Eighty percent of my coaching practice is comprised of women leaders and trailblazers. We face a unique set of challenges and expectations imposed upon us via social media, our families, our cultures, and our religions.
We continue to break those molds, rewrite the rules, redefine ourselves, achieve great things, and change our worlds. But, there is one key place I still see women getting stuck. It's on the internal limitations we impose upon ourselves. These are far more discreet. Thus, harder to identify. I want to introduce you to the top three ways I see women holding themselves back at work. Regardless if you're an entrepreneur, CEO, or employee, understanding the ways you hold yourself back and getting rid of those roadblocks will not only catapult you to new heights in your career—it can inspire other women to follow.
1. Erase The Brilliance Margin
I write a lot about The Brilliance Margin, which is a self-perceived measure of difference between your brilliance and capabilities to that of someone else. We often think there's a huge margin between our own abilities, knowledge, and talents as compared to:
- Our parents
- Our bosses
- Our colleagues
- Our partners
- Our friends
At some point, we come to the realization that the people we look up to and the ones we compare ourselves with don't have the answers. We do. Our brilliance exists in the unique sets of skills, capabilities, vulnerabilities, and mistakes that are intrinsically ours. We need to start owning our stories instead of constantly comparing our journeys of success and failure to someone else. When we do that, we learn that:
- Our parents are fallible humans who have been “faking it until they make it" through the unknowns for decades.
- Our bosses aren't really that much smarter than us, and yet they hired us to complement their shortcomings.
- Our partners want what's best for us but may not really know what that is (because only we do).
- Our friends don't have it all figured out because if we really listen, they're telling us so (and thank goodness, because who else would we commiserate with)?
- Celebrities either inherit or stumble into their celebritydom by chance. If you don't think there are hundreds or more Angelina Jolie's and Denzel Washingtons out there waiting to be discovered, think again!
If you've created a Brilliance Margin (and chances are you have), many things can happen.
- You don't speak up because you think someone probably has a better idea than you do.
- You don't speak up because you are afraid the person will think you're an idiot.
- You don't act on your vision or idea until you can run it by them.
- You don't create your own vision because you play the role of activating their vision or ideas.
- You don't advocate on your own behalf because you don't deserve “it" yet (it = promotion, money, love, acknowledgment).
Notice that the result of a Brilliance Margin is inaction. Don't speak. Don't act. Don't create. Don't own your greatness.
Don't believe that nonsense.
If you do want to harness and leverage your own power, there are just three rules to follow:
- Be the master of your internal dialogue. How do you speak to yourself? What stories do you tell yourself about your own power or potential?
- Trust that by knowing and being yourself, you will “show up" well in the world (which encompasses how you talk, the actions you take, and how they make you feel).
- Know that not all people are your people, so it's okay if not everyone is a member of your fan club. Remember that people who are not yet awakened to their own power will sometimes find yours threatening.
Lastly, examine your key relationships: parents, boss, partner, friends. Who do you look to for approval and permission? How would it feel to give yourself permission to speak up or take action? Where in your life have you already narrowed a Brilliance Margin? What strengths and lessons can you carry from that experience into another that needs attention?
If you're ready to start narrowing a Brilliance Margin in your life, action is key, because action is the only remedy for fear.
2. Soothe the Imposter Syndrome.
The Imposter Syndrome is one of the most common disguises fear wears (and very common among high-achieving women). Introduced in 1978 by Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in a paper entitled, The Impostor Phenomenon in High Achieving Women, it's a concept describing individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud.
The best way to soothe your Imposter Syndrome is to find a safe place to talk about it. You'll be astounded how many women have this in common. Talking about it deflates its power over you. Replace your imposter thoughts with positive affirmations and start rewiring your brain, yes, own who you are in your journey, right now. You're not an imposter. You're growing, evolving, and becoming a better version of yourself. Remember that your opinion is the real one that matters.
3. Recruit your cheering section.
Who are your biggest supporters? Where are there gaps in your cheering section? Home? Career? Health? Spiritual life? Family?
Feeling supported by the right people is mandatory in business. If you only rely on your digital audience, you will feel sorely disappointed when you share news and don't get a million likes. Creating an authentic cheering section sets the stage for you to be yourself.
Here are some of the reasons women don't ask for support:
- Fear of rejection/being told “no"
- We don't want to be a burden
- Fear of judgment
One of the greatest gifts from years of working inside of organizations are the beautiful friendships and professional relationships that resulted. When I started my own business, a former colleague and friend were kind enough to review all of my original sales presentations, program ideas, proposals, and pricing.
I then hired an executive coach to support me, who also held me accountable for the internal work of creating a business while I created the parts of the business the world could see. Working through your fears and having a partner to remind you of your gifts, your “why," and generally hold space for you to work through your internal and external challenges is nothing short of a game changer.
