How we can actually support women
Empowering women should happen all year round and not only during the month of March, however, since this month focuses on supporting women be it at home, in the workplace or even in your community, you might also want to know how you should go about it, without making them feel small or intimidating them.
Since the turn of the century, we are seeing more and more women joining the workforce and stepping into male-dominant sectors in the workplace as well. Today there are fields that might see at least one female employee working along with the majority of male employees. In such environments, it is easy to feel intimidated, not because women are not skilled or knowledgeable in the field, but because the men that work with them would always try to intimidate them verbally or through certain actions.
While we are on the topic of breaking the bias, these traits should not only apply to empowering women it extends to empowering any gender. Yet when it comes to women, there is always room for men to take the upper hand as they try to prove that they are physically capable of doing certain tasks better and faster than women do.
What people tend to overlook is that women have the ability to endure and are a resilient species, and they have proven just that during the pandemic. In many countries, women have become more vulnerable as they were homebound and were forced to be in the same space for a prolonged time with partners who were abusive towards them, which has tipped the scale of the domestic violence cases that are reported.
According to a study conducted by the University of California Davis, the pandemic had challenged the mental, physical well being of many women whilst burdening them to also work double-time to continue to advance in their careers. It is quite clear that with physical distancing in place and many worksites shutting down all over the world, only very few jobs were able to transition to working from home.
While this opened up many opportunities for women who were capable of taking up work that was computer-based, affected their work-life balance. So how can we as a community step in to empower the women that live around us?
Sociologist and Author Tracy Bower PhD who wrote The Secrets to Happiness at Work notes that to create the condition of happiness there are two solutions that involve agency and structure. Meaning that they have the ability to take personal action and influence the system around them.
According to Bower, there are five ways to empower women as communities:
- Manage your bias – When you are, talking to a woman; set aside your prejudices and provide positive reinforcement to influence their thinking, behaviour and the choices they make. A 2021 US study revealed that 38% of people preferred to work for a female boss. This statistic itself can form a bias; therefore, it is better to present the statistic in a way that says ‘people preferred to work for brilliant female leaders’.
- Pay attention – Given that we are pushed to read people all the time, it is easy to lose focus on people around you. Our attention span is decreasing and it is important to conserve that resource. Pay attention to the moods, behaviours, outer appearances of the women in your community. Take time to listen to their grievances, their hopes, and their approach them with empathy and compassion. Always make sure that you validate her feelings and remind her that she is not alone.
- Create opportunities – Women seem to thrive in work environments that provide the flexibility and support to complete their tasks. Workplaces and even communities should therefore look at ways to support them by influencing workplace policies to allow them to work around their schedules of taking care of their children, attending to the household work or having to fulfil personal responsibilities.
When work-from-home methods were put in place, women seem to have joyfully embraced it and are thriving in their careers as they continue to work-from-home yet manage to achieve the day’s workload. Furthermore, provide them constant feedback by words of encouragement or even positive reinforcement to improve their skills at the workplace or in their households.
- Give praise – Women are prone to develop self-doubt and can easily undergo impostor syndrome. Make sure you praise them when they complete a task or they step into troubleshooting to fix problems in a project. Anyone will feel motivated when praised for his or her skills and for making themselves resourceful.
During group gatherings or meetings always, make it a point to appreciate a woman’s contribution that helped towards the success of completing tasks at the workplace or even in the community.
- Be authentic – Open up about your stresses and share your vulnerabilities with women in your community or workplace, then they too will understand that everyone has their difficulties and weaknesses. When people admit their mistakes people will feel validated about the way they feel or how they go through life experiences. This creates strong bonds and forms a circle of trust among communities that can be empowering and supportive towards the women among them.
The best support that can help you advance in your career
March is the month of celebrating girl power and empowering the superwomen in our lives. This year, the theme for International Women’s Day works around breaking the bias in every sphere, yet that is a battle that women keep losing half the time.
This is mainly because women have to work hard to prove that they are worthy of recognition and are worthy to sit at the high seat of the decision making process. This process is often hampered in competitive work environments, as there is always a male who will have better qualifications and more experience given that they are not burdened with the responsibilities of childbearing, running households, and having to strike a work-life balance in an increasingly demanding world.
Having female friends in such a work environment or even in general can benefit immensely for women who are ambitious to shatter the glass ceiling. Not all women have the fortune to work under woman bosses or have a workplace that has a majority of females to work with.
