I often get asked to speak to groups, including women’s-oriented groups, and I often see behavior that makes me cringe.
In a recent Q&A period for one such group, the host introduced a participant as working with elite speakers. So, that was my impression of her- a high-level professional woman. Then, instead of reinforcing her accomplishments or just asking me her question, she proceeded to tell me- and everyone watching- how she wasn’t planning to participate in the event, so she was sorry that she was just wearing a terrycloth sweatshirt.
My response was, “Now, instead of me thinking about you as working with elite speakers, all that I can focus on is your damn terrycloth sweatshirt.” It was not only an irrelevant comment to our discourse, but it changed the perception of her for the worse for no apparent reason.
While I am not a fan of labeling or stereotyping, as I discussed here, I have noticed that women professionals and entrepreneurs have picked up some bad habits along the way that are impeding their success.
Even if you are not a woman (i.e., you are a man or a puppy or whatever), please take the time to read these and to draw attention to these bad habits when the women in your life (relatives, co-workers, mentees, etc.) engage in them.
1. Banish “sorry.”
Too many women constantly apologize, as noted by my opening anecdote about the terrycloth sweatshirt fiasco. As writer Gwen Moran called it in our recent Twitter exchange with me on the subject, women have a “’sorry’ verbal tic”. Unless you have done the other person wrong (and are actually sorry about it), don’t say that you’re sorry.
2. Promote yourself.
Many women are afraid to own what they do or promote their efforts and products because they don’t want to be seen as “promotional”. If you aren’t willing to advocate on your own behalf, how do you expect someone else to do so? Own what you do.
3. Never discount yourself.
I was at the airport when I heard a young woman repeat the reason for a delay to two other people. She then qualified it by saying, “I’m not smart; I just overhead it from that man over there.” I immediately went over and told her never to tell people that she wasn’t smart and that the man heard the information at some point elsewhere, too (I am sure she appreciated the loving scolding from a stranger, but I couldn’t help myself). Unfortunately, this type of discounting happens all too often with women.
Also, starting conversations or even peppering them with phrases that don’t give yourself credit doesn’t do you or anyone any favors. I’ve asked women what they did, to have them introduce it with, “Well, it’s not that interesting, but…”. If it’s not interesting, why are you doing it? And moreover, why are you telling me that? I have no idea if what you are doing is interesting or not, but I- as most people do- usually give the benefit of the doubt. Now, you’ve told me not to pay attention. If you have experience or expertise, don’t discount that.
4. Leave negative, irrelevant information behind.
In my introduction, why would the woman feel the need to talk about how she looks and basically apologize for it? I had no focus on what she was wearing until she pointed it out. If you are feeling bad about yourself, stop. If you can’t stop, keep it to yourself.
5. Stop using labels.
You are not a “woman” or “female” anything (entrepreneur, CEO, etc.). Drop all qualifiers that put you in a box for no reason whatsoever.
6. Get out of your bubble.
While it may be comfortable to network with people just like you, it will never get you to the next level. Go outside of your comfort zone, approach and mingle with people who are where you want to be and let that inspire you to move up to their level.
7. Learn to shake hands.
It’s ok to shake hands with a firm, direct shake. It’s actually preferred not to present your hand as if it was a dead fish. This presents you powerfully. If it’s not received that way on the other end, feel free to call it out where appropriate or try to correct it.
8. Let other people's issues stay their issues.
If someone tries to put you down or in a box because you’re a woman or for any other issue, remember that’s their issue, not yours. Call attention to it and don’t stand for it. I’ve called out many times when I have felt that I was being treated differently because of my gender- every time they protested that it wasn’t an issue, but my lesser treatment was always rectified.
8. Just say 'no.'
You can’t do everything and you certainly can’t do everything for others without paying attention to your own needs. You can say no. You also don’t have to say anything else- there’s no need to explain why you cannot do or do not want to do something.
Related: 6 Innovative Women to Watch
9. Strive to be respected instead of liked.
Anyone who does something meaningful will have detractors. It’s ok not to be liked, as long as you are respected and sticking to your values. If everyone likes you, maybe you need to push more boundaries.
10. Think bigger.
Speaking of pushing boundaries, challenge yourself to think bigger. Women aren’t as successful as men in their careers and as entrepreneurs not because of some rigged system as much as that women often hold themselves back from going really big. Why not really push yourself? It’s ok to take calculated, educated risk. If you don’t fail at least part of the time, you aren’t pushing yourself enough.