Chief’s “Make Work Work” survey of 847 Chief Members, all of whom are women at the VP level or above and who collectively manage $220 billion of the U.S. economy found that – surprise, surprise – there’s a massive disconnect between what companies think women want at work versus what they actually want. To be honest, that’s not a big surprise for me. Already in 2019, I wrote about the disconnect between HR and millennial women on the top reasons why those women leave companies.
So, what’s at the top of the wishlist for those 847 female leaders? In other words, if they considered leaving the workforce in 2022, which would make them more likely to stay?
Feeling more valued – Recently, I read in a community of women in tech a post from a female VP that is routinely expected to play the “secretary” for the exec team: Writing minutes, sending reminders… How valued do you think she feels?
Increased pay – Who would have guessed that women want to be paid as much as White men?
Promotion to a higher level of responsibility – Another shocker! I was sure women don’t care about promotions…
What retain women executives? In order of priority
Is that so different that what male leaders want?
Quiet quitting and rusting-out
So what happens to those that remain in their jobs and don’t get what they want?
In the last six months, there’s been a lot of chatter about quiet quitting. As per Forbes, “burned-out or unsatisfied employees put forth the least amount of effort possible to keep their paychecks”. Whilst for some this is a euphemism for lazy workers, others have made the case that quiet quitting can also be understood as refusing to be a workaholic and instead strictly delivering the work that matches your role and remuneration. But it’s not the only option.
Last week, I learned a new word rust-out: the condition of being chronically under-stimulated, uninspired, and unsatisfied at work.
In an article in Stylist, Sharon Peake mentions that “rust-out is also more likely to affect women than men due to the unique workplace barriers that women experience, such as the double burden of paid and unpaid (domestic) work. This often leads highly capable and experienced women to return to work part-time, working at a lower level of responsibility after maternity leave, or even opting out of the workforce.” Moreover, “it can cause employees to ‘doom loop’. that is, repeat unhelpful stories about ourselves.”
Happy New Year 2023! I wish this year brings you professional and personal success.
This post is inspired by a great conversation I had with my lovely mother-in-law this morning. She’s a fantastic woman that — as myself — is ambitious. Unlike myself, she didn’t have the support of her parents to attend university or to do any other kind of studies after secondary school. But her brother did have that opportunity. The reason? He’s a man, she’s a woman.
The same happened to my grandmother, an extremely brilliant woman. Her only brother was sent to pursue further studies after he finished school. Neither my grandmother nor any of her 3 sisters were given that opportunity.
Until this point, hopefully, none of this surprises you no matter where you live in the world.
So what made that conversation relevant? My mother-in-law told me that believes that things will continue to improve steadily for women in the next years and that they cannot be speeded up.
When I reiterated that I don’t want things to improve “steadily” for women and people of underrepresented groups but that I want them to improve “dramatically”, she reminded me of all the progress achieved for women’s rights since she was young. As proof, she compared what happened to her professional ambitions with her great expectations for the professional future of her 10-year-old granddaughter — who happens to be my goddaughter.
She also conveyed to me that she believed that I was being unreasonable. After all, it has taken centuries to get where we are now regarding women rights.
286 years to close gender gaps in legal protection and remove discriminatory laws.
140 years for women to be represented equally in positions of power and leadership in the workplace.
At least 40 years to achieve equal representation in national parliaments.
That is, we’ll have to wait three centuries to achieve full gender equality!
After that, my mother-in-law was more willing to see the urgency for change but she was adamant that systems cannot be toppled on a whim.
Why systems of oppression can be knocked down swiftly
If there is a useful learning we can get from the covid-19 pandemic is that extremely fast change is possible.
Within a year
Three vaccines were developed.
In many countries, people were house-bounded and were required to use masks when stepping outside their homes.
Many employees worked from their homes even when previously they had been told it was impossible.
Millions of people without previous medical training learned about pandemics, how to perform covid-19 tests, or what a coronavirus looks like.
All that with the support of many democratic countries and billions of dollars.
What does that tell us about change? That dramatic change at a worldwide level is possible when that change becomes our priority.
Moving from SMART goals to impossible goals
I’m currently finalising my certification as a life coach. One of the topics covered is how to set goals and develop a plan to achieve them.
After 20+ years working for corporations, I’m very well acquainted with SMART goals. This is how you set annual objectives, 5-year plans, and roll out new initiatives.
This is how it works: You pick the objective/deliverable/goal and you ensure that is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound; hence the acronym SMART.
And that’s how you get things done in organisations.
So I was very surprised that in the coaching certification they taught us how to set and achieve impossible goals.
That is, a goal that is so extremely bold that you don’t know how to achieve it. Yet.
What’s the value of impossible goals:
They remove limiting beliefs you didn’t know you had about what you can achieve.
It enables you to embrace uncertainty.
You allow yourself to entertain the idea that you can learn on-the-fly what will take you to achieve that impossible goal.
Case studies: Impossible goals to advance DEI
Imagine that Mahatma Gandhi, Emmeline Pankhurst, Nelson Mandela, or Florence Nightingale had used SMART goals instead of impossible goals to achieve the kind of changes they led.
And I’m sure a lot of people tried to “knock some sense” into their heads — told them that the transformations they were pursuing were foolish, unreasonable, unattainable.
What if they had complied?
