Recently, an experience I had working with a consulting client highlighted one of the challenges women face when asking for money, promotion or other career opportunities.
While helping this client recruit for a role we ended up with an almost even split of male to female applicants, around twenty of them. As we interviewed, I was struck by a phrase I kept hearing from the female candidates. They all, in some way, talked about how they would ‘prove their worth’ often using those very words. The first time I heard the words I wrote them down, and subsequently waited to hear if I heard something similar from the other female and male applicants.
What I heard surprised me and yet it didn’t. Each female candidate did speak of herself in this way, while all the male candidates talked about how they would simply ‘demonstrate their value’ once in the role.
The outcome from both mine and the other interviewer’s perspective was this. The unconscious ‘impression’ we received from the female candidates (as successful and experienced as they were) from their language and their behaviour in the interview was that they didn’t ultimately believe or own themselves and what they could do to the extent that we believed them. There was something missing. With the male candidates, the certainty and ownership of themselves never wavered and they used words to show that.
This is something I have noticed throughout my almost 20-year career in HR, however it had never hit me as starkly as it did through this experience and it made me realise one thing.
When women speak of ‘proving their worth’, their language is unconsciously riddled with doubt. There is a level of, dare I say it, desperation in the words. It’s as if they are saying, ‘No matter what I do, I will never own how tremendous I really am. I will constantly need to show you I am worthy of your confidence.’
This unconsciously engenders in again at an unconscious level in the person on the other side of the table, a sense of uncertainty, and often I’ll hear from my fellow interviewers there was just something that wasn’t quite there. They couldn’t put their finger on it, but they felt it and it impacted the decision they made. This is key.
My advice to my clients is simple. You have to find a way to articulate the value you create through truly owning your successes and failures in a way which is congruent to you. If you have any kind of career history, you’ve succeeded and failed, therefore it’s a question of how you are using this to help you move forward. Owning both creates a depth of awareness and the ability to articulate this fully, with confidence and certainty in your indomitable style, and is what makes you compelling.
Many women fear they will come across as arrogant – in my experience this is rare and if a client has this fear, I simply ask her to role play with me or a colleague and I give her feedback of how she came across.
So, how do you own your successes and failures?
Look back over your career and list all the things you deemed as successes and failures. Don’t censor yourself. Just write.
Pick the ones that stand out and like a forensic detective, pick them apart to find out what you did that made them either a success or failure.
Review your actions:
* When you succeeded, what was it about you, who were you and what did you do that made this a success?
* Do the previous step with your failures too and on reflection, think about how could you have done better? Make sure you’re not taking ownership of what was outside your control! Remember, this is about you.
* Now, list all the attributes of you, who you are and what you did. This now gives you a blueprint of what it is that makes you great, and on occasion, not-so-great.
* By owning all that we are, we can take responsibility and hold ourselves accountable without coming across as arrogant, and the more you review your successes and failures, the more you’ll get a true picture of who you really are. Having an inventory like this at your finger tips means you’ll never be lost for examples to demonstrate your excellence.
* Keep updating this list. The bigger this list, the more you see your value and are able to articulate when required and, you’re less likely to continue using language which makes you believe you have to keep proving your worth. You now have something that keeps a record of how successful you are – even your failures, because they make you real, believable and human.
And finally, the next time you’re in an interview or review conversation, pay attention to your language. What you say is what you create. Choose the words that will create the outcome you want.