Research Paper By Natalie Bane
(Executive Coach, GREECE)
What does research show about the state of women in the workplace today?
Since 2015, McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.Org deliver an annual report regarding women in the workplace intending to help companies in the United States and Canada advance diversity.
The 2019 report is based on research from 329 companies across the United States and Canada, building on similar research conducted annually by McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.Org since 2015, as well as research from McKinsey & Company in 2012. Participating companies from the private, public, and social sectors submitted talent pipeline and/or policies and program data. Also, more than 68,500 employees from 77 companies were surveyed on their workplace experiences and they interviewed 39 women and men of different races and ethnicities, LGBTQ women, and women with disabilities at all levels in their organizations for additional insights.
According to the above report and building on the last four years of data as well as similar research conducted by McKinsey & Company in 2012, in the last five years, we see more women rise to the top levels of companies. More and more companies are seeing the value of having more women leaders, and they’re proving that they can make progress on gender diversity. This is a really important step in the right direction but surely doesn’t solve the problem.
However, still, women continue to be underrepresented at every level. The biggest obstacle women face on the path to senior leadership is the first step up to the manager. The so-called “ broken rung”. For every 100 men promoted and hired to the manager, only 72 women are promoted and hired. As a result, more and more women get stuck at the entry management level and fewer and fewer women become managers. Not surprisingly, men end up holding 62 percent of manager-level positions, while women hold just 38 percent. This early inequality has a long-term impact on the talent pipeline. Since men significantly outnumber women at the manager level, there are significantly fewer women to hire or promote to senior managers. The number of women decreases at every subsequent level. So even as hiring and promotion rates improve for women at senior levels, women as a whole can never catch up. There are simply too few women to advance.
How does Coaching help women in the workplace?
Coaching women in the workplace are the factor that can have the biggest positive impact on the above problem. In addition to structural changes that Companies need to make to improve working culture, women need to recognize their self- imposed barriers to career advancement. These are long-established habits and behaviors that keep them stuck and thus become real obstacles for their professional development and next promotion. Coaching can effectively help highly successful, hard-working, and ambitious women make all the necessary changes in their behavior to overcome their internal obstacles to take their career to the next level.
In their book “How women rise”, Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith explain how women in the workplace operate in an entirely different way than men so they face different challenges both extrinsic as well as intrinsic. In this case, intrinsic being their patterns of behavior and long formed habits that keep them stuck and become an obstacle to their career advancement.
Let’s have a look at the ones that, after many decades of Sally’s and Marshall’s combined experience, seem to emerge more frequently among women:
Women are being too hard on themselves
No matter how successful a woman is, she usually tends to focus on her shortcomings. She tends to negatively critique herself about the things she” should be better at” rather than expressing gratitude and appreciation about the things she’s good at or her strengths.
How can coaching help:
Gratitude and self – forgiveness
These are essential skillsets coaches work with to help women get rid of the damaging habit of being their most strict critique. Both can shift their perspective about themselves and help to enhance positivity and focus on the future rather than the mistakes of the past.
The disease to please
It is very common among women in the workplace to undertake tasks that are time-consuming while adding no real value to their work. They tend to do this just because it is very difficult for them to say “no”. They think that if they refuse they will be badly looked at or that they will create a negative image about themselves being lazy and not helpful towards their manager of co-workers.
How can coaching help:
Self- awareness and uncovering the “nice girl syndrome”.
Mastering these skills can be of great help with this issue. As Brene Brown says in the “ Gifts of imperfection:
Whenever I’m faced with a vulnerable situation, I get deliberate with my intentions by repeating this to myself: “Don’t shrink. Don’t puff up. stand your sacred ground.” Saying this little mantra helps me remember not to get too small so other people are comfortable and not throw up my armor as a way to protect myself.
This means that women, of course, are allowed to say “no” when faced with a task that is counter-productive or drains their energy and distracts them from their goal. It needs to be said in a positive non-offensive way AND without guilt.
The perfection trap
Women tend to be perfectionists because they think that attending to all the details will make them seem more professional and their status at work will not be at risk. However, striving to be perfect creates stress for themselves and those around them. It also keeps women riveted in details so they get distracted from the big picture orientation that is expected from them when they reach a senior position. Another negative impact of perfectionism is that it sets us up for disappointment for the simple reason that it’s unrealistic.
Julie Johnson Executive Coach and the Director and Founder of “ Julie Johnson Consulting” says that, after years of working with thousands of Leaders and Executives, she found out that the desire to be perfect is one of the most serious challenges facing the women she works with.