What if they had said “Yes, you’re right. This is not a SMART goal”? Or “Indeed. I don’t know exactly how to achieve independence, get the vote for women, end apartheid, or found modern nursing, so I better stop until I figure it all out. “
Maybe we’d still be grappling with those issues…
My 2023 impossible goal
In 2022, I coached five women and nonbinary people that got promoted.
In 2023, my impossible goal is to coach another 50 women and underrepresented people to get the promotion they deserve!
Is it a SMART goal? No.
Do I know exactly how to achieve it? No.
Will not knowing how to achieve it stop me from trying? No.
Is it worth it? Absolutely yes!
What am I doing towards achieving my impossible goal? I’m running again the Joyful Annual Career Assessment Week in February, after the sucess of the first edition in January. This is a one-week event from February 13th to February 17th where I help women and people from underrepresented groups get a clear picture of their professional accomplishments in 2022, tell their career story in a compelling manner, and be ready to discuss their career aspirations for 2023 and beyond.
“Patricia talks about how to frame our accomplishments without seeming arrogant, declare our desires in the professional sphere, and get managerial support for them, and learn about how to advance, despite upbring that may teach us to downplay our skills and contributions. It is amazing!
I wish I had learned this in my 20s- my career path would have been different, and I would have known the invisible rules, so that I could advance in the way I wanted to!”
As a woman in tech, every day I’m reminded that my problem is a lack of confidence. I’m constantly showered with newsletters, offers of webinars and coaching, as well as articles telling me that confidence is a fix-all from the gender pay gap to solving the shortage of women in CXO roles.
All that in spite that there is no correlation between confidence and effective leadership! When I mention this fact, most people look puzzled. I don’t know why. It’s not like we have a “confid-ometer” that enables us to correlate our leaders’ confidence to the success of their initiatives.
What’s more, I’m adamant that our economic, political, and social problems are often rooted in overconfident leaders. If in doubt, only look at how the overconfidence of some political leaders has resulted in disastrous outcomes on the flight against the COVID-19 pandemic. I wish they could have been much less confident and more humble to follow the advice of others that actually know better.
Still, people are resistant. It’s so easy to attribute to self-doubt the lack of CEOs that are disabled, non-White, or self-identify as women…
Guess what? The results show that 28% men vs 9% women think they could beat “unarmed” an eagle in a fight. Gets better, 12% of men vs 2% of women think they could beat a King Cobra, again, unarmed! By the way, in the same article there is also a reference to the US study and how compares with the UK. Priceless!
We can continue to assume that because some people think they can beat a cobra, they can actually beat it. Or, we can confront the myth that confidence is a predictor of effective leadership.
What should we care?
I’ve been coaching and mentoring for years university students, direct reports, peers, clients… And confidence is a topic that comes often. “If I were more confident… ” People talk about it as it was an unreachable superpower such as being invisible or capable to fly.
Confidence is simply about how we feel about a decision. If we feel good, we tell ourselves that we’re confident. When we feel bad or unsure, we lack confidence. So far, so good.
The problem is that we assume that this particular feeling is a good predictor of success. And it’s not. This delusion has even a name!
The Dunning-Kruger effect is “a cognitive bias whereby people with low ability, expertise, or experience regarding a certain type of a task or area of knowledge tend to overestimate their ability or knowledge. Some researchers also include in their definition the opposite effect for high performers: their tendency to underestimate their skills”.
Moreover, we reverence so much confidence that we have made it a key prerequisite to be considered for any meaningful progression in our careers. I cannot recall how many times I’ve heard hiring manager justify their choice of candidate because the person “looked” confident, even if the other candidate had a superior CV.
What if Instead of pushing people to do power poses to boost their confidence, we demanded our overconfident leaders to demonstrate with data and facts the bases of their confidence in their strategy?
What if hiring managers asked candidates to share the evidence supporting their level of confidence rather than assumed it correlates with their competence?
Let’s stop fixing women and underrepresented groups’ confidence. Our problem is not confidence but overconfidence.
Before I go
In this 4-min article, Mary Fashik – a queer disabled woman of color – and Corie Walsh – a White disabled woman with wealth privilege – share the regular erasure, oppression, and disrespect they experience as disabled women. They also discuss how the pandemic was a missed opportunity for the world to learn some of the lessons the disabled community has long known like “collective care is the way forward”.
For comparison, during the worldwide famous trials of Salem, 200 people were accused and 14 women and 5 men were hanged.
News from me
I’m writing a book and I need your help!
As some of you know, my DEI work was prompted by my dismay at realizing in 2015 that fantastic women that had started with me had either quit tech tired of fighting over and over the same battles or given unappealing jobs when they came back from maternity leave – I don’t have children myself.
Unfortunately, little has changed. Seven years later, still, more than 40% of women that start in tech leave the sector.
So, this year I decided to write a book about how women succeed in tech worldwide. There are great books written about this topic focused on US corporations. I also believe we can learn a lot by casting a wider net. My first step? Asking those women what has made them stay and what they need to thrive in the next 5 years.
[ASK] I’d be immensely grateful if you could complete and/or share with your network of women in tech this short survey about your/their experiences at work.
What do I mean by “Women in Tech”? Women working in any function (R&D, HR, services, finance, CXO) in the tech sector (software, hardware…) or in tech-related functions in other sectors (e.g. IT, cybersecurity…).
Whilst the survey is anonymous, you’ll have the option to get involved in the project before submitting the form.