Yet when one gets to work in such a work environment one might notice how supportive they become since they empathise with our daily battles to reach your career goals, improve contribution towards building the company they work for, whilst looking to be a good homemaker or partner to her family.
So why is it important to have a circle of female friends?
In my career progression, I have had many female bosses as well as counterparts that have always supported me in securing consultancy work that they believed that I would be able to take on. Even when I have lost confidence, they would always remind me that I could always learn on the job and that I should take up the offer anyway or go and give it a try at the screening interview.
Their faith in me has partly helped with where I have reached in my career as a writer and as a media consultant.
In a study conducted by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the US they analyzed the gender composition and communication pattern predicted on women’s leadership success within an organization.
Researchers used a quasi-experiment to determine the causal interference in rising to the leadership ranks based on human and social capital variables. While leadership placements based on one’s educational qualification were seemingly equal, high-placing women who have inner-circle contacts act like a clique and were able to maintain a level of contacts that never overlapped with their inner circle’s members.
So how can women improve building their inner-circle, well you have to only follow these steps:
- Go beyond networking – rather than just networking get to know a little bit more about the women that you meet when you go for workshops or conferences
- Give priority to build relationships – while building your relationship with the women you meet, also make an effort to get to know their other female friends
- Nurture the connections that you make – Once you get to know their strengths or specializations always seek advice from them or even lookout for ways you could get their support in your career growth
- Always make space for other women – Recognise the good work and the hard work that women in your workplace do, give credit where it is due and do not be shy to praise such women on their achievements or when they offer to help troubleshoot an issue in your processes.
- Improve your sisterhood – Maintain the inner circle by keeping in touch with them to bounce ideas off, seek advice, and confide in them your grievances. They will be your best support system and will be there to fix your crown when it falls.
Understanding the issues that make women believe they have impostor syndrome
As workplaces attempt to strike a balance in gender, we see an increase in women joining the workforce each year. Today some workplaces have more women, making up over 70% of the staff. However, does this mean that the workforce is finally opening avenues for women to succeed in their careers and provide them with the environment to grow as professionals? Unfortunately, we still seem far from achieving that.
In my years of working for different comms related industries, I have met women who are efficient in handling roles that require a complex level of administrative and people management skills. However, these individuals are prone to burnout and are not comfortable in handling the internal politics that come their way.
See, there is this longstanding conditioning where the hierarchy or the conservative work ethics feel challenged when there is a woman taking charge of a project that is high profile. There is always room for the office gossip ‘she must be going to bed with her client’, ‘she is gunning for that promotion’, or ‘there is someone in the shadows helping her with all this work’ etc.
These types of judgement by the work environment often place such individuals in a position of vulnerability and can make them feel belittled and bullied, affecting the way they continue to perform at their workplace. Women start to doubt their abilities, skills, and even their qualifications to be leading projects or assignments that they work on, despite the clients constantly praising their efforts on such instances.
These individuals start to lose their confidence to complete the task, which in return, affects their productivity and efficiency often resulting in them being removed from the lead role and getting placed as the assistant to the newly appointed project lead (who is oftentimes a male).
It is at this stage when women start to develop ‘Impostor Syndrome’.
What is Impostor Syndrome?
In 1978, psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes came up with the concept of the ‘impostor phenomenon’ following a study they had conducted on high-achieving women. Concluding their study, Clance and Imes hypothesised that; “despite outstanding academic and professional accomplishments, women who experience the impostor phenomenon persist in believing that they are not bright and have fooled anyone who thinks otherwise.”
Impostor syndrome sets in when one starts to doubt their abilities and begins to feel like a fraud. This phenomenon disproportionally affects high-achieving people that are led to believe that they accomplished successful results with their capabilities. This later leads them to question the accolades they receive once they complete a task.
Is it fair to blame women?
Considering how the judgement, bullying, and aggression by others cause women to develop deep anxiety and self-hatred for being a high-achiever, plagued by the feeling that they are frauds; it is not fair to blame women for displaying signs of Impostor Syndrome. This can also lead to individuals undergoing trauma in the workplace who start questioning whether they would fit in with the changing hostile environment at work. They question whether their colleagues would start to hate them because they have lost self-confidence to complete the task, and might even lead them to depression.
