Career Woman

7 things that hold women back from progressing in our careers


No matter how hard we push in our careers, there are always some factors that can hold us back. Here’s how to identify the top 7 — and what to do about them.

1. Impostor syndrome

Often, as women, we feel like complete impostors in our professions. It’s so prevalent, in fact, that people have based their entire careers just around this subject.

It’s that classic feeling of sitting around a table, scared to say what you think because you’re not sure if it’s right or if it’s valuable. Even though you’ve been in your profession for years!

Dr Valerie Young is an amazing woman who has dedicated much of her career in helping people find ways to no longer feel like an imposter. Some of the key ways she suggests are:

  1. Break the silence about the shame you are feeling and name it, it’s impostor syndrome. Often just naming it and saying it out loud can reduce the feeling to a much smaller or insignificant size.
  2. Develop a new response to failure and mistake making. Henry Ford once said, “Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.” Instead of beating yourself up for being human and blowing the big project, do what professional athletes do and glean the learning value from the mistake and move on.
  3. Develop a new self-talk narrative. Your script is that automatic mental tapes that starts playing in situations that trigger your impostor feelings. When you start a new job or project instead of thinking for example, “Wait till they find out I have no idea what I’m doing,” try thinking, “Everyone who starts something new feels off-base in the beginning. I may not know all the answers but I’m smart enough to find them out.”

2. Waiting

We wait until we feel 99.9% ready for a role, whereas men don’t! It’s time we took a leaf out of our male counter-parts book when it comes to taking the leap and going for a role.

Basically, we are waiting for perfection, we’re waiting so that by the time we get to the role we know everything there is to know. We’re waiting until we are confident we won’t feel impostor syndrome. But honestly, it’s holding us back.

Instead of waiting, why not take active steps to apply for that next big role that we want. Go through the interview process and consider it as practice. See what questions are asked, find out about different industries while you’re at it and just learn as you go! Who knows, maybe in the process of treating it as a learning experience, you will land that next step up in your career that you have worked so hard for!

3. Tall poppy syndrome

In our culture, it is one of our biggest holdbacks – self-promotion. We feel like we’re being arrogant if we promote ourselves, our expertise, our knowledge or anything positive. We feel more confident to self-deprecate or to say what we’re not good at. But what good is that doing?

Isn’t it time we actively talked about what we can do to help grow a business, what we can do to support each other, what we have done in the past that shows proof of our skills?

Instead of feeling arrogant about self-promotion, why not ask your friends and colleagues for some feedback, use that information to really show yourself and others that you care about what it’s like to work with you. Asking for feedback means you’re open to listening, you care and you’re up for improving. It also means you get to find out things that people enjoy about working with you and you can share that information with other people.

Write a little status report or monthly report on things you’ve achieved, what success measures you’re using and the impact on the wider business. That way, people can actively see your input and impact. Impact is one of the most important things you can show in business, so show yours! When you show your impact, you can feel confident that others won’t see this as arrogant but as awesome results.

Finally, when other people are sharing things they are good at or sharing their experience, try to change your perception on that if you start to think things like; wow they’re arrogant. Isn’t this the behaviour we’re trying to change about ourselves? So that change starts with us.

4. Fear of failure causing lack of action

Our fear of failing is so intense that often it stops us from taking the step forward that could change our lives or our careers.

I had a coach this year, Kylee Stone, who asked me this one question that changed my thinking: what are you doing to play big?

My sister and I had launched our side business while working full time earlier in the year and that particular question completely opened my eyes to the fact that we had only dipped our toes slightly into the business and the main reason for this, was my fear of failure. I’d had a business fail before, I’d lost some confidence taking on a new role in a new industry and I was holding back but it was detrimental to our business being successful or not.

So I made a decision that in 2020, I would take the leap and work full time in the business while travelling the world to build real, lasting connections with women in business. I have to be honest, I’m scared shitless BUT I know that if I don’t keep taking actions and pushing through my fear that our business will never grow or be successful.

So, when you feel fear, get a pen and paper out and write a list. What step are you going to take next to move you towards your bigger goal, and what step will you take after that one. One step forward is still one action closer so keeping going, no matter how small that action is! It’s important.

5. Knowing your worth and negotiating for it

Studies have found that there is likely 208 years before we can expect to see gender equality. We too, as women, are to blame for the pace at which we can expect to see this change.

We fear negotiation because we might get rejected. We think things like; well if I just show them how hard I work they will remunerate me for showing this. That isn’t true! You have to ask, you have to put your own case forward for why you are worth the salary you are asking for. Think about things like:

  • What is the industry salary bracket for your role and your level of experience? You can find this out by looking at PayScale or the annual Hays Recruitment Guide.
  • By showing what projects you’ve run and the impact you’ve had on the business. Think about the revenue growth, the cost savings, the new initiatives you’ve run etc.
  • Also, think about the soft skills you’ve brought to the business, what has been the impact of your communication style, the coaching and feedback you’ve provided to other team members, the support with onboarding new people. There’s so much more than just the cold, hard revenue drivers, there’s also the emotional intelligence that positively impacts business growth and teams.

When you go into the negotiation, whether it’s for a completely new company or to get a promotion or raise in your current company; just know that the business does have a salary pool of money, each year it is chopped up into different portions for different teams and people. It’s there so be sure to put yourself forward as a valued and valuable member of the team! 

6. Deep self-reflection and self-understanding

Knowing yourself deeply is one of the most empowering things you can do to be your absolute best at work. Reflecting on what you can control, what you can’t control, what your personal patterns are, what you great at, what you’re terrible at, how you interact with others… all of these things are so important for highly effective work.

Knowing yourself is what enables you to be objective in any situation – knowing that nothing is ever about you when it comes to another person, literally NOTHING. What other people choose to think and feel is absolutely their choice and has zero to do with you.

You can choose and control, only, how you respond and how you feel in any situation.

7. Supporting each other

There’s been a long line of the one woman show, the one woman on the leadership team or the one woman on the board and it’s bred a mentality that there is not enough seats at the table. BUT THERE IS! There’s so much room at the table and we, as women, have to do better to support each other.

Often, we are our own worst enemies in moving forward in business and in gender equality. We hold each other ack, we bitch about each other and ultimately we stay here, stagnant. It is time to make room for each other, to listen to each other and to support each other openly.

When we can work collectively together, we can truly make change, we can impact the way businesses run and we can impact each other in more positive ways. It’s time to change our narrative.

About Natasha Ritz

Natasha Ritz has been in marketing and retail for the last 15 years and has worked across fashion, lifestyle and beauty brands both in-house and agency side. In April this year, Natasha and her sister, Arianne, launched their own business ARNA with the purpose to empower women to make bold decisions. ARNA looks to challenge the narrative around women in leadership, equal pay and changing the way women are seen in society. The look to take the business across the globe and share amazing stories that revolutionise women’s roles in business. Twitter @NatashaRitz

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