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Superhero-ines: 3 skills women use to conquer obstacles at work

September 2, 2019 - 8 min read

Superhero-ines: 3 Skills Women Use to Conquer Obstacles in the Workplace

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1. Cultivate purpose:

2. Identify effective strategies for influence

3. Foster connection

Today we celebrate International Women’s Day. This year’s theme #balanceforbetter encourages us to reflect upon what we each can do to build a gender balanced world. As an executive coach who works with rising female leaders, and creates programs and content for professionals around the globe, I am personally reflecting upon what we can do to build gender balance in the workplace.

We made such significant strides in the past year—from the #MeToo movement to a record number of wins in the United States Senate to women’s marches around the world—that 2018 is dubbed the year of the woman. Leaders committed to #balance collectively celebrate these victories, while acknowledging there is still a long way to go before we reach parity. On average, women make 81 cents for every dollar made by men. The gap is much wider for women of color: black women, for instance, make an average of 61 cents for every dollar made by men. At S&P 500 organizations women comprise 29% of senior-level managers and only 2% of CEOs.

Closing these gaps isn’t just a feminist issue, it’s a business one. McKinsey’s 2018 Delivering Through Diversity report reported that gender diversity on executive teams is strongly correlated with an organization’s profitability.

While it’s clear gender parity in the workplace and globally needs to be improved, we need strategies to navigate the uneven playing field in the meantime. Below are three evidence-based skills we emphasize as super strengths in our work promoting women in leadership. What’s unique about these three skills? They apply to professional and personal thriving, are developable no matter your starting point, and can be leveraged by all of us facing obstacles and fighting for balance – regardless of gender.

1. Cultivate purpose:

“I raise up my voice-not so I can shout but so that those without a voice can be heard…we cannot succeed when half of us are held back.” – Malala Yousafzai

Superhero-ines like Malala Yousafzai are prime examples of women who held onto their “why” to propel them forward in the face of adversity. A strong sense of purpose can be defined as the belief that the importance of our work extends beyond the self. It is one of the four characteristics that researcher and professor, Angela Duckworth, identifies in individuals who are high in Grit.

To hone your sense of purpose, consider “why” you chose this work. If your answer feels strong and motivating, capture it in writing. This “statement of purpose” can provide inspiration when you hit a challenge or roadblock.

If you struggle to answer that question, remember each of the skills we present is developable. Start by focusing on the people that are positively impacted by what you do in ways large and small. Seek out even the smallest shifts you can make to amplify this impact, such as committing to treating other respectfully.

2. Identify effective strategies for influence

“Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade.”  – Ruth Bader Ginsberg

Due to early messaging and gender norms around power and influence, some of us struggle to find the right balance of influence and assertiveness in the workplace. Further, certain assertive behaviors such as speaking up or self-advocating can result in us being called “bossy” or “demanding.”

Given this, it’s no surprise that research shows women are less likely to ask for a raise, and that when we do ask, we are more likely to get turned down.

Although the strength of a strategy is context dependent, research does point to specific behaviors that can help women with effective negotiation, including:

Visualize the other benefactors: During times when you might hesitate to advocate for yourself or an idea—take a few moments to vividly imagine those who might benefit from success. This can give you the added boost needed to push forward.

Negotiate communally: When advocating for the desired outcome, highlight why it is beneficial for the group.

Befriend logic and facts: Superhero-ine RBG is especially skilled in the art of leveraging facts and logic to make her case.  Working to influence others through logic and facts, not just opinion, is a regularly overlooked strategy for influence. It is an important behavior for all, but especially for women who are more likely to have their credibility questioned.

3. Foster connection

“Every one of us gets through the tough times because somebody is there, standing in the gap to close it for us.” – Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey is a superhero-ine who regularly shines a light on the close and meaningful relationships that helped pave the way to her becoming a self-made billionaire and one of the most influential people in America.  And indeed, fostering connection is key when it comes to dreaming big and achieving courageous goals.

Recent research focused on the influence of gender on networking indicated that men and women need different kinds of networks in order to succeed. For both men and women, it is helpful to be near the “hub” of the network. However, for women, it’s also important to have a network of close female connections. Researchers believe that this may be because women face more obstacles, they also need more support, and more fellow women to champion their cause.

Relationships also act as a salve against stress. When it comes to working together towards #balanceforbetter stress is inevitable, but not necessarily damaging. In fact, as researcher Kelly McGonigal found, in manageable doses it can be good for us. The important nuance Dr. McGonigal identified is that those who can make stress work for them are those of us who have strong relationships and connection in our lives.

When we are busy or overwhelmed, however, we can neglect even our most important relationships. One small shift we can make when short on time, is to instead emphasize presence. For established connections, the quality of the time spent together (even if it’s virtual) is more important than the quantity.

Purposeful, Influential, and Connected

There are so many superhero-ines around us! If we work together to combine our superpowers, stay connected, and include others in our efforts, we are bound to make great strides towards #balanceforbetter.

Published September 2, 2019

Sarah Greenberg, M.Ed, MA, MFT, BCC

Director of Clinical Design & Partnerships, BetterUp

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