Of late, I have been interviewing successful female leaders in the Financial Services industry. I have asked them to share their journeys as they have navigated their careers, both within the Financial Services industry, and outside. This has been an exciting project, and I have had the opportunity to meet some amazing women. The leaders I spoke with hold positions at all levels of the organization from manager to Executive Vice President. They have careers spanning everything from 2 years to 35 years. They have worked for over 35 different companies. They are highly educated, highly intelligent, driven, and by all standards, exceptionally successful.
My main focus in talking with them was to understand what barriers and supports these women might have encountered as they climbed the corporate ladder. What I came away with were hours and hours of amazing stories, and some lessons I’d love to share. I do not have explicit permission to share the stories (I was collecting them for a different project), so I will speak in general terms, and will do all I can to protect their identities. The plan is a series of posts, each dedicated to a lesson I learned from these generous, brave, inspirational women.
Trend #1: I am just too….
As I spoke with these women about challenges in the workplace, the conversation would invariably turn to failures. These failures covered everything from a missed promotion, to a project failure to a simple meeting gone awry. Each time one of these perceived failures came up, we would dive into the why. Why had we failed? What was the true cause of the lack of success? The answers were, as you might imagine, as diverse as the women themselves. Many of these will be the subject of future blog posts.
Some mentioned politics. Others mentioned a lack of resources, whether it was human or material. Some mentioned ambiguous requirements and expectations. Most of the time, it was a combination of all of it. We are complex beings!
What came up, however, in every single conversation, was an inherent personality characteristic of the woman herself. Sometimes the women ascribed this characteristic to herself (‘I was just too___’) and sometimes she related that others had ascribed this to her (‘He/she said I was just too ___’). It was the rarely the single root cause of the perceived failure and most women would probably not have attributed much significance to it.
I might have seen little significance in it myself, and instead simply seen it as the individual woman bucking normal stereotypes, had it not come up so. darn. frequently. And had the qualities not been so similar. The list of these characteristics is extraordinary, and I offer them here as direct quotes:
“I’m too aggressive”
“I was too outspoken”
“I’m too bold”
“I am too direct”
“I was too honest”
“I’m just too impatient”
“I’m too perky”
“I’m too rude”
“I am too stubborn”
This is just a sampling…the list goes on and on. In a vacuum, these words are powerful and most are the mark of a successful leader. In each case, however, the women were using these words to describe the reason for a failure. This is not good!
A true leader is bold, is direct, is honest, and yes, sometimes even aggressive and impatient and rude too! A leader needs to be strong in order to lead! The more we ascribe negative connotations to these words when talking about women, the more we impede her ability to lead effectively!
My ask is this: If you ever hear your inner voice say something like “I’m just too….” or “She is just too….” STOP. Stop and ask yourself if you are ascribing a stereotype that is just not appropriate in the situation.
Inherent bias, biases we don’t even know we have, are exceedingly hard to detect. The more conscious we are of them, the better the chance we have of eliminating them!
Stay positive and smile! And have a safe and enjoyable holiday weekend!