7 Deadliest Sins of the Struggling Career Woman

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I can be a decent listener, capable of encouragement and guidance.  But, sometimes, it becomes evident that my role in a conversation is not that of a problem solver, but of a sounding board.  Uh-oh!  That’s when my thoughts drift, and I must mentally resist the urge to retreat to my ‘happy place.’  It’s not a lack of compassion that compels me to disengage, but an unclear understanding of the other person’s expectations.  What’s my role in this situation?  Admittedly, I’m more comfortable rolling up my sleeves and finding a solution than offering comfort or lending an ear.  I’d have made a lousy bartender.

This familiar scenario played out for me recently.  A young career woman confided to me her professional woes, and I began to cringe mentally.  As she spoke of office politics and dilemmas, I realized she was committing the same work-related sins I had in years past.  Her penance will likely be fewer opportunities for advancement and less money than her peers.  Was I supposed to offer counsel or merely listen?  Perhaps I should have posed that question, but I didn’t.  She didn’t solicit input and I didn’t volunteer it.

Now I can’t help but wonder if I let her down.  As a more mature person, I could have offered to mentor her.  I certainly don’t have all the answers, but it was clear she needed assistance and might have learned from my years in business.  Although, in my defense, nothing is more eye-roll worthy than unsolicited advice.  I didn’t want to be that person.

Still, I do want to pass on what I have learned through experience, research, and advice from the older career women in my life.  Missteps can be avoided if a person is made aware of sins that can halt her career or trap her in the purgatory of middle management.  By the way, my use of the word sins is soaked in sarcasm, if you hadn’t noticed.  I don’t believe women are behaving immorally or poorly at work!  Saying that, it’s time to get on with it.  These are, in my judgment, 7 of the deadliest sins of the struggling career woman:

1. Perfectionism: Can I Have Another Eraser?

Ah, my Achilles’ heel.  I regularly fight the overwhelming temptation to commit this sin.  You can read more about my epic struggles with perfection and anxiety here.  I am a master at consistently tweaking or delaying projects because they need to be precise.

I used to consider this trait a virtue.  As if it were noble and I should highlight it on my resume as one of my top skills.  More often, it has worn me down and stressed me out.  You can’t receive a negative review if your work is flawless, right?  Exhausting.

Perfectionism is ultimately a productivity killer and results in procrastination.  Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, says, “Trying to do it all and expecting that it can be done exactly right is a recipe for disappointment.  Perfection is the enemy.”  Accept your flaws and move forward in spite of them.

 

2. Humility: Aw, Shucks

Let’s face it; females are taught to be nurturing and supportive from the time they can crawl.  Society encourages cooperation and teamwork from little girls while flaunting and exhibitionism are discouraged.  As a result, women have difficulty boasting or taking credit for achievements.

For example, the college diploma I worked so hard to attain is mounted, not so prominently, on the wall behind my office door.  Why?  I didn’t want to seem like a braggart.  Palm meet forehead!  Maybe it’s time to display that diploma on my front door with flashing arrows pointing to it.  Okay, maybe I’ll hang it above my desk where everyone can see it.  Yeah, I earned that.

Not surprisingly, women often claim to have been lucky in their careers rather than duly rewarded for performance.  This is the exact opposite of how men feel about their success.  Recently, the American Political Science Association released the results of a study called Gender Inequality and Deliberative Participation.  In it, the authors asserted, “Women, who tend not to be as self-promoting or even as boastful as men will, are often promoted for past and proven experience rather than the belief in their potential.”

That makes climbing the corporate ladder tougher for us.  If you are going to successfully compete for the top jobs, be bold.  Get comfy with tooting your own horn.

3. Immobility: Your Tree Roots are Showing

Nobody expects to work for an employer for decades anymore.  Corporations are sold, layoffs happen, companies move.  Some people do manage to keep their jobs in spite of all the changes. But what are they sacrificing?

The reluctance to leave a stable position for a new one every few years could be hurting women in certain work environments.  If you look up after thirty-six months on the job and there aren’t more women in middle and upper management than the day you started, it might be time to exit, stage left.

According to a LinkedIn survey of over 4,000 women who recently changed jobs, their top reasons for leaving were “concern for the lack of advancement opportunity” and “dissatisfaction with the work environment/culture.”  These women were demanding opportunity and voting with their feet.  Don’t be afraid to move on.

4. Inauthenticity: You Big Phony!

This sin drives me crazy.  Are we supposed to be real or fake it till we make it?  Either way, many of us frequently feel like frauds and fear we will be found out at any moment.  I can just picture the blogger police barging in and seizing my laptop right now.

