6 surprising ways women jeopardize their careers
Despite having great career ambitions, so many of us do thing that hold us back. When I think back to my own career and money choices, I can clearly see that I told myself stories about how to be successful that were actually counter-productive. I told myself things like, “If I work hard and don’t complain, people will give me what I deserve.” As a result, I discovered by accident that my colleague is paid 47% more money for virtually the same job. I was angry, really angry at first. Now I’m about to quit and planning my next steps (starting my own consulting company).
While intensively in research mode about what to do next, I was at travelling for work with my boss and out for dinner with a relatively new colleague, Jane. Jane is a successful professor at a university and a researcher at a large hospital. She has hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants and is being pursued by an even bigger and more renowned hospital in a larger city for a very senior position. Over dinner, Jane shared how she was feeling guilty about having accepted a meeting with the new hospital (the one recruiting her), since she really didn’t think she would take the job.
My boss, who is the most senior woman in our organization and very ambitious, really encouraged her to consider the position. Jane went on to share 6 reasons why she didn’t think she should consider the job. As she spoke, I could totally see myself saying similar things. At the same time, I had been reading all of these books about empowering women, like Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office and was starting to see how these were excuses jeopardizing Jane’s career.
Excuse #1: What would happen to the graduate students she was supervising?
My thoughts about Jane: What? You are going to give up a new job because of students that won't be working with you in a couple of years? You don’t stay in a job because of the junior staff that work for you!
Self-reflections: This is totally one of my excuses for not leaving my job - I love my colleagues and manage a huge team that I don’t want to let down.
Excuse #2: What would happen to the projects she had started?
My thoughts about Jane: She is not the first person to switch careers after receiving money for grants, lots of academics move jobs and there are ways to continue to support and execute projects from a distance. This is a solvable problem.
Self-reflections: Ugh, this is totally holding me back from taking the plunge to quit my job, even though I know I’m being underpaid and undervalued.
Excuse #3: My boss asks about whether she is worried about moving to a different part of the country and selling her home. She says that she isn't worried about selling her house. It feels empty now that her son is grown up and has moved out (and she is divorced). Plus she thinks she will retire in this new part of the country, because that's where most of her family is.
My thoughts about Jane: I'm floored. This to me these would be the most rational reason not to move - to not uproot your kids, because you want to be close to family, because you love the city you are in. She has nothing tying her to her current hometown, but still finds reasons to not even consider this new job.
Excuse #4: She realizes that her current company will not promote her because of internal politics. This new organization is offering her essentially a double promotion.
My thoughts about Jane: What? I'm confused at this point. This isn’t even an excuse (although she describes it that way). She won't say yes to considering this job, even though she won't be promoted in her current job (which is clearly a frustration based on how she explains this), she has no deep family connections to make her stay, and potentially some family draws to the new location.
Excuse #5: She says she is worried about her pension. She's put in 10 years and doesn't know what will happen to it. This seems to be a big concern.
My thoughts about Jane: I've been reading so much about women and finances that I want to scream, "lack of knowledge about how pensions work is going to stop you from taking a new job!!! Ask a financial person! Go see your banker! Read the fine print! You have a PhD, you are a smart woman, take charge of your finances. Chances are you can transfer it or they will pay you out no matter where you are. If you are worried about how much you will save, come up with a plan, this new job is a promotion, it should have a pay raise. This is a math question, not a reason not to take a job."
Excuse #6: Then comes the big one. She's afraid. She's afraid that she won't get enough grants. She doesn't elaborate, but I can tell this is the real reason she isn't jumping at the opportunity. She's afraid that she will fail.
My thoughts about Jane: Fear of failing.
Self-reflection: I get that. I mean I really get that. I'm seriously thinking about quitting my own job to start my own consulting company - and it's terrifying. But the things that scare us are also the things that push us. They make us better. If it wasn't scary, if it wasn't a risk, then everyone would do it.
What is the Worst case scenario?
As I’ve been brainstorming what it would be like to start my own consulting business, I have talked to lots of people and someone said a really interesting thing that stuck with me, "what's the worst case scenario? If it doesn't work, you find a job somewhere else".
This was mind boggling to me. Of course, if this didn't work, I could look for a new job like everyone else. It doesn’t mean no one will hire me again.
What is Jane’s worst case scenario? It sounds like fear of not getting enough grants. Is this s legitimate fear? Is that likely to happen? I don't know her well enough, but she has lots of people to talk to and really think about whether that is likely to happen. Then she can play out the "worst case scenario". What if she really doesn't get any grants or enough money to support her group? What would happen? Would she lose her job? Would she be demoted? Would she need to lay off staff? I know of lots of people who have taken in less money and had to decrease the size of their staff, but they didn’t lose their jobs. It’s not a great situation, but not actually a failure. Plus, even if that happens, she go elsewhere. I don't know the answers to these questions, but she could and should find out.
The goal of the worst case scenario isn't to dwell on this, but instead to know what might happen and likely alleviate some of her fears. If Jane is good enough that they are recruiting her to a super senior position, then she likely won't lose her job if she doesn't get as much money as expected, and if she does, she will likely be able to find something else.
What are you doing that’s holding you back from your next career move?
Every time I share Jane’s story, women can relate. They share moments they have had fears that prevented them from trying something new. A lot of women share things that are very recent, things that are holding them back right now. Fears, often irrational fears. And they even know that, but have let those fears hold them back.
Think about the past
What used to scare you? How about when you were in high school? College? Starting your first job? When you moved out? When you moved in with someone? Moved to a new city or country? When you got married? When you had kids? What fears did you have as you started new things and made big decisions?
Did these fears come to pass? I’m sure that there were challenges along the way, we all experience challenges. But were the really challenging life experiences something you predicted? All of my really challenging life experiences were not things I had been afraid of or expected in any way. I never expected to have 3 miscarriages or a year of infertility. These challenges were hard, they were absolutely hard, but they also made me stronger. They made me better and smarter and I wouldn’t want to relive those hard times, but I’m grateful for what they taught me about myself that helped make me who I am today.
What fears do you have that are holding you back?
Think about your goals, your big picture, long-term, “someday” goals then focus on what you need to do to get there. Are you making opportunities for yourself to move things forward? Do you have fears holding you back? What are they?
Write them down. This seems so scary, but is SO liberating. When they are written in black and white you can often look at them more objectively rather than emotionally and realize that a lot of them are irrational. They are not very likely to happen. And even if they did, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. It would be challenging, but something you can handle. And chances are that those fears would never materialize. You will definitely encounter new unexpected challenges, but they are so often things we never saw coming.
Face your fears. Stare them down on that piece of paper. Talk about them. Share your feelings and thoughts. Then pick one and tell yourself that you are not going to let this fear stop you from being the best version of yourself.
Don’t let fear stop you from living the life you want.