Don't Apologize for Your Success -- No One Else Does

Follow the lead of these female rule breakers, who accept the fact that their gender was a factor in their success-but it wasn't the only factor.

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By Patti Fletcher

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The following excerpt is from Dr. Patti Fletcher's book Disrupters: Success Strategies From Women Who Break the Mold. Buy it now from Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

Has anyone ever told you "You know, you only got that job because you're a woman." While I've never had it said to my face, I've spoken to plenty of women who have. They often feel the unspoken implication is "... and don't you forget it." In other words, they got a job they didn't deserve. They had a door opened for them because they were wearing a skirt.

So what?

There are plenty of people who got a job only because they were:

  • the CEO's son
  • the chairman's golfing buddy
  • a major client's brother-in-law
  • a roommate at Yale, Harvard, Wharton or Stanford
  • experienced with Sarbanes-Oxley
  • charming

The truth of it is that men are hired for what they might be able to do. Women are hired only if they've proven themselves over and over again. I wish we lived in a world where advancement and accomplishment were solely based on merit or potential. We could move past conversations about gender, equity and access and focus on doing our jobs. We would finally live in Martin Luther King Jr.'s world, where everyone would "not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."

Related: These Female Entrepreneurs Created a Fake Male Co-Founder to Work Around Sexism. How Well It Worked Is Incredibly Eye Opening.

But, we're not there yet.

There are a million factors that go into any business decision, both explicit and subconscious. Landing a contract, an invitation, a promotion or a seat on the board is almost never strictly about the person's qualifications. Yes, sometimes a woman might land a job because she's a woman.

Again: So what?

What if you got a job partly because of a quota system, an HR diversity initiative or simply so the board could have a token woman? What are you supposed to do? Be glad you get to sit at the grown-ups' table? Not speak up? Not make waves? Be grateful and look pretty while those who "deserve" to be there have all the fun?

No thank you. The women I respect don't allow their gender to be a handicap; they see it as a strength. They accept that it may have been a factor in getting them where they are, but they double down and work hard to add real value.

They don't internalize the message that they "only" got the job because they were a woman. They neutralize those messages and look toward the future. They say, "Okay, now that I'm here, what can we do to achieve the mission going forward?"

Related: 10 Inspirational Quotes From Women Business Leaders

We don't need a handout

As a wonder woman once told me, "No one's going to get asked to join a board because they're a woman. They'll get asked because they're a competent woman who has done something." That sums up the role models we're talking about here. They didn't get where they are because someone did them a favor. They're not just a pretty face. They are impressive women with unique skills, diverse backgrounds and relevant expertise.

The women in my doctoral research were no exception. One was a CEO scientist with a Ph.D. who could slice and dice data and was used to working with the mind-boggling numbers that come with financing multinational corporations. Another was an SEC expert with an intimate knowledge of Sarbanes-Oxley, who had numerous mergers and acquisitions deals under her belt. Another had experience working with legislatures at both the state and federal levels. One was the president of two industry trade associations. Another had a background in manufacturing as well as business development.

Related: How to Succeed as a Female Leader Anywhere In the World

I could go on and on, but suffice it to say these women weren't handed their board seats just because they were women and they weren't asking for a handout. They had ambition, vision, domain knowledge and insight.

In fact, one of them told me, "I'm careful when someone calls me up and says, 'We want to talk to you because you're a woman.' I'm not saying I wouldn't take the interview, but I sure don't want to be the person who has nothing to add -- that they only brought me on because I was a woman."

Our rule breakers accept the fact that their gender was a factor -- but it wasn't the only factor. These women have earned the right to be where they are.

Patti Fletcher

Entrepreneur Leadership Network VIP

Leadership Futurist and Gender Equity Advocate

Dr. Patti Fletcher is the author of Disrupters: Success Strategies from Women Who Break the Mold (Entrepreneur Press 2018). Dr. Patti is an enterprise tech CMO, gender equity expert, board member and keynote speaker who has spent her career at the intersection of technology, business and people.

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