This prevalent anxiety has a name.  Back in the late 70s, it was dubbed the Imposter Phenomenon by psychology Professor Pauline Rose Clance.  The premise was that women suffered from this so-called syndrome because they could not easily accept praise or compliments and thought themselves unworthy of status and position.

It may offer some comfort to know, recent studies have shown that men often endure this same insecurity.  They simply don’t talk about it as frequently.  Women seem far more likely to acknowledge and discuss their feelings of self-doubt.  But, just how much that openness damages women’s careers in comparison to men’s is not yet known.  As a precaution, be careful who you confess your fears to at work.  They could be seen as weaknesses.

 

 5. Autonomy: I’ll Do it Myself, Thank You

What has feminism taught us over the years?  I’m not talking about bra burning. That’s a bad thing.  I’m referring to self-reliance.  That’s a good thing.  We are every bit as capable as men, after all.  But, are we sacrificing the critical skills of asking for help and delegating tasks all for the sake of independence?

Martine Van den Poel, executive coach at INSEAD Global Leadership Centre, surveyed fifty-one certified executive coaches to determine if women had a more difficult time delegating than men.  She also asked what ‘blocking factors’ kept women from assigning responsibilities to subordinates.

While 51% of these coaches felt men and women had similar challenges with delegating, 41% felt women had a ‘bigger’ or even ‘much bigger’ struggle with appointing duties to others.  Based on their experiences, the experts determined men and women had different reasons for resisting the task.  A high sense of personal responsibility and a fear of failure were the top two blocking factors for women.  A need for control and the feeling they could perform a task more quickly were the leading reasons men avoided delegation.

The bottom line is, poor leaders micromanage.  Great leaders reduce overload and empower others by entrusting important duties to them.  Learn to let go.

Related Reading: 15 Motivational Podcasts for Women Who Love Business

6. Apprehensiveness: Wallflower Syndrome

Even when women are involved in high-level decision making, we don’t speak up enough.  In part, because we are often outnumbered by men.  Researchers at BYU and Princeton found women speak 25% less than men do when they are in a collaborative group assigned to solving a problem.  Interestingly, this divide was virtually eliminated when the group was instructed to vote on a solution based on a unanimous decision rather than majority rule.

Companies could change how they come to big decisions by making it a consensus-building process and not an up or down vote.  I’ll just drop in a reference to ‘when pigs fly’ or ‘a snowball’s chance’ on that happening soon.  Cindy Gallop, a former ad exec and brazen advocate for women in business points out, “You can’t be satisfied with just a seat at the table; you have to actively participate in the conversation.”  You must be willing to speak up, even when you are in the minority.

7. Complacency:  Curb Your Enthusiasm, Please

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking.  Women are not complacent!  How can I suggest otherwise?  While it’s true they typically start a new position with the same level of excitement and career expectations as men; women can experience a drop in aspirations by more than sixty percent in as little as two years.

According to a study of over 1000 men and women conducted by Bain & Company, the professional ambition of males examined held steady after twenty-four months while it plummeted for females.  Why the erosion of enthusiasm?  The ladies questioned didn’t feel their bosses supported or were aware of their goals.

 

Credit: Bain & Company

The solution to this problem is two-fold.  First, management must make more of an effort to engage female employees and acknowledge their ambitions.  Honestly, though, no woman in her right mind would expect corporate change to come quick enough.  By the time your boss gets around to asking you where you see yourself in five years, your answer might be “In a retirement village in Miami.”

Second, and more importantly, you must be vocal about your short and long-term goals.  Schedule a sit down with a supervisor or discuss your aspirations during an annual review.  It could open new doors.

So, that’s my list of the 7 deadliest sins of the struggling career woman.  Obviously, corporate America has to implement major changes to level the playing field for us.  However, my hope is that these tips compel you to evaluate your work situation and perhaps, alter the behaviors that could be holding you back from an amazing professional life.  What sins did I leave off the list?  Let me know in the comment section below.

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7 Deadliest Sins of the Struggling Career Woman will help you avoid the behaviors that are sabotaging your professional life.  Read & share.

69 COMMENTS

  1. Office politics was always the worst for me. It is also hard to get a bad supervisor or manager to think Im great when I disagree with her.i Ive found it much easier to work for a male manager most of the time. In spite of my challenges, I still managed to get promoted but not nearly quickly enough.

  2. “Perfection is the enemy” – so true, and something I struggle to keep in mind. I appreciate your candor, this post was extremely helpful as often times, simply knowing you aren’t alone in the way you are feeling can make all the difference!

    • I agree with you, Candy. I don’t see it changing much either. I do hope it changes for all those little girls out there who will go off to work someday.

