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Three Ways Women Hold Themselves Back

Trudy BourgeoisFifteen years ago, Trudy Bourgeois resigned from her vice president job managing a $3 billion business unit—and walked away from a healthy six-figure salary, country club memberships, first class plane tickets to everywhere for her husband and herself and much, much more. “When I told my mom about my decision, she started to cry,” Bourgeois recalls. “She asked if she needed to get the sisters together to pray. I was living the dream for a lot of people.”

So much was riding on her decision, in fact, that Bourgeois took two years to make it. But here is the thought that plagued her: “I didn’t like who I’d become,” she says. “I had changed to survive in corporate America. I am naturally a caring person, but if I showed a soft side, I’d get ripped. I suppressed my compassion and was no longer aligned with my values.”

What finally pushed her to take the leap was her desire “for justice, to make things right for women and other minority groups,” she says. Now the founder and CEO of The Center for Workforce Excellence and author of Her Corner Office: A Guide for Women to Find a Place and Voice in Corporate America, she has worked with hundreds of women, helping them to develop into leaders and “understand how they can show up in a way that’s congruent with their ethics, demand that they are valued and not apologize for being female,” she explains.

Unfortunately, it’s not only the “system” that trips up women, though. We, too, can make things hard for ourselves. Here are three of the most common ways Bourgeois says women self-sabotage their careers.

1. “We aren’t boastful enough.”

Most women are socialized not to talk themselves up. But what many of us consider bragging is simply how information is communicated in business. For example, while a woman might report that her team delivered great results, a man would say, “The vision that I set was very solid, I am pleased to say, as we delivered 10% over forecast and increased our contributions to the bottom line.”

Bourgeois explains: “In business, you need to know your value—how what you do on a daily basis advances the goals of the company—and when you speak, you need to correlate your contributions to the company’s greater good. If you don’t tell your own narrative, someone else will. Also, speaking this way and using business terminology helps you establish yourself as a business leader as well as a thought leader.”

2. “We wait to be 100% ready before putting ourselves out there.”

“But no one is ever 100% ready, so we don’t go after the bigger job or opportunity,” Bourgeois says. “On the other hand, men think that they’re ready at 70% and trust that they’ll quickly learn what they don’t know.” Bourgeois believes this is a confidence issue, a matter of what she calls the “itty bitty committee in our heads” having too much sway. So with her clients, she does this exercise: “I have them write down in painful detail the 10 most defining moments of their life,” she says. “Then I ask what they can learn about themselves from looking at these moments. Inevitably, they say that they are very resilient, and so we sit quietly and soak in all of what that means and then connect it to taking more risks.”

3. “We don’t think about our personal strategies.”

Bourgeois recommends using a blueprint, where you write down your life and professional visions, assess your skills, abilities, relationships and current situation and determine what needs to happen for you to connect the dots. “Success doesn’t come because we dreamed it up or because someone is going to knight us,” says Bourgeois. “You need to have clarity, on a granular level, about what you plan to do to reach your goals. Once you have it, you feel centered, you can make choices that align with your plan, and you are empowered. You don’t feel that someone else is in charge of your future. You feel that you are.”

▶ Read more from the July 2016 newsletter.

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