As a woman in management, you’ve broken through the glass ceiling. But there’s another, darker barrier you might be dealing with, and without the right guidance and support, it could end up pushing you off a glass cliff.
You are judged much more harshly than men for your mistakes or failures.
So why does this matter?
I work with many women in senior executive roles, and I can tell you, it matters a lot.
Since you’re constantly getting both indirect and explicit messages that you must be perfect in order to be considered professional enough, you might try to avoid risk as much as possible, to reduce mistakes at all costs.
So when it comes to speaking English in high-stakes situations at work, since you’re so harshly judged for imperfection, this reality can lead to extreme stress, day in, day out.
What makes things unbearable for women is, of course, how we internalize judgments.
We not only live with the fear of judgment looming over our head, we are our worst judges. We are unforgiving, brutal towards ourselves and totally uncomfortable with imperfection (Consequently, women also judge other women too harshly, but I won’t get into that here).
When it comes to English, this leads to putting too much emphasis on avoiding grammatical mistakes, for example, especially when the people who make you feel uncomfortable about your performance are around. This can be quite paralyzing.
I see it all the time:
Women leaders, with outstanding track records, powerful presence and amazing people skills, asking one of their team members to give their presentation for them, or turning down a chance to speak to new employees from the U.S. in an onboarding session, alongside the Israeli CEO, for reasons you can already guess…
The way we judge ourselves prevents many women from adopting a “growth mindset” – the mindset that enables us to practice, make mistakes, improve and build the “muscles” we need to become more resilient and more comfortable with risk.
I’m not saying it’s easy. It’s truly challenging to speak up in a meeting when you know you won’t necessarily find the best, most precise way to say what you want to say. This requires humility and courage. It’s a training process – a marathon, not a sprint – and it requires drive and determination.
Women have been socialized to please and to be perfect and this makes us suffer.
As Reshma Saujani, founder and former chief executive of Girls Who Code, writes in her impactful book “Brave, Not Perfect”:
“We need to unlearn perfectionism and exercise bravery instead”.
As a role model, you can help change this perception that women have to be perfect!
Don’t let judgment drive you off a glass cliff.