Are we sabotaging ourselves?

140804_sabotageAre women their own worst enemy?

Looking at media coverage and business comment, things are looking up for women in business, apparently. The research proves it. We’re bright – more girls than boys achieve five or more GCSEs at grade A* to C including maths and English, and there are more female first degree graduates than male.

We also add something special in senior positions. According to McKinsey, advancing women’s equality could add $12 trillion to global growth.

A report compiled by Leeds University Business School showed that having at least one female director on the board appears to reduce a company’s likelihood of becoming bankrupt by 20%, and that having two or three female directors lowered the likelihood of bankruptcy even further.

A Credit Suisse analysis of 2,360 companies globally over the last six years showed that net income growth for companies with women on the board has averaged 14% over the past six years compared to 10% for those with no female board representation.

Evidence of the benefits of  women in senior positions appears to be not only solid, but growing and is even supported by an annual headcount in the Davies Report.

So the future’s bright. Isn’t it?

Attending an event for women in that last ditch bastion of maleness – engineering and transport – I was struck by the words used by the three (very senior, very successful) women on the panel. They talked not about their strengths, their determination, but about how lucky they’d been.

Lucky to have been given opportunities. Lucky to have had a powerful male sponsor.  One of the women on the panel talked about the failure of a previous strategy, which had been ‘working hard and waiting to be noticed’.  It was only when she was ‘lucky enough’ to work with, and be noticed by a male senior manager, that her career took off.

This narrative is really unhelpful.

It was only when they were pushed, that the women on the platform talked more about the need to spot the right opportunities, excel at what you do, and be brave enough to take risks – in short, to make their own luck.

But the immediate (and sadly prevailing) narrative for most women is that we’re terribly grateful and that alone, we won’t make it.  Because words carry such meaning, and because this is how we navigate the world, I wonder how much self sabotage women do?

Thinking of yourself as ‘lucky’ or even ‘unlucky’ takes away any sense of agency. What might be a better strategy is to think how we might be there at the right time, know the right people to put ourselves forward for our dream job, that wonderful opportunity. This may need a leg-up from the big boss (male or female), but at least you know you’ve done the legwork.

So your success, when it comes, is down to you.

Women are taught from a very young age to not show off, to please people, to applaud from the sidelines rather than compete, which is portrayed as ‘unfeminine’. This is what leads to women ‘working hard and waiting to be noticed.’

So change the narrative. Stop being lucky and start being opportunistic. Stop being lucky and start being strategic.  Stop talking about luck altogether.  Talk instead about strengths, determination. Find the people you need rather than wait for them to find you.

Start being, in full sight, what you always were – brilliant.

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