How can coaching help:
Become connected with your values and your life’s purpose. Let go of the perfection burden and feel more comfortable to delegate.
For women to escape the “perfectionism trap”, they need to let go of this burden that, most of the time, stems from underlying beliefs that begin in childhood and follow them to their adult lives.
Aggressive, bold, and “ bending the rules behaviors’ usually are described and as “ competitive’ or charming if they come from boys while girls are given no excuse for being “ naughty”.
Trying to be perfect all the time is inhuman. The drive to deliver great results is an asset of course and may have helped many times in the past. But women should figure out a way not to be focused on the details so much but rather in the larger picture. They also need to accept the fact that other people make mistakes too. However, this is not a good reason to do the work themselves. Being comfortable to delegate others to do part of the job is crucial for women who wish to accelerate their careers and reach the next level. Delegating frees up their time as well as their mind to be able to focus on real priorities and important tasks.
Reluctance to claim their Achievements
Sally Helgesen has conducted in-depth interviews with countless women leaders to find out what they believed made them so successful. The results that most consistently came up were their ability to deliver high-quality work and their conscientiousness. When these women were asked what they believed the younger women in their firm were worse at they responded” “ Hands down, they are worst at bringing attention and visibility to their successes. Sally points out that the reluctance to claim achievement is common among women in every sector and every level.
The reasons for this behavior are also very consistent among women:
- They don’t wish to act as their fellow male co-workers who often self- promote and try to continuously attract the spotlight to their achievements describing this kind of behavior as “obnoxious”.
- They believe that good work speaks for itself.
How can coaching help:
There is an underlying belief here at play usually deriving from local culture and/or family. Women are praised for being modest and self- effacing. As a result, women tend to view behaviors that don’t meet these expectations as disruptive. Coaching can help women recognize their limiting beliefs and realize that shrinking into themselves to please is not going to benefit them or other women.
Claiming credit for one’s achievements is not a self-centered behavior. It is simply a way to reap the fruits of one’s efforts and a way to show up in the world with confidence and self- appreciation. At the end of the day, if we don’t claim and demonstrate our value, how can we expect others to do so?
Because women consider a non-modest behavior as inappropriate they tend to show low and keep their achievements for themselves. However, if women let go of judgment both for themselves and for others and just accept these patterns of behavior as they are, they will realize that there is no standard way of promoting oneself that is “acceptable”. After all, it all comes down to character, gender, and culture. All these create a context in which people choose their behaviors in their personal and professional environments.
Being “Too much”
Women’s emotional range can be immensely wide. From deep frustration and anger to great enthusiasm and wholeheartedness. In a professional environment, women often find themselves struggling to repress their emotions and moods to match the prevailing ( mostly male) workplace culture.
How can coaching help:
As Aristotle wisely put it centuries ago:
Anybody can become angry — that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way — that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.
Aristotle’s quote is the essence of what Daniel Goleman describes as “ Emotional Intelligence”. Being able to recognize our emotions when they emerge and then act appropriately by using our cognitive functions and not being completely immersed in our emotions is key. Women are especially prone to reactions being fired by the amygdala, also called “emotional hijack”. These are primal emotional reactions that precede our thoughts. When this happens, women should make the effort to stop themselves and wait a few moments before they react. This will give their brain the time needed to respond more appropriately and constructively.
In ICA module about Self – Management there is a quote by Brian Tracy that describes exactly what self- management looks like:
The starting point of maturity is the realization that no one is coming to the rescue. Everything you are or even will be is entirely up to you.
Having self- management doesn’t only mean that you can organize yourself and be able to complete tasks and meet deadlines. It also means that you hold yourself accountable and are mindful and take care of yourself to protect yourself, your energy, your talents, and your wellbeing in general. Women who have self-management skills rarely fall into the trap to have their energy drained by toxic colleagues or situations and are capable of not losing themselves in the details but have an open heart and mind that allows them to see the big picture.
In a time where companies all around the world acknowledge the importance of diversity and inclusion, where talents are rare to find and difficult to retain, it is clear that hard-working, ambitious, talented women have a place there and they should claim it. This is not a time for women to draw back from their next career level. This is a time to, “lean in and sit at the table” as Sherryl Sandberg says in her book “ Lean In”.
Coaching can support women in all levels of hierarchy to claim their desired spot in their Companies and thrive.
Goldsmith M. &Helgesen S.( 2018) How women Rise.Break the 12 Habits Holding You Back from Your Next Raise
Scovell N. Sandberg S.(2013) Lean In Women, Work, and the Will to Lead
Goleman D. (1995) Emotional Intelligence
BrownB.(2010)The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are