What’s stopping women from making an impact?

Happy business woman working together online on a tablet, menopause

It may be you and the women you know – it’s more likely to be the workplace system around you, that’s not designed for your thriving. Here’s how to spot it and what to do about it.

Women are frequently told to ‘be more confident’. As if it’s on women to ‘fix’ themselves, and women are stopping themselves from making an impact. Yes, confidence is important, we can learn to get more familiar with speaking up and using our voice, we can work on extending our network and stepping into visibility opportunities. Yes, sometimes our own inner dialogue can hold us back. We may keep our ideas to ourselves, we may second guess our contributions, we may ruminate about our performance. The inner work of learning to quieten our inner critic, trusting our inner wisdom and celebrating our progress is key, and crucially these are learnable skills.

Women are frequently told to ‘be more resilient’. In the face of increasing pressures of uncertainty, heavy workloads and disproportionate impact of the pandemic, more women are experiencing burnout and considering leaving the workplace than ever before (can link to the previously used data points here). Rather than examining the systemic and cultural factors inside the workplace that are creating and perpetuating this burnout and talent drain, companies put it on their individual employees to fix.

Women and particularly those who hold marginalised characteristics experience daily bias, barriers and microaggressions that undermine psychological wellbeing and the impact we can have. The less we ‘fit in’ to the dominant culture in our organisations, the more we are having to bend out of shape to feel safe, the less energy we have to give to making an impact! Sometimes we don’t use our voice in support of other women – we keep quiet when we witness a colleague interrupted, told she’s being too emotional, or her idea is taken and repackaged by a male colleague.

So, it’s not you that’s broken -you don’t need to be fixed. If your workplace is not invested in your thriving, then there is at least a conversation to be had, if not a re-think about where you best fit and thrive. You don’t need to sacrifice your own health and wellbeing, even for a business or cause that you care about.

Here’s some reflective questions to provoke your thinking and next steps:

  • Where are the women in your company? Do you have women that look and sound like you in positions of authority in your workplace?
  • Is there a gender and ethnicity pay gap in your company? What’s the action plan to address the gaps.
  • What are the options for flexible working in your business? What are your senior leaders modelling in terms of wellbeing and work/ life balance.
  • Who seems to get offered the promotions, stretch assignments or exciting learning opps – do they look and sound like you?
  • Do you have a mentor? Pick someone as senior as you can, someone who will be willing to give you visibility opportunities and invite you into spaces that are currently closed to you.
  • Where can you find accountability, solidarity and support? If you’re going to do the inner work to stop holding yourself back, if you’re going to start stepping up more fully into your own brilliance, if you’re going to be asking these kinds of questions and disrupting the ‘norms’ in your company – you’re going to need it!
  • What are the conversations you want to start having? Who with, when and where?

Katy MurrayAbout the author

Katy Murray is a diversity, equity & inclusion consultant specialising in leadership development and author of Change Makers: A Woman’s Guide to Stepping Up Without Burning Out At Work.

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