  3. A good summary of what women need to do–and stop doing–to advance in the workplace. And all I can say is I’m deliriously happy being self-employed and no longer feeling compelled to navigate that obstacle course!

  4. You are totally right, being “perfect” is the ultimate recipe for disaster. Sometimes you gotta accept yourself and those mistakes to get to the next step.

    • Thank you, Carol. I’m so glad you like the post. I hope someday, that women won’t have as many struggles in their professional lives.

    • Hi, Vaishnavi. I hope that these tips are read by as many women as possible. They are not taught in school, so too many young ladies have to learn the hard way.

    • Hello, Aleksandra. I think almost every woman is or has been “guilty” of one or more of theses sins. The good thing is, we can change our behaviors. The bad thing is, we shouldn’t have to. It’s a shame the playing field isn’t level.

    • Hello, Marzena. If you are only committing one of the seven deadliest sins, then I must congratulate you. Number five is a tough one. Letting others help you complete tasks or achieve goals sounds easy enough, but you have to let go of some control to do it. It’s hard to do. Thanks for sharing.

  5. For me too the number 5 sounds familiar. I’m currently trying to find a virtual assistant though. I hope that it will workout because currently there is just way too much to do. Thank you for writing such a great post!

    • Thank you, Sara. I honestly think number five is one of the toughest obstacles for women to overcome in their careers. I hope you find an amazing virtual assistant soon.

  6. Wow, what a great article. I love that you gave real life application. I pray that this does help out women in corporate America. You also gave simple tips that could be easily understood. Thank you for this article!

    • I am grateful for such praise, Yvette. I truly hope this helps women navigate the obstacle course that is corporate America today. It’s sad the playing field isn’t level yet, but maybe someday soon. Thanks for sharing!

  7. OK 🙂 we don’t know each other well enough for you to know what a big deal it is that my first thought after reading this was: holy crap that’s awesome!!
    You’ve nailed all of it. What I struggle with myself. What I watch my friends struggle with. This is fantastic. I’m sharing.

    • Hi, Carla. I am truly pleased you liked the post. That always puts a smile on my face. Just about all women struggle with these ‘sins’ over the life of their career. It is sad, but there are things we can do to help ourselves. Thanks for commenting.

  8. Perfection is the enemy. I used to strive for perfection — now I work towards optimizing the solution balancing perfection and time management. It seems to work better for me.

    • Hi, Shari. You’re so right. Perfection is the enemy. It really contributes to procrastination. I’m glad you came up with a personalized solution. Thanks for sharing that.

  9. All excellent reminders! Since I returned to the career world after 16 years teaching it has been an eye opener. I am not as quickly to overreact now to what is going on around me. Perseverance and diligence ALWAYS pay off.

    • Hey, Pamela. It’s pretty easy to overreact at work, isn’t it? Remaining calm is the key to perseverance. Thanks for your feedback. I appreciate it.

  10. So much great information and I know I’ve been guilty of a lot of these sins! The reluctance to leave a job I was miserable in out of fear and lack of self esteem was a big one for me – best thing I ever did was to pull up my big girl panties and leave that place in the dust!

    • Hi there, Leanne. Why is letting go of a miserable job so hard? It seems we hold on and fight harder to stay than to find a different position or career. I’m glad you overcame that struggle. It’s a good lesson for all. Grateful to you for sharing your experience.

    • Hey, Andrea. So many women have commented on the ‘perfectionist’ sin in this post. It seems to be the number one obstacle for many. I still battle this vice daily. Keep up the good fight and thanks for your feedback.

  11. To admit that you are not perfect is crucial. Nobody is including you and me. Such a pity that an abundance of people try to give the impression they are.

    • Hi, Catarina. Perfectionism is so horrible. Nobody believes that we are perfect anyway. Better to let that go and just focus on being good and productive. Thanks for your input.

  12. That’s a good list of 7, Jen. One friend recently told me she wants to teach women a class on BSP=blatant self-promotion. Men do it; women not so much. And that costs us.

    One of my tips for women is: don’t get the coffee. Men are just as capable of getting it as you are and as soon as you do it once, the role is set.

    • Hi again, RoseMary. Oh my goodness, I agree about the coffee thing. You would not think that type of request of women still goes on, but it does. Gotta stand firm and demand equal treatment. Thanks for your comment.

  13. Well written and solid advice. I don’t want to sound like a skeptic but I believe in most cases people already have a pretty good idea what they need to do to resolve their issues, they just want to talk about them rather than do the work to resolve them. I think it’s fine to offer a suggestion and then leave it to them to ask for more.

