I have been having some interesting conversations lately with women that come from all walks of life – different generations, locations, nationalities, students, executives, etc. Through these talks, I have become aware of a few things that seem to be holding women back. Some of it may be a “sign of the times” but other observations are ones that we don’t even realize we are doing.
Here is an example – saying “I’m sorry”. Although men use this phrase, I find women say it all the time even if they have no control over the situation. As I have been pointing this out to them most would agree that they say it too much and will watch it in the future, however, two minutes later they are saying it again. There are two issues here. One is that by saying it a woman diminishes her worth. If a woman is leading a meeting and there is noise in the next room, there is a good likelihood that she will apologize to the others for it. STOP doing it! The second issue is that when a woman is truly in the wrong, saying “I’m sorry” just does not seem to be as meaningful as “I apologize for…” By using the latter phrase, it comes across as much more sincere.
Dress is also something that I have been paying attention to more lately. As more companies are moving to every day is business casual (Goldman Sachs just announced this), it creates challenges more so for women than men. Flip flops, shorts, and tank tops usually are off limits for both men and women but it gets complicated after that. Women have a lot of choices but what message are they sending to others? Sweaters are considered by some as not professional but if paired with the right accessories and pants/skirt, does it seem OK?
The one thing most women that I know don’t take into consideration is movement. In the mirror in the morning, a woman feels that the image staring back at her looks acceptable. The problem comes in when women are with others that are either taller than them and/or they are sitting and the other party is standing. I have given many presentations where a woman participant is sitting right in front of me and I can look down her shirt! I have also witnessed women when they sit down and their skirt rides up so they have to yank it down. Crossing one’s arms has also been an issue. So be sure you can twist, turn, etc. in any outfit before leaving home. You don’t need a “power suit” but you do need to have outfits that make you feel bold.
Lastly, certain mannerisms seem to diminish a woman’s position. A “princess” handshake, bad eye contact, and letting others talk over them or take credit for their work is not acceptable but women do it all the time. When women are together, they may roar “I am woman” but when they are in mixed company their confidence and chutzpah seem to fly out the window. Women need to feel empowered ALL the time but when we are slightly in doubt, we may wimp out and let others (even other women) take the lead. I remind my participants, coachees, students, and friends that we all have value and we are all experts in a certain thing so be proud of that and make others understand that you are worth being listened to and taken seriously. If you aren’t your own cheerleader then how do you expect others to do it for you?