Today’s post is prompted by the memory of working with a really clever professional woman who had got stuck at middle management. I wasn’t actually coaching her; I was at one time working alongside her and realised with surprise she was much more competent than I had realised from my initial impression. We attended many meetings together and my sense of frustration grew as she was continually passed over for more senior posts.
I’ve thought of her often over the years; I wanted her to get angry about her treatment, do something, and urged her to challenge some of what was going on. This wasn’t her style, although as we got friendlier I discovered that she did have aspirations to rise further in her career.
Things That Hold Women Back
She embodied many of the traits I sometimes come across in my group and one to one work:
One, she was clever and competent, and had amassed quite a few qualifications. She had a lot of experience.
Two, she thought her good work would speak for itself, be recognised. She had a (misplaced) faith in the fairness of the system. What she hadn’t understood was that the system she worked in rewarded male types of behaviour and her quiet, self effacing style was never going to get her noticed. (In fairness, men behaving like her would have had problems too but I suspect that their good work would have been noticed at an earlier point). Take a look at How to Raise Your Profile in Three Simple Steps
Three, she was physically small, quietly spoken and rarely made eye contact. Think Princess Diana in those engagement photos, eyes downcast, occasionally looking up from underneath her fringe, deferring to the man at her side… (To be fair, the women I work with come in all shapes and sizes, as do I depending on the month! It was the ‘being quiet’ that is a common characteristic, at least being quiet in significant meetings). She would often arrive at meetings and it could be ten minutes before I realised she had actually taken her seat: her ability to be ‘invisible’ was amazing.
Four, she was a serial volunteer. Leave a silence long enough and she’d volunteer to do what no one else really wanted to do. And she always made the tea and took the minutes! (Read Women and Careers tip 6)
Over the course of the next few posts I’m going to look at some of these issues and offer some advice and support. If you want to make sure of seeing them, please sign up to the RSS feed at at the top right hand corner of the page, and you’ll get them delivered straight to your inbox! And if you have some stories of your own to share, send them in, please! You can either comment on the bottom of the posts, or email me.
Photo Credit: Kata Szikora
Posted on August 8th, 2011 by Jane