The greatness you have inside

The McKinsey study Women in the Workplace 2018 stipulates that companies are highly committed to gender diversity. But also that this commitment has not translated into meaningful progress.

Women are underrepresented in the C-suite, receive lower salaries, and are less likely to receive a critical first promotion to be a manager than men. The proportion of women at every level in corporate America has hardly changed. Progress isn’t just slow. It’s stalled. I suspect that this is pretty similar across the globe.

However, there seem to be almost no perceptible differences in the behavior of men and women. Women have the same number of contacts as men, they spent as much time with senior leadership, and they allocate their time similarly to men in the same role. And in performance evaluations men and women received statistically identical scores. This holds true for women at each level of seniority. Yet women aren’t advancing and men are.


A reason for gaps between women and men when it comes to hiring and promotions can be performance bias. Research shows that we tend to overestimate men’s performance and underestimate women’s. As a result, men are often hired and promoted based on their potential, while women are often hired and promoted based on their track record. This may be particularly acute for women at the start of their careers, when their track records are relatively short.


Another reason can be that women often wait too long before tackling challenging tasks. They assume that they will have to acquire most of the necessary knowledge beforehand.


If someone offers you an amazing opportunity and you’re not sure you can do it, say yes – and learn how to do it later.

Richard Branson


I believe that the secret lies in the greatness we have all inside. Especially women should concentrate more on being aware of and developing their own personal strengths. Knowing where we are strong at gives us the courage and self-confidence to take on new, seemingly difficult tasks.


What hinders us to do so ? Many of us think that we have to play a role to be liked and accepted by others. The opposite is true. If you are not authentic your environment realizes it immediately. You want to appear strong but you’re just pretending to be? People will perceive you as weak just because you are not authentic.


Authenticity is highly attractive to others,

maybe because we rarely get to see it.


I am seeing women struggling with being authentic as they feel that being themselves does not fit into the picture of with what's expected of them. This often doesn't happen out of lack of good will of their male counterparts, it is rather the results of thousands of years where our culture has been shaped nearly exclusively from a male perspective. Think only of the great philosophers of antiquity, scientists, writers, or composers of classical music.


As women, we unconsciously copy what makes men successful. Especially in the business world this is reflected by the way we dress and speak. How many women dress more and more like men the higher they move up in their company’s hierarchy? How many speak a little deeper and louder if they want to be taken seriously by their male colleagues?


If this seems exaggerated or even feminist to you, then imagine the situation the other way round. What would it be like if men were suddenly dressed more colorfully and spoke with a slightly higher pitched voice to get heard by their female colleagues? That would be odd, wouldn’t it?


Every one of us is best when we don’t copy others. Living from our true selves resonates with others because other human beings long for authenticity as well. If you are trying to be someone else or if your life is turning around fulfilling the expectations of others, it is time to update that definition.


Finding your own authentic way


First of all, you have to find out who you are. One very important step is to find your purpose, which I have covered in a previous blog post.


Another crucial step is knowing your strengths.


There is a huge number of online tools and questionnaires to help you define your strengths. I did number of strengths tests myself, but already after the second one I could not recall all the strengths the tests had identified for me. Have you experienced the same?


I suspect the reason for this is that results created by an anonymous external system are too abstract and too distant for us to identify with. It does not allow for us to feel the process going on in our inner self and does not give us the time to embed the findings.


If you want to find your strengths yourself you need to use a number of tricks to put yourself out of your shoes to look at you from a certain distance. Most of us were raised to push ourselves hard and not to think too highly of ourselves. Maybe you were regularly criticized by family members and you are now a champion in self-judgment in the negative sense.


This negativity toward ourselves can be hurtful. Much self-criticism happens in our own heads, silently labeling us as having done something good or bad or even being good or bad as people. Not as good as others, not important. If you have an honest look at how severe you are judging yourself you might find out that you're not judging anyone else that hard.


This behavior is getting reinforced by the constantly increasing number of information and images that surround us. Even if your rationale tells you that your former class mate certainly hasn’t the perfect life she regularly shows on Instagram you still might feel inferior when you look at her news feed.


Forget about this! Stop comparing yourself to seemingly perfect humans! There is no such thing like a perfect life or innate superiority of others. We all live a life of success and struggle.

With this in mind, let’s move on with finding out what your strengths are.


3 steps to identify your very own strengths


Step 1:

Make a list based on your hobbies: What are you good at? Try to find at least 15 skills within five minutes and list everything – even ‘basic’ stuff like punctuality. Take your 15 skills and check for yourself which ones are strengths and which ones are rather skills or habits. For skills, reflect on what is the underlying strength of it.


Step 2:

Go back to your childhood. Was there a moment when you achieved something great? Or do you remember a moment where you were really happy? Try to remember what exactly happened and watch out for things you did well. Did this repeat again in your life? If not, you probably still have this strength in you but you have to bury it out.


Step 3:

Step into the shoes of two or more people who know you well. Choose at least one person from your private life and one person from your professional life. Now ask yourself honestly (and do your very best to take the view of the two other persons) what would each of these people say you are good at? Push yourself to go deeper to find some ‘hidden’ strengths you were not consciously aware of.


Where do the results of these 3 steps overlap? Which strengths appear again and again?


You may think what you will find when you connect with yourself is not strong enough, not worthy enough to be seen. I would like you to forget this thought immediately and if possible forever. Allow yourself to truly get to know you and honor yourself. You will be surprised about the greatness you have inside.

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© 2019 Ulrike Seminati, Zurich, Switzerland