Helping Women and Girls Own Their Successes
In my role as a leadership consultant, some of my favorite work is the involvement I have as a Program Manager for Women Unlimited, a company working to achieve gender parity by strengthening the skills and confidence of women in executive leadership positions. I also see the other end of the women’s leadership spectrum when I go home at night and shift into my role as the mom of three daughters (ages 6, 9, and 12). Sometimes, these two worlds overlap in interesting and thought-provoking ways.
Recently, my first grader and I sat down at the kitchen table to tackle her reading homework. She asked me to time her on how quickly she recognized and read a group of sight words out loud. Per the teacher’s instructions, I continued to time her daily and recorded the time, with the goal of decreasing the time over the course of the week. By Friday, she was delighted to see that she had reduced her time significantly over the prior five days. As I praised her and made my way out of the room to start a load of laundry, I heard her shout enthusiastically to herself, “I ROCK at this! I’m a ROCKSTAR!” I smiled, pleased to hear how much she was owning her accomplishment and letting herself revel in her good work.
Then my smile quickly turned to a frown. When was the last time I heard my 12 year old say something similar about herself? I hadn’t – not for a long time. What happens as girls age to make them less likely to open up about their accomplishments? And what are the long term effects of that confidence dive when girls grow into women?
Research supports that girls’ self-esteem and confidence begins to take a nose-drive right around age 12. Puberty has a lot to do with it. Pile on a tendency towards perfectionism, cultural pressures to be modest, and sprinkle in a little social media, and you have a recipe for a loss of confidence that lasts for years, often well into adulthood.
There are many ways to boost tween and teen confidence including participation in sports, cultivating a growth mindset, and challenging them to engage in activities outside of their comfort zone. We’ve found that music lessons have done wonders for building our girls’ confidence, self-discipline, and helping them see and believe in their own abilities. We also have a family rule that everyone must be working on “one hard thing” at a given time (including Mom and Dad). We borrowed this rule from Angela Duckworth’s book Grit because we believe it teaches our girls how to stretch themselves and persevere though challenges.
But what if women are still holding onto these same insecurities as adults in the workforce? Old habits die hard and there are plenty of professional women who downplay their workplace accomplishments, give undue credit to team members, or avoid self-promoting so as not to look too braggy. Being overly humble is dangerous, though; it can easily lead to missed work opportunities and a stalled career path.
There’s a big difference between being exceedingly boastful and being proud of what you’ve accomplished. In my work with Women Unlimited, we teach women to “own” what they do and to not be afraid to tout their contributions and achievements. In order to reinforce and strengthen this habit, we invite women at every session to stand up and publicly share their accomplishments during a portion we call “Noteworthy News”. At this time, they have a chance to practice talking about their recent promotion, work assignment, professional accomplishment, or anything they feel proud of. Our hope is that they build the habit of “owning” their achievements and then take that habit back to the workforce and replicate it so their managers, leaders, and exec teams have visibility to their successes as well.
I’ve taken Women Unlimited’s “Noteworthy News” and applied it at home. Now when my 12 year old comes home from school, I check in with her daily and ask her “What did you rock at today?” She almost always can come up with an answer. Even better, since she now anticipates this question from me, she has started thinking differently about her day, and gaining a greater awareness and appreciation of her own strengths. Sometimes before I can even ask her the daily question, she volunteers something that she did that was especially awesome or noteworthy. My psychologist friend told me I am helping my daughter build new neural pathways and that this daily exchange is literally changing the way her brain works. I hope so. It’s never too early (or late) to start owning your personal successes and professional achievements.
“Here’s to strong women - may we know them, may we raise them, may we be them.” - Unknown