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Women @ Work

Women and the corner office – no longer an urban legend

November, 2019

Women come in many shapes and sizes – God knows, we’re pretty well aware of that – but beneath the different layers that make us seem so very distinct from each other is the same combination of confidence and self-doubt.

It is this composite blend that makes us feel all kinds of fierce and invincible one day, and a bundle of nerves the next. I’ve spent many years turning this thought over and over in my head (with two books to boot), and I’ve come away with what I call the five cardinal sins of the female kind:

Thou shalt not cop out

In our rich arsenal of strengths is a critical one that most men lack: self-awareness – which means we know what we’re inherently good at as well as able to accept our weaknesses. The problem is that we misuse this entirely - we tend to minimise our strengths and maximise our weaknesses.

We get so caught up in worrying or being apologetic about what we don’t have that we forget to optimise what we do have. It is imperative that we focus on these strengths and leverage them to create not only self-confidence but also respect in the eyes of all around, be it investors, leadership or colleagues. In turn, their support is sure to follow.

Thou shalt not second guess

It is time to drop the first natural reaction we have when something great happens to us – gratitude to our luck. Many of us suffer from something that Kets de Vries calls `the imposter syndrome`. This convinces us that we’re not good enough to have reached where we are and it is just happenstance that aided our progress, versus hard work, experience, or skills.

This makes us reluctant to fully own the success that we’ve earned and so we’re unlikely to use it to breed subsequent success. Constant self-assurance is not being over-confident: it is the trick to chase out the imposter from within.

Thou shalt not settle

We see the levels of success that women around us achieve and deem that as `good enough` and settle down once we’ve reached there. Along the way, somewhere, we forget to ask ourselves where we actually want to reach.

A modicum of success is not representative of what we are capable of achieving – we need to train ourselves to realise that there is no need to set limits for success. This sets in especially when senior women look around the boardroom and see themselves as the lone representative of their sex.

This sense of self-satisfaction and unwillingness to strive further is one of the several reasons why women reach the CXO level but don’t grow beyond it. If you are genuinely happy with where you’ve reached and now want to relax, you’re perfectly justified in your decision. But if there is even a small part of you that believes you can achieve more, don’t suppress that voice. It is saying something important.

Thou shalt go on

On the road to the corner office at each stop, people who look like you and think like you might continually disembark – you have to transform from seeing that as a sign that you should follow suit to a resolve to being steadfastly committed to your seat, putting up with the speed bumps with tenacity and enjoying the view with smile.

And you’ll find that with every stop that you don’t get off at, someone else, just like you, will be encouraged to hang on there. And at the end, when you get off to walk to that corner office, you will turn around and see behind you are confident, happy faces of women who are glad you gave them the courage to sit tight. 

The road to the top can be a genuinely lonely one and that’s okay – intimidating as it might be, you’ll find that success makes for a great companion.