When Harvard Business Review released their list of 2017’s best performing CEOs, nobody can say they were surprised when only two of the chosen hundred were women. I know we are closing the gender pay gap (apparently) and we are addressing workplace sexual harassment (slowly) but the changes can’t stop there. It’s a well known fact that, for a million reasons, women are still far less likely to reach high positions of power in business than men. Many businesses’ senior management teams are a boys’ club; it’s been this way forever, and it will stay this way if we just continue to ignore it.
Way back when the men and women on this list started their careers, the world was very different in its attitude to gender discrimination. These days, things are changing and we have more opportunities for empowerment in the workplace. Thanks to women being more vocal about the effects of everyday acts of sexism (which caused things like arse-slapping to finally be considered professionally unacceptable), men of our generation are better educated on the subject of inappropriate behavior. It’s now rightly unacceptable to be unaware of discrimination based on gender, race and sexuality. Society’s progress is slow, but it is happening. So let’s talk about what we can do personally to help ourselves out.
It’s hard to admit, but there’s one big obstacle in our way as women; our own psychology. If we could remove every glass ceiling placed over us by our patriarchal society, what are we really left with? Our own glass ceiling that we've built. In truth, many of us don't reach our full potential because of the limitations we place on ourselves. There’s a huge gap in confidence between men and women as Sheryl Sandberg writes in her bestselling book Lean In. “Women only apply for open jobs if they think they meet 100 percent of the criteria listed," writes Sanberg, "men apply if they think they meet 60 percent of the requirements.” We rarely act on our ambitions and this endemic feeling of unworthiness means we self-sabotage our chances at growth- both personally and professionally.
It can sometimes be the case that in an office environment, a woman's authority when in a senior position isn't respected. They're more likely to receive suggestions or straight-up criticisms by men who seem to believe they’re more qualified to do the job. We live in a world that has battered our self-esteem making us doubt our decisions and disown our accomplishments. This ‘imposter syndrome’ is so detrimental to our success, as Harvard psychologist Amy Cuddy explains, it can lead us directly to failure. It causes us to “self-criticize constantly, to choke at the worst possible moments, [and to] disengage — thereby virtually ensuring that we will underperform at the very things we do best and love most."
In my experience, I've seen women self-deprecatingly give credit for their work to other people. I've heard women apologising for asking questions and taking up time, and concluding their points with “I’m not really sure” or “don’t worry, it doesn’t matter”. Our under-confidence doesn’t help us move forward, so our potential continues to go unnoticed. But it’s totally possible to re-empower ourselves.
It’s time to realise our worth and stop feeling like imposters. If you've had to work twice as hard to get just as far as everyone else because you're a woman then you've no reason to feel inadequate. Let’s be more certain of our opinions and abilities and express them louder. Once we, ourselves, recognise our strengths and regain a sense of confidence, we will start acting with the authority we possess and gain the respect we deserve.
Sheryl Sandberg predicts that “in the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.” It might take a long while, but I’m optimistic that things will improve. As we continue to work on ourselves, we will break the psychological patterns that are keeping us from achieving more and we will see more of our female peers succeed in positions of power.