While so many people make promises to buy your services or share their contacts, here's the truth: only a fraction of them will actually show up for you. Here's another truth: the ones who do will support you in ways you cannot even imagine. Support is about quality, not volume.
Hire support where you need to. Otherwise, from your place of power, formally invite key people to your support team: colleagues, mentors, spouses, and partners. Be specific about the kind of support you need and ask if they are willing to sign up. It is heartwarming to watch the women I coach make these requests of the people in their lives because, let me tell you, they will say yes and sign up for you in droves! You'll wish you had done it sooner.
Wherever you are in your professional life, stop waiting for permission to be great or do great things. There's no right time. No perfect boss. No “dream" work scenario where you feel on top of your game five days per week.
Be honest with yourself, remove the barriers, and get to work.
I walk into a room full of men and I know exactly what they're thinking: "What does she know about whisky?"
I know this because many men have asked me that same question from the moment I started my career in spirits a decade ago.
In a male-dominated industry, I realized early on that I would always have to work harder than my male counterparts to prove my credibility, ability and knowledge in order to earn the trust of leadership stakeholders, coworkers, vendors and even consumers of our products. I am no stranger to hard work and appreciate that everyone needs to prove their worth when starting any career or role. What struck me however, was how the recognition and opportunities seemed to differ between genders. Women usually had to prove themselves before they were accepted and promoted ("do the work first and earn it"), whereas men often were more easily accepted and promoted on future potential. It seemed like their credibility was automatically and immediately assumed. Regardless of the challenges and adversity I faced, my focus was on proving my worth within the industry, and I know many other women were doing the same.
Thankfully, the industry has advanced in the last few years since those first uncomfortable meetings. The rooms I walk into are no longer filled with just men, and perceptions are starting to change significantly. There are more women than ever before making, educating, selling, marketing and conceptualizing whiskies and spirits of all kinds. Times are changing for the better and it's benefitting the industry overall, which is exciting to see.
For me, starting a career in the spirits business was a happy accident. Before spirits, I had worked in the hospitality industry and on the creative agency side. That background just happened to be what a spirits company was looking for at the time and thus began my journey in the industry. I was lucky that my gender did not play a deciding role in the hiring process, as I know that might not have been the case for everyone at that time.
Now, ten plus years later, I am fortunate to work for and lead one of the most renowned and prestigious Whisky brands in the world.. What was once an accident now feels like my destiny. The talent and skill that goes into the whisky-making process is what inspired me to come back and live and breathe those brands as if they were my own. It gave me a deep understanding and appreciation of an industry that although quite large, still has an incredible amount of handmade qualities and a specific and meticulous craft I have not seen in any other industry before. Of course, my journey has not been without challenges, but those obstacles have only continued to light my passion for the industry.
The good news is, we're on the right track. When you look at how many females hold roles in the spirits industry today compared to what it looked like 15 years ago, there has been a significant increase in both the number of women working and the types of roles women are hired for. From whisky makers and distillers to brand ambassadors and brand marketers, we're seeing more women in positions of influence and more spirits companies willing to stand up and provide a platform for women to make an impact. Many would likely be surprised to learn that one of our team's Whisky Makers is a woman. They might even be more surprised to learn that women, with a heightened sense of smell compared to our male counterparts, might actually be a better fit for the role! We're nowhere near equality, but the numbers are certainly improving.
It was recently reported by the Distilled Spirits Council that women today represent a large percentage of whisky drinkers and that has helped drive U.S. sales of distilled spirits to a record high in 2017. Today, women represent about 37% of the whisky drinkers in the United States, which is a large increase compared to the 1990s when a mere 15% of whisky drinkers were women. As for what's causing this change? I believe it's a mix of the acceptance of women to hold roles within the spirits industry partnered with thoughtful programs and initiatives to engage with female consumers.
While whisky was previously known for being a man's drink, reserved for after-dinner cigars behind closed doors, it is now out in the open and accessible for women to learn about and enjoy too.
What was once subculture is now becoming the norm and women are really breaking through and grabbing coveted roles in the spirits business. That said, it's up to the industry as a whole to continue to push it forward. When you work for a company that values diversity, you're afforded the opportunity to be who you are and let that benefit your business. Working under the model that the best brand initiatives come from passionate groups of people with diverse backgrounds, we are able to offer different points of view and challenge our full team to bring their best work forward, which in turn creates better experiences for our audience. We must continue to diversify the industry and break against the status quo if we really want to continue evolving.
While we've made great strides as an industry, there is still a lot of work to be done. To make a change and finally achieve gender equality in the workplace, both men and women need to stand behind the cause as we are better collectively as a balanced industry. We have proved that we have the ability to not only meet the bar, but to also raise it - now we just need everyone else to catch up.