What do women pay for feeling like imposters at work?

We take smaller jobs; we play in smaller industries or soft industries; we accept promotions without pay increases (as I did); we minimise our achievements, sharing the glory with others which often diffuses the perception of the contribution we made to the outcome; we fail to position ourselves effectively for business opportunities; we have small voices at the table, often remaining unheard; we can be quick to point out our faults during performance reviews believing the honesty stands us in good stead; we opt out of politics, thinking our work will be the way we are judged when often others aren’t even aware of what we do; then we leave to set up small businesses, the vast majority of which remain small.

We play small in so many ways. And according to Marianne Williamson who wrote Nelson Mandela’s inaugural speech, our playing small does not serve the world.

At the moment, one of the concerns is that there are few female leader role models. Until that changes, the women themselves hold the unconscious bias around what a leader looks like and judge female leaders more harshly than their male counterparts.

What do we actually pay for these behaviours and biases? Here are some ideas of how we may be doing just that!

We sell ourselves short focussing on what we need to do in order to improve our performance instead of what we have already achieved. We are relatively underpaid when we fail to recognise our own value and negotiate for a fair return. We are not sending the right signals out to the business to say we are ready and capable of handling more. We often fail to handle conflict or difficult conversations constructively, reinforcing the broad belief that women are too emotional which, in turn, fuels the perception that we are difficult to work with. We work hard, yet don’t claim responsibility for that work (and yes, I know, success is never about one person). We may engage in too much consultation and not enough decision-making. We may fall back into administrative roles such as note-taking in meetings (for example) because we don’t know how to say no or to get others to recognise the inherent bias in their requests.

You may recognise some of these behaviours in yourself, or in your talented female leaders.