Say goodbye to these 7 habits on International Womens Day

A decade of experience working with women leaders has given AGL’s Hande Yasargil a unique insight into the main confidence blocks she sees most women encounter in the workplace. The answer, she argues, lies in unlearning certain ingrained behaviours so we can take ownership of our future. To read more about AGL’s approach to supporting women in leadership, please click here.


McKinsey estimates that the worldwide economy could grow by US $28 trillion by 2025 if women were equal participants in the labour force. According to Catalyst’s recent report, Fortune 500 companies with the highest representation of female board directors attained significantly higher financial performance, on average, than those with the lowest representation.

On the other hand, the recent McKinsey survey, ‘Women in the Workplace 2018’, shows that women are promoted less, paid less, given less support, have less access to senior leaders, and face more challenges, from daily micro-aggressions through to sexual harassment, in the workplace. Helena Morrisey, founder of the 30% Club, which works to achieve gender-balanced company boards, believes that although ‘diversity’ is a welcome and well-worn buzzword, it’s just not translating into practice as quickly as it ought to.

With the World Economic Forum estimating that it will take 202 years to achieve equality at the current rate of change, it’s obvious that we aren’t doing enough. The data around us confirms that closing the gender gap should be a business priority but we still clearly lack workable solutions to getting more women sat around board tables.

Where gender blindness exists, so the dismantling of unconscious bias’s that both men and women share about women’s leadership capacity stagnates. If our companies are too slow to initiate this change, how can we help ourselves become the change we wish to see?

My years in the coaching room with senior female executives have given me the opportunity to see some common patterns that affect successful women all around the world regardless of nationality, sector, or industry. Confidence can be a deal breaker on the way up through the glass ceiling, so anything that threatens to undo our development in these areas ought to be addressed:

  1. Impostor syndrome, or feeling like a fake: In spite of qualifications or facts to the contrary, the individual feels less competent than others, believing their success is about luck or external factors, and that they will be ‘discovered’ as an imposter. They believe their well-earnt position was only achieved because they were at the right place at the right time, without the competition of better candidates, and often by chance, but never because of who they are and what they have achieved over years of hard work.
  2. Perfectionism or Nobel Prize syndrome:  Perhaps the most common pattern among women arguably stems from consistently having to be much better than their counterparts. Angela Merkel and Christian Lagarde have shared in interviews that they over prepare for meetings to ensure they are never caught on the back foot. Whilst the habit is not directly harmful, there should be no need for excessive preparation, especially if the men in the room do not mirror the effort. Being an over achiever means working overtime, and when this time is stolen from sleep, family, holidays and life in general, the detriment accrues.  
  3. Tiara syndrome: Rather than proudly informing their colleagues of how well they have done a woman will wait to have their efforts recognised by a man, who crowns them with the metaphorical tiara of approval. They worry that openly asking for something may diminish the value of thing asked for, or even risk lowering the value of their reputation. Cultural conditioning encourages passivity, forcing her to wait and hope to be chosen. This pattern does not bode well for asking for a pay rise, or a new assignment, or a board role, especially when it involves ‘selling yourself’.
  4. Self-doubt, self-blame and self-critique: Whilst this can affect almost anyone at any time, the pattern becomes more critical when women give birth. A new mother has to juggle the conflicting emotions of responsibility and imagined neglect to both their career and newborn. This can quickly damage her professional confidence as she comes to terms with her new identity in a workplace that is more often than not unsupportive or ill-equipped to support her through the change.
  5. Envy avoidance: A self-deprecating form of self-defence to avoid criticism from others, and protect oneself from risks. If you position yourself low enough, it is unlikely that someone will uncover your mistakes and contribute to your potential failure. Since there are so few seats at the top tables for women, and from where you currently sit the landscape at the top looks so inhospitable, why risk inciting inevitable envy from both men and women. It might be safer to stay put.
  6. People pleasing: Women are taught from birth that they are loved for what they do rather than who they are, and as a result experience intense feelings of guilt if they let others down, developing a reliance on the approval of others for self-esteem. As Sheryl Sandberg has shown, there is a negative correlation for women between success and likability. Successful men are considered likeable by both men and women, but successful women are considered emotionally cold. This is an unbearable situation for a people pleaser. 
  7. Not negotiating: Studies have shown that women negotiate far better for their companies than they do for themselves. This pattern has the same root cause as Tiara syndrome – that women find it difficult to ask for something without feeling that it is deserved or approved of by others. Equally, women are more likely to give away what they do have for free. Research shows that women are easier to ask favours from with no return, whereas men expect reimbursement. Saying no is a vital skill in negotiating that too few women feel able to implement.

If any of these patterns of behaviour feel familiar to you… you are not alone! By recognising these unconscious behaviours, we stand a better chance of re-conditioning our attitudes towards ourselves and supporting constructive change.

International Women’s Day is an opportunity for us to recognise that whilst there is still so much work to be done, we are all taking positive steps towards the dismantling of inequality. Every morning we get up and look in the mirror and chose to lead, to work, to add value to our lives and the world around us, and most importantly to the future of our children. We are doing more than just coping, more than just surviving; we are flourishing and choosing to continue on the long road to gender parity, even if the burden of redistributing equality is still unfairly loaded on our own shoulders.