We’ve been talking about sexism in and around the workplace for decades, including the casual, flagrant, and subtle-but-ever-present micro-aggressive varieties. And it would be unfair to say that the conversation hasn’t yielded results — plenty of policies, initiatives, and provisions have emerged to promote gender diversity — but women are still a minority when it comes to holding executive positions and sitting at the table where the decisions are made.
Following the statistical curve alone might lead us to think that women of younger generations will find themselves on an increasingly level playing field. Even if true, however, there’s an ever-present danger that some (men, especially) will interpret that progress as the result of organizations doing their obligatory duty to fill diversity quotas – rather than seeing it as the result of women’s’ legitimate accomplishments.
The difference between those perceptions is massively impactful on women who have both broken glass ceilings and those who aspire to. Given all that we have achieved — including an unprecedented number of women involved in world leadership — there are far too many women in the workforce still asking themselves questions that start with “Can I …?”
To all of those women, I want to simply say yes. Yes, you can.
No matter what your goals, I believe you can achieve them. There’s virtually a guarantee, though, that you’ll face some hurdles along the way. Looking back at my own journey so far, and at the lives of the women who have inspired me most, there are three pieces of encouragement I’d like to extend to every woman, regardless of where you are in life.
1. Give your best self every day.
You will, without a doubt, find yourself in situations that are unimaginable, unfair, uncomfortable, and a lot of other un-s. You may not have the position or the manager that you like to. You may put in extraordinary effort only to see it go unrewarded — or worse, claimed by someone else. And those, sadly, are probably some of the lesser problems you’ll experience.
Here’s my advice: Even when circumstances are weighing you down and you don’t feel like putting in your very best, do it anyway. Show the best version of yourself to the people around you even if it means forcing yourself, because it’s what you do with your current opportunities that determines where your next ones will come from. When you do, it sets you up for success at number two on this list:
2. Always walk away on your own terms.
There’s a difference in giving your best every day and putting up with something longer than you have to, whether that’s a job or a person or a particular circumstance that you feel is unhealthy. A good rule of thumb is to always leave on a positive note.
I don’t mean to suggest you should simply leave when things are going well. In fact, I think the opposite: it’s good to exhaust all options before leaving a company. If team dynamics are the problem, could another team be a better fit? Are you looking for more seasoned mentorship, and if so, have you looked within your current organization?
If the worst case scenario is that the company is just not right for you and its values are not in line with yours, then it’s important to practice the art of making a graceful exit — while you’re still in control of the narrative. People tend to show their true colors on their way in and on their way out. Don’t succumb to bad behaviour on the way out, regardless of how you feel. Put on your big girl pants, pay your respects, and leave on a high note.
To sum up, when giving your best self feels like it’s taking more and more effort, consider a change; by that point, it’s not about you, it’s about the position you’re in. You deserve better — you deserve to be excited about giving your best self, day in, day out. I guarantee you, as one door closes, another one opens. Just don’t slam it behind you on your way out. Leaving with a good impression is the difference between a glowing reference for your next role and a lukewarm one, which could come back to bite you.
3. Create a safe space for your self-doubt.
Women are disproportionately affected by so-called imposter syndrome. Even though it’s on institutions and organizations to significantly change that, not on women themselves, it is women who have to deal with it in the meantime. The fewer people like yourself that you see around you (and the more ambition you have) the more likely you are to run the self-doubt tape in your head.
But, contrary to what you might hear others say, I would humbly recommend that you not try to get rid of it. Instead, accept it. Normalize it. Own it. Find a way to either compartmentalize the feeling or tether it to your big-picture goals. Yes, I have self-doubt, you might say, and that’s a sign that I’m worthy; I matter and I have something to contribute on this path. When you show up to work (or to anywhere), let the doubt be with you — know that it’s part of you — but don’t let it guide you. By becoming friends with your fears, you take away their power and innately build confidence.
Rights, respect, and opportunities for women have come a long way in a short period, and that shouldn’t be overlooked. At the same time, 13 miles is a “long way” to run — but it’s still just half of a marathon. In the workplace, in the public arena, in enterprise, in popular culture, and in many other contexts, there’s plenty of ground to cover before we can celebrate true equality. And while we’re in this marathon collectively, it comes down to individual effort, which is why I think it’s crucial to keep (and keep, and keep) talking about this subject — particularly with men — because we’re all in danger of getting tired of running. Just remember, you’re not alone. And if you ever find yourself asking “Can I …,” the answer is always, unequivocally…yes.