“I think even the term ‘balancing act’ should invite us to do things differently. If we have to act at work, how can we be authentic?”
This provocative inquiry from a participant caught me off guard and raised a very good point. If women are “faking it to make it” at work, how authentic can they really be?
I recently led a 6-week program at financial services giant, Prudential, utilizing the work of The Daring Way™ showcasing Dr. Brene´Brown’s groundbreaking research on courage. 15 women executives participated in two full day sessions, 1:1 coaching, an interim webinar, reading assignments and small group peer meet-ups designed to explore their practice of navigating the many roles they juggle (leader, mother, partner, community citizen, daughter, sister, friend) and strategies for impact and stress reduction. It was an honor to watch these women examine their esteemed careers as senior leaders and support one another in the journey of finding ways to thrive differently in the future.
Themes we bumped into as we explored included:
- How to show up and be seen without appearing arrogant or bossy
- What it means to ask for help, at work and at home, and why it is hard sometimes
- The role of self-compassion and what we say to ourselves sometimes that hurts and hinders
- The role of vulnerability in creating healthy connection and trust at work
- Why trust is key to holding accountability with employees
- The importance of men as allies and partners in managing our roles and theirs
- Female assimilation to dominant work culture and what it means to authentically be ourselves
It was powerful to watch these 15 women, many of whom had worked together for many years, lean towards each other, discovering news ways to build connection, talk about hard issues, and get critical support as peers at work. Over and over I heard exclamations of relief at not feeling alone and deep feelings of empathy for others.
One interesting dynamic that I often see with women leaders is what I like to call, the culture of comparison. This is when we look at another person and admire their strengths, beauties, and assets, only to negatively find ourselves falling short or wanting, which leads to self-shaming and low confidence. In this session, Prudential leaders consistently appreciated each other when they authentically revealed their challenges, vulnerabilities, and opportunities. I watched their esteem for one another, as well as their acceptance and care for themselves, increase as they brought their full, imperfect, selves to the work at hand.
Women often work towards perfection, over-striving, even hustling, to prove to the world at large and themselves that they are, in fact, enough. We do this by stacking on credentials and qualifications (becoming “over-qualified”), delaying work completion in an effort to get it “just right,” and failing to offer still forming ideas, missing the moment for innovation or creativity. This takes a great deal of energy, and my negatively impact the success of women at work trying to have the impact and contribution they seek.
Each of these women acknowledged in our session the interwoven nature of their home and work lives, and often their ideal sense of themselves includes full success in all realms. Recognizing that success does not mean perfection, at home or at work, eases up the intensity and stress of constantly holding the mythology that doing what we do is easy or possible to do alone.
One women put it this way, “If I can let go of being the perfect mother and letting others (other parent, child care, teachers) contribute, I have more energy for doing the things that really matter as a Mom. And if I can let go of doing everything at work alone, first and best, I preserve energy for the critical impacts that I know matter to my employees, colleagues, and boss.”
It inspires me to work with women executives and leaders impacting their companies while also impacting their families and the world at large. By developing a practice of courage in the face of fear and of self-compassion, we can together wholeheartedly create connections that make the hardest things possible.
Congrats to Prudential, and to Chief Talent Officer Sekhar Ramaswammy for being an allie and supporter of women leaders at or near the top.