    • Hello, Marquita. I don’t think you sound like a skeptic, but an experienced professional woman. Some people just want to vent and some want to change. It’s as simple as that. Thanks for your feedback. Much appreciated.

  14. Good tips for women working for corporations. I often see women in their 20s too scared to speak up and thinking that they have to “play by the rules”. I decided to become an entrepreneur when I realized that I wasn’t going to get promoted at my job, even though I knew I was one of the top salespeople on the team. I couldn’t stay somewhere that I couldn’t advance.

    • Hi, Erica. I’m with you. I became an entrepreneur in part because I knew the rules were different for women in most big businesses. Advancement and equal pay are hard to come by in corporate America. Thanks for sharing.

  15. Well written. It is all too easy to get pulled into office politics. Soon your focus is on what others are doing or not doing rather than the plans you have for your career. There is complaining and there is complaining. Some do not want advice as such just a forum to sound off. This is not at all productive for one’s progression and reputation.

  16. Good post and good discussion, Jen. I began my career by being called a “sh*t disturber” by my supervisor, so you can imagine that being complacent is not part of my persona. However, I went on to become a union rep and put my strength to use there. That didn’t make my manager happy, as he was definitely guilty of several infractions, but the whole experience taught me to be stronger, and believe in my own and others’ abilities.

  17. I am a perfectionist of sorts, but my perfectionism is tempered by the realization that all creative efforts are works in progress. Even if you could achieve (near-)perfection at a given moment in time, someone will at some point in the future come along and build on what you’ve done. This being the case, do you have any excuse for not doing the best work you can given your circumstances, handing it in, and moving on to the next project? To ask the question is to answer it, and the answer is “No”.

    • Hello, Sushmita. Thanks. This was actually my very first post. It’s great to read a great review. Thanks for your comment!

  18. As a freelance writer, I don’t have to deal with office politics. Been there, done that. My problem now is I want to move on from writing all day long (my job), and perhaps branch out into speaking. I’m frozen as to what I want to do next to live my dream of paying it forward. Not so easy as I look around in my heart (and research) to find my next steps…

    • Hi, Cathy. I hope you have joined Toastmasters or taken a Dale Carnegie training course or something similar. This could help you move forward with your dream by surrounding yourself with other speakers and perhaps a mentor or two. Good luck to you.

    • Hey, Ashley. I still fight perfectionism every day. It’s a constant battle. Thanks for reminding me of that today!

  19. Excellent points. I would add one more, take credit for what you do and do not let anyone else take credit for what you do. SO many companies work in pods and teams but sooner rather than later you need to be the team leader not just the team presenter. There is a huge difference and a perception difference.

    • Hello, Haralee. That is an excellent addition to my list of sins. I don’t like working in groups because the cream never rises to the top. The group takes all credit or all blame when you know there are both producers and slackers in the mix. That is one of the many reasons I work for myself. Thank you for sharing your insight. I appreciate it.

  20. Oh my, Jen! This is a serious list of sins, I’d say not just for the “career women” either.

    *Takes serious look at self in mirror*

    I wonder if it’s years in the workplace that reinforce these symptoms? I’m not a career woman, nor will I ever be one, but my short stint on the inside (hehe), did have me feeling inauthentic, shrunk down to fit into this position. Which is why I’m sooo happy doing what I’m doing because I can be me, i can be all of me, without the pressure to just play my role. Does that make sense?

    Thanks for the morning reflection,

    Nadalie

    • Hi, Nadalie. This IS a serious list of sins. The sad part is, you have to play by ‘their’ rules or you’re penalized. That’s why I am not a fit for corporate America. “Don’t box me in!” That seems to be the mantra for a growing population of women entrepreneurs. Thank you for your comment and feedback.

    • Hi, Michelle. I think any woman working thirty years ago could have used this information. Too bad nobody ever gave it to us. It was a lot of living and learning as you go. Thank you for your input.

  21. I have been so guilty of these! I wish I’d heard this information back when I started my career – could have saved a lot of heartache and frustration.

    • Hi, Shelley. I wish someone would have given me a heads up too. It would have spared me so many tears and frustration. Thanks for sharing.

  22. I’m a perfectionist which leads me to my downfall of procrastination, oh and another thing is I hate handing off anything to anyone to do, because they may not do it perfectly :). Thanks for the mirror, maybe I will make some changes to me in the near future!

    • Hey, Cecil. You described me perfectly! I guess we both need to look in the mirror. Perfectionism is a double edged sword. You end up with fantastic work, but not a lot of it. It takes too long to get anything done, right? Thanks for your feedback. Much appreciated.

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