Risky Women by Megan Ragsdale – purchase now on Amazon

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How To Claim Your Seat at the Table

We’ve been told by the media and the movies that there will be some climactic point in our career when we will know we have finally “arrived.” We’ve got the title, the award, and the promotion, but even when we meet these objectives, that crowning moment of validation eludes us and leaves us wondering why we still don’t feel worthy, happy, and complete.

Unfortunately, some of us never even meet those goals, let alone experience that elusive fulfillment. After defending our leadership titles like a heavyweight champ, waiting in the ring for the next challenger, we get worn down. We realize the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results, so we finally just quit—not just our jobs, but ourselves. I can’t tell you how many women I’ve sat with who are, quite simply, defeated. They’re as impressive, smart, and talented as they come, but they are tired of constantly defending themselves and justifying their decisions, so they give in—or, worse, become convinced they are not worth the work it will take to change things.

I think we women never feel like we’ve arrived because when we are chosen for executive leadership, we are expected to be grateful, humble, and even feign a bit of surprise that we have been selected for this prestigious role. The reason is simple: “Leadership is something given to men but gifted to women.”

In my experience, when men are promoted into leadership, it’s an expected inheritance from the successful men who were there before them. But for women, leadership is loaned out, with the expectation that we will need a lot of help. There is usually some preamble to let you know that you were given this opportunity despite your shortcomings. You haven’t quite earned it, you’re told, but the company is “taking a chance on you,” and although they certainly won’t be there with any kind of meaningful support, they’re sure hoping you don’t fuck it up. How they decided to finally take a chance on you is usually through some kind of never-ending whack-a-mole game, where you must tick all the boxes on an imaginary checklist that keeps changing every time you think you’re done. First you had to smash your sales targets. Then you had to clean up the mess the previous (and, let’s face it, mediocre) leader left behind. Then you had to get your vendors in line and optimize your revenue streams. So, you did all that, but your performance measurement is rarely based on anything objective or quantifiable. Women are measured on style (that’s feminine style, not leadership style), not competence. Many times, women are judged by how closely they resemble the man currently in charge. 

Once women are gifted their positions, this is when the organization really starts to screw with them. Your performance must be flawless, or you will be held up to the light, examined from every angle, and scrutinized within an inch of your life. There are no gray areas. You are slaying it, or you are screwing up, and you can go from hero to zero practically overnight. If you make hard decisions, you’re a bitch, not because the situation dictated the choice. If you don’t choose to mother those around you, you’re “not a team player.” And if you match the tone and language of the emails sent to you by your male colleagues, you’re aggressive. If you are a woman of color, you will be judged even more harshly for doing or saying anything, ever, that runs contrary to their expectations of you as pleasant, easy to work with, and not one to rock the boat. And then they wonder why we leave.

So much of our limited energy gets redirected into anticipative stress about how people will react to some decision we’ve made, something we wrote in an email, or something we said in a meeting. It’s hard to ever feel like we’ve arrived as leaders because we attach our feeling of arrival to other people. We don’t feel legitimate unless some other person sees us in the light in which we want to see ourselves. We’re subconsciously waiting for someone to tell us we are already capable of great leadership, without all the caveats. But when we surrender our power and our sense of worthiness to other people, many of whom are not worthy of us, we begin to question our abilities and feel like a shell of a person, instead of the whole person we want to be and, in many cases, already are. It took me feeling like I had lost everything and was at the end of my rope before I learned how to take that power back.

This is an excerpt from my new book Risky Women: How to Reach the Top Levels of Leadership or Know When It’s Time to Get The Hell Out. Available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Porchlight. For more content like this follow me on LinkedIn and sign up for my newsletter: https://www.linkedin.com/in/meganfarrell/

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