Worthiness is a weighty word. Some of us define our own worth by our checking and investment account balances, how valued we feel within friendships, family dynamics and romantic relationships, and how we’re recognized (or not) at work. It’s also inextricably entwined in that other weighty word: Respect.
Are you getting the respect you’ve earned? Are you sending signals — or telling yourself (whether consciously or not) — that you don’t deserve it? From asking for a (long-overdue) raise to getting a partner to step up and pull their weight at home, respect for ourselves and by others affects every aspect of our lives.
Here, seven female leaders share their candid advice on how to stand up, step up, be heard and let the world know what we’re really worth.
Don’t assume your accomplishments are obvious
In an ideal world our work would speak for itself. Folks in the office would pay attention to our every move and recognition would naturally flow. But that’s not typically how the story plays out, says Ande Frazier, CEO of myWorth.
To set ourselves up for success and to ensure those hours burning the midnight oil are accounted for, Frazier suggests asking upfront about expectations for our role and what considerations influence raises, bonuses and other forms of compensation. Furthermore, get specific and get it on the paper. “Doing this will not only ensure you can more directly influence your path with the company, it also sets the stage for upward movement,” she says.
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Be empathetic, but not overly accommodating
Every person — male or female — exercises various management styles. And while it’s not a blanket description for all women leaders, Niki Hall, the chief marketing officer of Selligent says females tend to be more accommodating than male managers. Without even realizing it, a woman may volunteer to be the flexible ones during intense conversations, or take extra time to speak with a frustrated colleague. Though empathy is an important and often undervalued soft skill, Hall urges women to pay attention to when it’s warranted — and when we are being walked over.
Before waving a white flag on a discussion or apologizing when it’s unnecessary, take a pause and think critically about your stance: Is this a moment when you should remain firm? If so, stay steady and allow the conversation to continue. Just because the other person — again, regardless of gender — isn’t backing down, that doesn’t mean you should. Standing firm demonstrates your own belief in your worthiness, and your place at the table.
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Insist that men pull their weight at home
Linda A. Bell, Ph.D., the provost and dean of faculty at Barnard College and Claire Tow Professor of Economics, she has studied the division of duties among partners in U.S. households and has seen firsthand that females volunteer for double-workloads once they become parents. Often referred to as the “second shift,” this is what happens when we clock out at work and turn around to clock-in to feeding, bath time, sleeping routines and more. And this is true regardless of where we are on the so-called corporate ladder.
“What’s worse is that women’s positive career trajectories are not associated with less hours spent working at home. In fact, some studies have found an inverse relationship with more successful women likely to do even more housework,” Dr. Bell says. “One theory is that female breadwinners punish themselves with extra chores to ‘correct’ for their impressive jobs and to preserve good relationships with their male partners at home.”
Here’s the important truth though: No matter why we willingly front the labors of love, having less time for leisure activities, personal hobbies — and, you know, sleep — is detrimental to our health and happiness. Dr. Bell encourages women to have open and frank conversations with their partners about pulling their weight. “Bottom line: Working women need good partners who support and accommodate their working lives — and must insist on an equitable division of unpaid labor at home that values her working commitments.”
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Don’t hide your authentic self
Think about those mentors and friends we admire most: What do they have in common? They are 100 percent themselves — no excuses, no questions, no anything.
The best way to showcase your worth is lead with authenticity, says Keri Higgins-Bigelow, the CEO and founder of LivingHR. Be yourself in all of your interactions, especially the difficult ones. “If you are a naturally bold communicator, be bold but don’t be brazen. If your approach is friendly, be friendly but be direct about what is important to you,” she says. “Be honest, be yourself and be straightforward because you simply will not get what you don’t ask for.”
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Get fired up and be prepared to negotiate
You’re finally ready to go to your boss and state your case for a raise. Before walking in, guns blazing, it’s imperative to do your research and come armed with data.
In addition to basic stats on the wage gap, understanding any discriminations within our individual industries will ensure you’re prepared and ready for battle, says to co-founder and chief marketing officer at TrueSpace, Jamee Fred. “You’d be surprised about how much more you stand your ground with these stats top of mind,” she says. “If you aren’t sure of what to ask for, there are a multitude of resources online like Indeed and Glassdoor to help identify the average salary of any role, in any industry, in any location. When you show up to the negotiation table, bring a list of measurable accomplishments you’ve made in your current role with hard metrics to prove your performance.”
Once you’ve laid out the facts, Fred says it’s time to be intentional and nitty-gritty about what you want. And then ask for more, since room for negotiation often leads to better outcomes. “While it is important to give a true representation of the current state of a business, where you want to go and how you are going to get there, try pivoting your pitch to be more focused on the positives with a rapid-growth mindset. When pitching themselves or their business, women tend to be more conservative than men, which is a more sustainable approach, but it lacks the confidence needed to get them where they need to be,” she shares. So if you think you need $5 million to grow your business, ask for $10 million. If you think you have earned a 4% raise, ask for 8%, she suggests.
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Signal your approach
You’ve prepped, practiced and are ready to present your case (for a raise, title shift, bigger departmental budget) to your manager. Did you remember to give them a head’s up? If not, you could catch your boss on a stressful day and not get the attention or thoughtful response you deserve.
Timing is really important, says CEO and co-founder of Birchbox, Katia Beauchamp. Her advice: A friendly conversation or note with advance notice. For example, you could say: “I put time on your calendar two weeks from now to discuss my career. I’ll come prepared to share how I see myself progressing in my objectives. I’d love for you to listen, and we can regroup after to discuss next steps.” “Stay calm and always respectful,” Beauchamp says. “And never apologize for advocating for yourself.”
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Don’t allow comparisons to steal the spotlight
Repeat after Debbie Wei Mullin, the CEO and founder of Copper Cow Coffee: Our most valuable asset is who we are. And the biggest disrupter to our sense of self? Obsessing on how we stack up to other people within our fields, at our current life stage or who seemingly have everything we want so badly.
“It’s easy to want to compare yourself to others — people who went to better schools, made great achievements younger than you or got that big promotion you were hoping for,” Mullin says. As tempting as it is, though, leave others out of the equation.
Your self worth is determined by one person: You. You got to where you are by your own diligence. Even if others cheered on and applauded your efforts, it’s your own back you should be patting.
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