Did you think the glass ceiling was a relic of the past? Not so much. Even if there weren't plenty of statistics to demonstrate continued gender bias in the workplace, the marketplace, and in financing for start-ups, a depressing stories out of Silicon Valley makes it brutally clear just how far we haven't come.
Unfortunately, according to Wendy Capland, CEO of Vision Quest Consulting and author of the bestseller Your Next Bold Move for Women, there's a lot women do ourselves to make matters worse. "It's not that I don't think there's a glass ceiling," Capland explains. "More women now graduate from college than men, and women are the breadwinners in almost 50 percent of American households. But only 22 percent of executives in Corporate America are women, so that number is pitiful."
But, Capland says, her work coaching executive women has given her a different perspective. Her company has trained thousands of women leaders, both Fortune 500 executives and small business owners. And from what she's observed, women business leaders often fail to put ourselves on the same footing as men. Thus, she says, we suffer not only from the glass ceiling, but also from what some call "sticky-floor syndrome."
As a woman in leadership and a lifelong feminist myself, my first reaction was to dismiss Capland's view as just another case of blaming the victim. But as she began listing the ways that women leaders undercut themselves, I had to admit that many items on her list were things I myself have done. So have other women leaders I know.
Here are 11 things Capland says we women need to stop doing ASAP so as to claim our power in the business world. See if any of these sound as sadly familiar to you as they did to me:
1. Using minimizing language.
"Women use words that minimize their own impact," Capland says. "Like 'just.' 'Let me just tell you something.' 'I just wanted to stop you for a minute.'" That simple word sends the subtle message that our statements and opinions aren't that important, she says.
And there are other belittling words women are prone to using, she says. "'I'm feeling a little bit concerned about something.' I doubt you're really feeling just a little bit concerned or you probably wouldn't have brought it up," Capland says. "You're feeling concerned."
Women in business are prone to apologizing when there's no reason to do so, Capland says. "Many women's voicemail messages begin, 'I'm sorry I'm not able to take your call right now.' Even in our voicemail, we apologize!"
3. Asking permission.
Women are prone to asking questions when they already know the answers, Capland says. "We don't want to be too overpowering, and we want to get buy-in up front. And we ask permission to say something when there's absolutely no need to do that."
4. Waiting until we're experts before taking on a new role.
"Often when offered an opportunity, women will feel like they need to be fully skilled before taking it on, while a man given the same opportunity will say, 'It's about time they picked me!'" Capland says. "Men will say, 'I'll take the job and figure it out when I get there.'"
And, she says, age doesn't seem to make a difference. "I just talked to two 20-year-olds, one man, one woman, both unhappy in their jobs. The woman says she wants to get a new job but doesn't know what else she can really do. The man says, it's no problem, he'll just get another job because he's so marketable."
5. Focusing on cooperation rather than competition.
Yes, there are a thousand business articles that tell us collaboration is the more effective approach. The problem with that? "It's not the structure of Corporate America," Capland says. "Corporate America has a hierarchical structure. It's not set up for collaboration to be effective long-term--I don't care what people say."
6. Questioning ourselves.
"A lot of women I've been exposed to--including myself--spend a too much time thinking about these common concerns," Capland says. "Will I be a threat to my husband if I surpass his income? Will people think I'm a bad mother because I'm working so hard or running my own business? Will I lose my friends if I upset the balance of power or popularity? And who am I, anyway?"
7. Not setting clear goals.
"You have to be really clear about what you want," Capland says. "Do you want a promotion or a job change? Funding for your new company? Do you want to write a book or be a keynote speaker? You have to be really clear so that you can set priorities and boundaries. You're going to have to make big asks. If you're wishy-washy about what you're going after, everyone else will be too."
8. Only setting goals we know how to reach.
"Don't be stopped from setting a goal because you don't know how to get there," Capland says. "No one does when they set a goal where they're stretching themselves."
Years ago, she adds, she found herself declaring during a workshop that she wanted to have her own television show. "As soon as I said it, I thought, 'I have no idea how to do that. That was a stupid goal.'" But a woman in the audience came up to Capland afterward, told her she was being interviewed by a cable show next week, and invited her to come along and observe. Capland decided this was a good way to get her feet wet. "You can head toward a big goal one baby step at a time," she explains. In fact, it may be better that way--you'll avoid setting off your own fight-or-flight response.
Sure enough, Capland eventually wound up with her own cable program. "It ran locally for three years and I had 2.5 million viewers," she says.
9. Not setting clear boundaries.
Once she'd done the show for three years, Capland was done with cable. "My next stretch goal was a PBS special," she says. So when a woman got in touch and invited Capland to do a cable TV series, she said no. "Create some non-negotiable boundaries so you can say yes to things that lead you toward your goals and no to things that would distract you," she advises.
10. Worrying too much about relationships.
That "no" on the cable series was harder than it should have been, Capland adds. "I was really clear that was a no for me," she says. "But I think the woman was surprised. And all I cared about was the relationship--even though I didn't even know her."
11. Getting too hung up on details.
"Women tend to pay too much attention to little details for too long, versus seeing the bigger picture," Capland says. "That can make it hard for them to delegate and therefore prevents them having the freedom to take on the next challenge. I have a client who's been focusing on details for years and now realizes that she's pigeonholed herself in a role she doesn't want, rather than planning and preparing for the role she wanted next."
12. Failing to build a personal brand.
A strong personal brand will help you get what you want whether you're working in a company or running one of your own. "The way to develop a personal brand is to deepen your own self-awareness," Capland says. "What makes you stand out positively from other people?"
A personal brand, she says, is an asset that defines the best things about you. "It's the impression people have of you, and the impression you want them to have," she says.