The double bind was in the news again. The personality driven comments and criticism about the United States women’s soccer team during the World Cup highlighted, yet again, the double standards competent women live with every day.
But here’s one thing that stood out. The team did not let the noise get in their way. They tore their way to victory in almost every game they played despite the media uproar. They ignored, laughed at or responded to the criticism as they saw fit, without it affecting their performance.
Unfortunately, this is not how it commonly plays out for many of the competent and conscientious women who face the double bind at work. Many of the women who approach me for coaching are those who are struggling to manage the subtle, and not so subtle criticisms of male dominated workplaces. They’re angry when they’re spoken over or when others (mostly men) get the credit for their ideas and hard work. They’re having a hard time making sense of the negative feedback they’ve received and being able to use it effectively toward their growth.
Other people’s comments and criticism have become hurdles to their advancement.
Based on the postgraduate research I’ve done on women’s confidence and flourishing in the workplace, here are five lessons I believe all working women can take away from the soccer team’s behaviors on and off the field that will help them advance in their jobs and careers.
Have a Strong Team
The one thing that many women lose as they rise in seniority is a support system of other women. It’s common for clients to say “I don’t trust my boss / colleagues.” For some of us, the lack of trust goes back to childhood. For others, it’s a consequence of being positioned for power and prestige. Regardless, it disadvantages women because we’re wired to thrive through trusting relationships. It’s critical to build a circle of support, both in and outside of the workplace. Who are the girlfriends whose shoulders you can cry on, the mentors who can guide you and the sponsors who can open doors for you?
Be Unapologetically You
You may be one of the many women who are especially good at talking about their flaws and weaknesses. “I’m too emotional” or “I just ramble on” or “I’m not as confident as him/her.” While it’s good to know areas of development, what’s essential is to own your strengths. What are you good at? If you draw a blank, ask others who know you well. Think of how these strengths have helped you, your relationships or the organization you work in. And make it a point to use them often. Authenticity has both power and charisma—people are naturally drawn to and influenced by those who are comfortable in their skin.
Celebrate Your Successes
Most women have spent a lifetime trained in modesty. They would rather put their head down and keep working than become “like the jerk down the hallway.” But as leadership expert Sally Helgesen says in her new book How Women Rise, it’s important to remember that there are many shades of grey in between. You can let your boss know how your success or achievements help others or your organization. You can savor them with your partner or friends—even by yourself in a journal. Revisiting your successes helps them sink into the long-term memory and changes your perception of yourself.
Eye the Bigger Goal
Many women doubt themselves when they fail or receive criticism. Others feel outraged at the unfairness of the double bind and for good reason. Both these reactions lead to negative outcomes when we are at the center of our pursuit for success and / or approval. Author and Wharton professor Adam Grant, says that when we shift our anger from the perpetrator to the victims who are suffering as a result, we’re drawn by something bigger than ourselves. The soccer team certainly wanted to win for themselves, but they were also fighting for equal pay and women’s rights. What is your bigger goal?
Build a Diverse Team
Studies show that women are far more comfortable with diversity because they themselves face the disadvantages of being a woman in a man’s world. To use this strength to your advantage, you need to be strategic about who you let into your team. For example, research by Professor Katherine Phillips at Columbia University shows black women face the double bind lessthan any other race (albeit they face other barriers to their advancement). This is tied to outdated cultural norms and expectations, but regardless, they are an asset to your team. So are conscientious men who have worked through their own biases and are willing to promote women’s advancement.
We live in a world that is increasingly becoming aware of the ethical, financial, social and environmental need to have parity at the top. It’s time to stop twisting ourselves like a pretzel to fit into cultures that are way past their time. Instead of playing by masculine rules of the game (and still end up feeling stuck), we need to embrace our full feminine authenticity. That’s how we’ll rise to the top so we change the rules that are is desperate need of change.