Why Women Don't Reach Higher
Withdrawing the application; how we doubt ourselves
At the Mass Conference for women a few years ago I had a conversation with Jane Steinmetz that completely validated my direction in my work. Jane is this amazing leader who is currently Managing Principal for Ernst and Young, one of the big four accounting firms. I was chatting with her about what I do, and what's important to me. I asked her, how did you get to your position? Very clearly, she answered, “it's a really funny story”.
She said, “honestly, when I applied for this job that I'm in now, managing principal, I questioned it very quickly. I looked at the guy that was doing it and saw how much he traveled and saw how he managed his reports. I knew that I would not be comfortable doing it that way. I have twin 14-year-old boys, I have promised myself and them that I will be at most of their lacrosse games. That's the life that I want to live. If I take this job, I won't be able to do that the way that I feel I need too.” So, she withdrew her application.
Luckily, Ernst and Young is a particularly progressive company. Then someone above her came to her and asked why she withdrew her application. She explained, “I can't do the job how so and so is doing it. I have other things that are important to me, other things that I need to be doing. I would need to do it differently.” They told her that was great and was exactly what they’re looking for. She doesn’t have to do everything in the way that it's been done before. They wanted her to bring her special talents and special spin on things to this position.
That response is magical, right? I mean, if we all heard something like that when we were thinking about going after something, we all might strive to do so much more. But the fact is, because we can't envision ourselves in that higher position, we let doubt get in the way of going after it. Jane’s story shows us, just because there is a certain picture we have of a leader or someone that's in a position from looking at the people that are doing it or that have done it. It doesn't mean that that's how we need to be in that role. It doesn't mean that that's the only option.
Once you can define your core values, decide if those values are still actually what we want to put importance on in our lives, only then determine how we can apply those values in the jobs we are considering.
Knowing your values can propel you higher
Women often unconsciously hold themselves back. We resist applying to positions due to the false idea that we would need to be a completely different person in order to be successful in those roles.
What defines the person that we are – as opposed to that other “successful” person in the position, job, career that we wish we could thrive in? Who we are is determined by our values. We each have internal core values. Things each of us hold as important. These values are so deep inside us, we aren’t often conscious of what they are. That makes it even harder to determine why we know we couldn’t do that job. We just know.
If we take a deeper look, we can determine what our core values. What do we spend most of our time, money, energy, and thoughts on? That’s a place to start figuring them out. You will find that some of our core values were determined by our experiences in our childhood. They may not still fit who we are, but they are so deep they are unconscious to us. Once you can define your core values, decide if those values are still actually what we want to put importance on in our lives, only then determine how we can apply those values in the jobs we are considering.
We may also need to adjust which of our core values takes top precedence in each circumstance. Let me elaborate; on a day I was starting my first high profile client, I had quite the values challenge. My asthmatic son was pretty sick, and my husband was out of town. I had to decide between my core value of family and my core value of following through on my business. What a collision! How do you choose between your sick kid and the client you have worked for months to get.
Because I knew my values, I was able to take the step back, consider my choices, and choose which value to place at the top. I was able to cover my value of family by making my son comfortable, scheduling the doctor for the afternoon, and assigning an adult sibling to watch over. I placed my value of follow through first that day and cancelled my other afternoon appointments I had. Knowing how to prioritize my core values gave me the clarity I needed to put both options high instead of choosing only one. Without understanding your values, you may feel pressure to do what you think you “should” do or give into outside pressure.
Evaluate your values and beliefs
Sometimes these values and internal beliefs come from way back. A coaching client of mine successfully got a job she loved. She really liked what she was doing, was good at it, and her company consistently rewarded her for the job she was doing. The problem was, she felt something was wrong, she was unsettled, and she did not feel successful. We worked hard on this, it took some time and a lot of questions. We discovered she grew up in a single parent home. Her mom, who had no college degree, worked two jobs to keep her family afloat. She worked very long hours and did back breaking work. She was always tired and achy. She was only home to sleep. She worked HARD!
Getting to the bottom of what your beliefs and values are and how they can limit you or propel you forward can profoundly shape how we support ourselves.
My client learned from her childhood that working hard and being successful looked like exhausting, difficult, back breaking work. Success looked like her tired, achy mother. Her job was not “difficult” like her mom’s was. She liked what she was doing so she gained energy from it! It made her feel alive not tired. That unease she was feeling about her job was due to the messages she learned about hard work in her youth. Only when she could see how her core values were being shaped by her past in an unhelpful way, could she determine that those values of “hard work” did not fit her. Her mother had worked so hard to give her opportunities, so that she may be able to work with more enjoyment. She had to relearn or redefine what hard work looked like. She could then enjoy what she was doing more and feel successful because her work was mentally challenging instead of back breaking.
Getting to the bottom of what your beliefs and values are and how they can limit you or propel you forward can profoundly shape how we support ourselves. What if we each had that supportive, encouraging voice in our head, one like Jane Steinmetz’s manager at EY or my client’s after making her values breakthrough? A voice that kept saying “you can be yourself, create your own model, blaze your own path”. What path would you blaze then?