Talisa Lavarry, author and founder of Yum Yum Morale – workplace diversity, equity and inclusion consultancy, was brave enough to write a book reflecting on impostor syndrome titled ‘Confessions From Your Token Black Colleague’. Lavarry, a woman of colour, explains how systemic racism and bias had affected her to fall prey to impostor syndrome when she worked on a high profile event that had invited Barack Obama to deliver a keynote speech during the former President’s tenure.
Addressing the hostile work environment
The biggest issue that women face is that there is no public platform which is willing to speak out about how one could overcome impostor syndrome. For instance, there are enough and more career development workshops for men who can draw inspiration from role models that have succeeded after overcoming deep depression, and have found a hack to be successful in the work environment.
Unfortunately, it is a little more difficult for women to find role models that they could relate to and could draw inspiration from to take pride in their competence, acknowledge their contribution to improving their work environment, or affirm their style of leadership.
Moreover, workplaces rarely look at individual or customised solutions for issues caused by the systemic discrimination, stereotyping, racism, and abuse of power that is deep-rooted which in return pushes women to deal with the effects of battling with uncertainties, which is normal in any professional’s life regardless of their gender identities.
Women underrepresented in management positions
According to Professor of Business Psychology, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic of University College London and at Columbia University, there are three popular explanations for the clear under-representation of women in management:
- They are not capable (endorsed by conservatives and chauvinists);
- They are not interested;
- They are both interested and capable but unable to break the glass ceiling: an invisible career barrier, based on prejudiced stereotypes, that prevents women from accessing the ranks of power (liberals and feminists prefer to endorse this explanation).
Chamorro-Premuzic notes that the reason for the underrepresentation of women in management is caused by the work culture’s inability to distinguish between confidence and competence. Researchers have found that people who are self-centred, overconfident and those who display narcissistic traits tend to lead groups and such personality traits are not often equally common among people who identify themselves by different genders.
To share one of the least counter-intuitive findings in social sciences – women are often sensitive, considerate and more humble than men; this was proved during a quantitative review that involved more than 23,000 participants in 26 cultures.
While a survey conducted by Hogan Assessments suggest that men are consistently more arrogant, manipulative and rick prone than women. This implies that the very psychological traits that enable male managers to rise to the top of their corporate or political careers can be responsible for their downfall as well. This clearly explains why many incompetent people receive promotions to management jobs rather than competent people getting due recognition.
Chamorro-Premuzic further reveals that on a women’s journey to achieve leadership positions at their workplace, or even in their political careers, they face many barriers including having to shatter the very thick glass ceiling. Unfortunately, the lack of career obstacles that are in place for incompetent males to achieve leadership positions is a pathological system that rewards men for their incompetence and punishes women for their competence, to everybody’s disadvantage.
Steps to overcome impostor syndrome
- Rather than attempting to fix individuals, we need to look at creating an environment that fosters different leadership styles which need to be inclusive of race, ethnicities and gender identities.
- Competent people might not always have a confident outward appearance, and outwardly, confident people might not always be competent at completing a task.
- Change the narrative of ‘we need to fix women’s impostor syndrome’ by addressing workplaces biases, toxic cultures that fuel the concept. Promote inclusive work cultures to ensure that women regardless of their race, ethnicity or gender identity could thrive.
- Help employees to channel healthy self-doubt into positive motivation, which can be best fostered within a supportive work culture.
If we act on the above steps, we can prevent misdiagnosing women with impostor syndrome for good.
Untangle your emotions and detach with love
Let us be honest, maintaining relationships are complicated. There is always room for disagreements, miscommunications and misunderstanding to take place. At the beginning of any relationship, we often see that both partners try to be together when ever time permits, they try to do activities that interest both of them, and convince their partners to try out activities that they might be hesitant to participate in.
First, to establish clear communication and maintain a good understanding, you might always run any ideas by your partner. However, there is a tendency for many of us to depend on our partners to make life choices for us and be there to boost our waning confidence, which is not that healthy if it becomes habitual.
Even when it comes to doing things together, where they would say ‘let’s give it a try you might enjoy it’ – it might end up becoming a bother to the partner in the end. You cannot always hold the ‘do this because you love me’ card over their heads and force them to take part in things.
Likewise, partners growing unhealthy attachments, or becoming possessive over things and wanting you to always be around them and expect you to agree for all their requests might place a strain in your relationship.
