest feedback. Reflecting on all feedback and identifying common views across a wider group of colleagues as a first step can make a huge difference.
- Be ready to fail even if you are not ready to succeed. I am really not sure if this behavior is innate or learned. But, we generally seem to want to be more than ready for a new role or responsibility before we throw our name in the hat. This reluctance is another form of bias against oneself. Many men, on the other hand, are more likely to ‘fake it till they make it’. In an extreme cases, women may find themselves pushing their male colleagues forward for opportunities that they themselves may be as (if not more) prepared for. The fear to fail can immensely slow down our progress like bias and discrimination would. Putting ourselves out there and being ready to fail will only bring us closer to success much sooner. At least, we can start to eliminate what wouldn’t work!
- Promote diversity and inclusion. Professional women are generally very supportive of other women in and outside of the workplace. However, much of the support addresses the symptoms of limited opportunities and representation of women in senior positions. Topical treatments of the situation may appear like bias toward women, not necessarily the answer for bias against women. In reality, diversity (beyond gender) has become very critical for success for organizations today. The increasing diversity of challenges, opportunities, clients, and competitors calls for diversity in mentality. Homogeneous organizations will struggle even if they try to stay local because technology and demographics together bring the world to their doorsteps, both virtually and physically. Female leaders are in a great position to tackle bias, engender diversity of thought, and celebrate differences in gender, race, ethnicity, region, etc. Assuming ownership and leadership of diversity and inclusion goals is a sure way to unlock growth for ourselves, other female professionals, other groups facing bias, and our businesses.
- Be yourself. We have made huge progress in this area. Professional women now feel much more comfortable looking, dressing, and behaving like the women that they are. But as our world becomes more competitive by the day, there is pressure to “join them if you can’t beat them.” We have all probably watched male and female executives get caught in the race and start to communicate or generally behave like the dominant majority. There is growing awareness, however, that realizing one’s full potential takes understanding and applying your authentic self. Also, to pave the way for other women and disadvantaged groups to succeed it’s our responsibility to demonstrate how you can do it without sacrificing part of who you are.
There are definitely other issues that require attention for empowering female professionals. Many of these would require the larger organization, community, and their leadership to make cultural shifts and change their policy and approach. However, organizational and societal measures are only as effective as our willingness to take ownership of our success and growth and remove our own biases around bias!