How I Lost These 3 Self-Limiting Beliefs as a Woman Entrepreneur
As evidenced by McKinsey's Women in the Workplace 2016 report, women are still not represented in the numbers they should be in corporate America.
Men's lot is rather more promising: Early in their careers, they are promoted at a rate 30 percent higher than that of women, leaving the female half of the workforce substantially more likely to remain in entry-level jobs after more than five years in the same position.
This continuing imbalance translates directly into another sad fact: Many otherwise capable women decide not to take the risk of starting their own businesses. According to another report by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, only 46 percent of U.S. women surveyed said they believe they are capable of starting a business. As a point of reference, 59 percent of men in the United States said they possessed the knowledge, skills and drive to make a startup happen.
These discrepancies don't mean that women don't identify opportunities at the same rate -- only that women don't yet trust in their own voice to bring their ideas to fruition.
"Yes, please and thank you so very much."
Regardless of the country you are from, each society has formed concrete ideas about how girls and boys act, play and study in school. Girls are socialized to be polite and respectful. Boys are not.
Too often, I see women harmonizing and keeping the peace rather than asking for what they want, because they're thinking they "don't want to be rude" or that "it would be too aggressive" to name and claim their work. Every single woman I work with suffers from this condition, including me.
When girls are told, "You're not pretty enough, you're not skinny enough, you are not smart enough, you didn't make this grade, you don't get to the point, you are too direct, you're too aggressive" -- these sound bytes imprint into their still-developing minds. These statements then culminate into a solid belief: "I'm not ______ enough."
Sad, and true. Think about it: Who is that little voice inside of you that says you're not enough? While you may be 35 years old and fully formed, chances are, that voice started when you were 6. And that's a long time to be listening to that same sad record.
This, then, is the crux of women's self-limiting beliefs in the global workplace: When you've been conditioned to believe you're not enough, the lack of faith in what you can accomplish becomes one of the greatest obstacles you first have to tame when starting your own business.
What was I thinking?
If you're a woman, you're probably familiar with your negative thought patterns and self-limiting messages. However, you may not realize how those present in your work environment and, therefore, affect your career trajectory.
If you harbor any of the following common self-limiting beliefs, there are some effective ways to shake them off.
1. "My feminine strengths will take me only so far."
When I was getting divorced and transitioning to another company and country, I deliberately cut my long hair into a pixie style and forced myself to be rational and logical because I needed to prove I was competent and capable to my colleagues. I sucked at marriage; I needed to be phenomenal at my career.
Although becoming more masculine in my thinking and actions worked for a little while, it eventually backfired. I've seen many female leaders choose this path, thinking it's the only way to compete. Inevitably, like me, they lose their natural disposition toward enabling conversations and creating a desired culture. They mimic the environment around them, ignoring their own natural gifts of listening, communicating, collaborating and establishing a cohesive atmosphere.
My colleagues and friends wondered what happened to me. Not only was my hair short -- I had also overcompensated and lost my personal power, which had always come so naturally to me. Since that time, I've grown out my hair and become good at what I do: I coach executives and entrepreneurs from around the world.
The only way I can be a badass at that job is to embrace both sides of me -- the feminine and the masculine.
So, the message here: Never alter what comes naturally. Embracing your supportive, collaborative instincts with logic and facts will help you develop your team in a more inclusive fashion.
2. "I needn't promote my accomplishments; saying yes to extra work will get me promoted."
Many women believe that putting in hard work, working extra hours and delivering excellent results will always lead to promotion. The problem is, people are overlooked when they don't speak up and make their work visible, which is a challenge for women.
When I gave a keynote speech, "How to Make Your Work More Visible," I was surprised by how relevant this topic was to the 300 women in the legal industry who attended. To illustrate how differently men and women self-promote, I took a bottle of Perrier and said, "Let me demonstrate how good I am at my job" -- then took the cap off, paused and asked the audience, "Did you see that? Now, watch me do it again. Look, I'm doing it again."
I turned the bottle upside down, paused with a "Damn, I'm good" smile and assertively stated, "Isn't that amazing? I have the skills, and I want a promotion."
This simple demonstration received big laughs; the audience recognized that behavior as what men do. Although women may not want to, finding ways to toot their own horns to make their work visible is imperative, and a challenge for even the most successful women.
All this makes me think, for example, about someone like ABC News correspondent Claire Shipman, who wrote in The Atlantic (and also co-authored The Confidence Code) about how she'd worked as a CNN correspondent in Moscow in her 20s: Despite her rapid rise to the top, she chalked her early success up to "luck" and spent years deferring to the "alpha males" in her industry. Because they spoke louder, she assumed they had more of a right to talk on television than she did.
So, learn from Shipman's experience: Don't wait to find the right time and forum -- because every moment counts. You are not invisible. If you don't loudly promote yours and your team's effort, it will likely go unnoticed, and someone else will take credit. Do this in meetings, in one-on-ones, with your manager and with all stakeholders. Name and claim what you've done.
3. "I'm smart. But they're smarter."
I once worked with a woman who was a country manager of a global tech company. She was also a member of Asia-Pacific regional team meetings. Under her leadership, and out of 16 countries, her team generated the highest revenue.
However, because she was one of only two women, she felt and believed she didn't belong. The men were smarter and more experienced and had more to say. She sat quietly for seven months at those meetings until her VP told her it was time to express a point of view -- or lose her job.
While women do acknowledge their accomplishments, of course, they often worry about being "found out" to be illegitimate hacks. This manager I describe was afraid of saying the wrong thing or looking dumb. Her male peers and colleagues wanted to learn from her, yet she was apologizing for leading a stable business in an emerging market. This has a formal name: Imposter Phenomenon (or Imposter Syndrome), and one academic study estimated that it affects close to 70 percent of people at some point in their lives.
So, what's this all add up to? Drop the preamble, "Well, I think I have something to say, but you know, it might be a little controversial, but I'm gonna go ahead and say it. So, here it is . . . kinda." Stop apologizing. Stop the preamble. Say what you think, and see what happens.
Polite is not pretty. You know that negative little voice in your head? Fire that voice. It's up to you.
Own your ideas and toot your horn so that you are seen and heard, and you are very visible.