Unknowingly your relationship might be turning into a co-dependent relationship, pushing you to be the person that has to make decisions, losing personal space, having to say yes to all their requests, and at times, feel guilty when they do not make the same effort to be in your life, and make excuses and take responsibility on behalf of them at social settings.
What Is Co-dependency?
Excessively relying on your partner for mental, physical, and spiritual support is identified as co-dependency. Neither clinically diagnosed nor formally categorised as a personality disorder, in some people, co-dependency tends to develop attachment styles during early childhood and can overlap with dependent personality disorder as adults.
Signs You May Be In A Co-dependent Relationship
Brittini Carter, Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Trauma Informed Yoga Instructor, lists out four signs that would help you with identifying whether or not you are in a co-dependent relationship:
1. You constantly depend on partner’s input to make decisions
While seeking the partner’s opinion on matters is encouraged for couples, it is not healthy if the person is unable to make any decision in life without their partner’s input. By letting others decide for you or make life choices on your behalf, you are hampering your personal growth that leads to loss in self-confidence, and will make you feel indecisive.
2. You do everything together
Many couples at the first stages of their relationships tend to adopt common hobbies, try to grow a common circle of friends, and try to participate in leisure activities that might not necessarily be their interest. In order to maintain a healthy relationship, it is always better to have separate hobbies, friend circles, and activities that would help you grow as an individual.
3. You find it difficult to say ‘no’ to your partner
At the beginning of your relationship you would have said ‘yes’ to your partner to show that you are invested in them. However, as the relationship progresses, there might be instances that you would want to say ‘no’. Do not feel guilty if you have to say ‘no’ to your partner. However, when you reject their suggestion and if you observe them getting emotional over the rejection, that is a clear sign that you are in a co-dependent relationship.
4. You tend to take responsibility over your partners actions
When you have to socialize with your friends or family and if your partner is not willing to interact with them, do not feel guilty or make excuse on their behalf. Remember that you are only responsible for your behaviours or actions, and you do not have to be responsible over how your partner feels or acts.
Co-dependency can become very unhealthy in the long run, because such relationships often end up becoming one sided, where one partner is excessively seeking their partner to decide, think, or team up with them without saying ‘no’ to them. This becomes very unhealthy and can lead up to the relationship becoming emotionally destructive or abusive.
So how can one overcome these signs of co-dependency? According to Board Certified Counsellor and Founder of Mayfield Counselling Centers, Dr. Mark Mayfield, if your relationship shows one or all of the signs, you could work on switching the unhealthy interaction to health ones;
- Do bounce off ideas with your partner, but do not always depend on them to take a decision.
- Revisit your other hobbies, have different friend circles, and engage in separate socialising activities from time to time. This will help strengthen your trust in each other and improve your longing for each other.
- If your partner tends to react whenever you say ‘no’ to them or you have experienced abuse from your partner for rejecting them, do not hesitate to seek professional guidance/ counselling.
- Do not feel guilty over your partner’s behaviour of actions. If you are feeling guilty or ashamed on behalf of your partner, consult a psychotherapist.
You can also help your partner overcome their co-dependent tendencies by providing them healthy support. However, do keep in mind that you do not have to sacrifice your own needs. Communicate with your partner about the problems that you are going through, listen to their side of the story, discuss possible solutions, and allow them to choose on the solutions that decide to put to action.
Stop worrying about things out of your control
Many of us have lately been reacting to things that are out of our control given that a pandemic is still looming over our heads. The world is struggling, and everywhere you see there is a protest, assigning blame, and even just people downward spiralling because their lifestyles have been affected.
Lately, I have been reflecting on how it has changed the way I look at things in life. The first year was filled with frustration, as I was angry with the authorities for not taking action on time. But on the second year I realised assigning blame was not going to take us anywhere, instead, it was easier to improve on how I looked at things and worked on improving my outlook on life.
Among the self-improvement books that I have read in the past, I particularly gravitated towards books authored by Dr. Stephen R. Covey. In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Dr. Covey talks about seven habits that one should adopt, I also came across Coveys Circles of Control Model that could be of use to many of us that are easily overwhelmed by the things that happen outside our control.
According to the Circles of Control Dr. Covey distinguishes people into two segments; proactive people and reactive people:
- Proactive people – focus on what they can do and can influence (the inner circle)
- Reactive people – focus their energy on things beyond their control and tend to maintain an attitude of victimisation and blame (the outer circle)