This week I moderated two forums for women that focussed on the themes of vulnerability, authenticity and having the courage to have a go. Both events, Women in Technology and Women in Procurement, are forums designed, amongst other things, to build the confidence of the current and next generation of female leaders at National Australia Bank.
Preparing for my moderating duties, I tried to find out the reasons women don’t have a go, or in the Australian vernacular ‘have a crack’. The reasons are many and varied, however all my research had a consistent theme, why
Why are women less confident?
One answer is the issue of likability. We have heard of similar stories to the one that Sheryl Sandberg cites in her seminal work Lean In. The “Heidi/Howard” story tell us about Heidi who is an authentic female go-getter, successful, wealthy, powerful and respected. Her success story, profile and achievements are reviewed by a group of students from NYU. Then her name is changed to Howard and the same group of students review her/his accomplishments. The students rate Heidi/Howard the same for competence, however Howard was rated as more likeable and someone that the students would prefer to work with. Heidi is seen as ‘selfish and not the type of person you would want to hire or work for.’ Why? The societal expectations of how ‘nice girls’ behave, and how difficult it is to be an authentically feminine leader is, according to Sandberg, underpinning the executive gender gap and the exodus of highly qualified females from the workforce.
There is a lot of research, opinion and frankly, rhetoric about the role of authenticity and likability in leadership. To put a completely gendered lens to this issue; I ask women “Can I really be me at work and still win at work?” Can feminine leadership be valued the same way as men? Amanda Sinclair writes in her essay “Can I really be me?” about the role that bodies play in women’s confidence and how they are unfairly judged, simply by the way they look and their femaleness. Julia Gillard Australia’s first female Prime Minister and Christine Nixon a former Victorian Police Commissioner were judged harshly, and unfairly, on their looks and their gender. Both of these women were ‘punished harshly for being themselves’ and were held to a standard that was far from equal to their male counterparts. Both endured criticism for weight, appearance and clothing style. I encourage you to watch Ms Gillard’s misogyny speech to get some further insight. Men on the other hand are rarely judged for the weight, age, hair, wrinkles or body image. Good grief, for (small) fear of being politically incorrect, how many times have you heard any references to the bodies of morbidly obese current and former politicians Clive Palmer or Kim Beazley (Jnr)? Precisely none!
No small wonder that women hold back, do not lean in or step up when the leadership limelight beckons. The limelight can be harsh, even brutal.
So, women wait. They wait for the right time, the right boss, the right role. In my opinion, women are waiting for the right environment so they can be authentically feminine leaders.
This issue can be called many things, call it lack of feminine authenticity, failure to embrace vulnerability, lack of confidence or simply self-protection, however the word that encompasses this issue for me is fear. Fear that I will be judged. Fear that I will be criticised. Fear that I will not be liked. Tara Mohr describes this fear as pachad in her book Playing Big. Pachad is the Hebrew bibles word for irrational disaster thinking. That thought process that the absolute worst is going to happen. Then Mohr talks about yirah. The other Hebrew word for fear, the good fear word! This is the go hard or go home kind of fear word. Yirah is the word for what happens when you bravely step into a bigger space and own it. Yirah is the Hebrew equivalent for Australia’s ‘go on, have a crack!’ The authors of The Confidence Code, Katty Kay and Claire Shipman also support this theory; ‘The thoroughly accomplished 21st century woman should spend less time worrying about whether she’s competent enough and spend more time focussed on self belief and action.’
I wonder what would happen if the modern woman was less fearful and embraced yirah! I wonder what would happen if she ‘had a crack!’
- Ban the word competency. We women are experts. Own the word. Own your expertise. Stop worrying.
- Have conversations with intent. Ask for what you want. No-one is a mind reader.
- Ask your boss what she/he is doing to set yourself up for success. If you’re the boss….ask yourself what you’re doing to set your female workers up for success.
- Be authentic, warts and all. If they don’t like it, find a place where they do.
- Embrace yirah and have a crack. You’re not going to be ‘discovered!’ Discover yourself!
I refuse to wait!
I am deliberately and purposefully setting out with a very healthy dose of yirah to create the right role, the right environment, and the right culture for women to be successful in whatever way they want to be successful. In other words, I’m having a crack. What about you? Why not have a crack? Right now!
Michelle founded her own business in 2016 to provide a safe, friendly environment to guide women who aspire to live a life well lived. Whether you are a female leader, entrepreneur, founder or business owner, or if indeed you are the employer of women, she is a trusted guide and adviser to navigate the journey of life and work.