Why is it that smart women who are kicking butts at work often told they're "not ready yet" for the promotion?
Or that they're "too direct" or "net yet technical enough" or "too quiet?"
Short answer: unconscious gender bias is often at play. And you have options for navigating your way through and past it as a woman, to accelerate, not deter, your career growth.
In this episode, I walk you through:
Featured in this episode:
Here's what my former client Jennifer Tsui says:
Before coaching, a problem at work used to feel catastrophic, but now I approach problem-solving with more confidence, persistence, and resilience, as I become more confident in my leadership skills.
I let go of the belief that people were working against me, or that they weren't invested in helping me grow in my career. I now see I have allies if I'm brave enough to ask for help.
I'm now carrying forward with me neuroscience-based techniques that help me stop negative thought patterns and help me re-direct towards better outcomes.
As a result of coaching with Jamie, I've become more confident in myself and secured a workplace transition that feels right for me and my long-term goals.
Book your 1:1 consultation today and get started on re-directing both your brain and your words towards the future where you lead with grounded confidence, even if your manager's wrong about you.
Come on over to https://www.jamieleecoach.com/apply to learn about my unique coaching process, real client results and to book your free consult today.
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Jamie Lee (00:01):
Welcome to negotiate your Career Growth. I'm Jamie Lee, and I teach you how to blend the best of negotiation strategies with feminist coaching so you get promoted and better paid without burning bridges or burning out in the process.
Jamie Lee (00:12):
Let's get started.
I was recently asked, why is it that smart women who are kicking butts at their jobs being told that they're not yet ready for the promotion? I also spoke with some of my clients, uh, one of whom received feedback that was unusual in the past. She was receiving feedback that she's kicking butt, she's doing really well. Keep going. She was highly rated within her organization. And then recently when, uh, the makeup of the people who give that feedback to her, that 360 feedback changed and became more men. She started getting feedback that she's too aggressive, that she needs to quote, unquote, tone it down, be kinder, be softer, so to speak. That's my paraphrasing. And I also speak with clients who have to contend and navigate around bosses who are unwilling or reluctant to, um, to give assignments that would be like a stretch assignment, a hot job, a hot project that would help them grow in very specific leadership skills that they would want to grow so that they can get promoted.
So these things happen, and I've been thinking about that. I've been thinking about why is it that my clients who are really smart and who are kicking butts and getting things done right, why are they being told that they're not technical enough or too aggressive or not aggressive enough? Right? And that tells me the nature of that feedback, right? Feedback is just an opinion, really. Um, it tells me that gender bias, unconscious gender bias is often at play. It's not always, it's not always the case. And of course, there are many different factors that come into play into the reason why someone is told you're not yet ready for the promotion, right? There could be structural issues at the company. It could be macroeconomic issues, it could be something altogether different. But sometimes when my clients are genuinely achieving wins at their jobs, and they're genuinely kicking bud, right?
They're, they're really demonstrating their competence and they're getting this fee feedback that are usually geared towards women. That is when I know, yeah, it does happen. Unconscious gender bias. And so today in this podcast, I wanna talk to you at a slightly deeper level about what you can do and how you can overcome override, you know, work through that unconscious gender bias to fast track your promotion like some of my clients do, to help people become aware, to raise their own awareness around it, so that they can reassess your performance, your leadership, your promotability. So first and foremost, I want to present a metaphor for how we think about gender bias, unconscious gender bias, right? It's unconscious where it's like, it's, it, it's operating undetected. It's like something that we default to, not because we choose to, not because we intend to, you know, see women as less capable, but because it's just like we've been so exposed to that mil or to that line of thinking, you know, from a very young age through media, through culture, through tradition, through through modeling and through examples that, you know, um, that we've seen, that we've been exposed to, right?
So it's unconscious. And I think, um, a suitable metaphor for this discussion today is that it's kind of like UV race. And hear me out this, the reason why I thought of it in this way is because I'm Asian and I have a tan skin, but actually I have a sensitive skin. If I stay out on the sun without any protection, without any awareness, <laugh> of what the harm UV rays can do on my skin, then later I come home and my skin is stinging. It's burning, it's itchy. You know, I get like spots and I'm like, yeah, I gotta, I gotta wear some protection. I gotta, I gotta be aware. I gotta protect myself, right? And I think unconscious bias is like that. And you know how when you first step out into the summer sun, it can feel good. I mean, assuming you like, you know, warm sun rays on your skin, it can feel good.
Kind of like in the very beginning when we're growing up and we're being socialized, when we're being conditioned to play nice or to get along in this society, you know, it can feel kind of nice to be like, you know, girls, girls wear pink <laugh>, boys wear blue <laugh>. Girls are like, this girls should be nice, right? Boys should be confident, right? It kind of feels nice to sort of categorize and to, uh, make those, um, um, yeah, those distinctions. It can feel almost like, oh, now we belong to the tribe. It, it helps us feel like, yeah, we're part of the group <laugh>, but if we continue to allow those unconscious associations build up and go undetected, right? There's that long-term adverse effect. Just like when you stay out in the sun too long without any sum protection, you burn your skin and your skin starts peeling without, you know, much awareness and protection, um, without much awareness.
Um, unconscious bias can lead to gender pay gap. It can lead to the gender gap in leadership, in the promotion gap, right? I think there are very specific things that we can do as women, because we all get exposed to this unconscious gender bias, women, men, non-binary people, whatever your gender identification is. And in fact, I'm gonna mention a study that was done fairly recent. They did this academic study, and they found that when they coded, when they coded the toys that, um, young people, very young people, children were receiving, girls tended to receive toys that encouraged them to be, you know, empathetic, nurturing, taking care of things, you know, reactive, right? Think of a doll, for example. You have to react to the doll. Whereas boys tended to receive gifts that encouraged them to see themselves as being agents, like having agency in their situation, having power to con the power and control to move and maneuver things like truck take, for example.
Think about the long-term effect of that, what that has on the psyche and the, and the level of confidence that people, um, end up having much later in life when they go to negotiate, advocate for the growth they want in their careers. So, having said that, I think you can do three things when it comes to how you respond to this sort of unconscious bias in the workplace, especially if it's coming from somebody you work with, somebody you report to. I think you can do three things. Like when you think about unconscious bias as uv rays, like light rays that are invisible to the human eye, but has an impact on the human, you know, body, skin, right? You can do three things. Number one, you can absorb it, <laugh>, you can absorb light, right? You can just take it all in, or you can reflect it back like a mirror.
And number three, you can also photosynthesize it like a plant. So let me walk you through one by one. Number one, you could just absorb it. And by default, and this, this, I'm not saying this to point fingers or to, you know, make you feel bad, like we all unconsciously do end up absorbing some of this programming. How could we not? We live in this society, we live and breathe it, right? And, and the number one, when you absorb it, I think what you can do is simply just become aware to notice the effect of it, and to not blame or shame yourself for having absorbed it. I mean, you, you, you were an infant. If they started dressing you in pink and treating you like a girl, right? And expecting you to act and be nice like a girl, or to be quiet and be pretty and to, you know, accommodate other people and be perfect, right?
And to always seek approval and validation from other people, like all of that socialization, you didn't actively choose. You had no conscious decision and how you were conditioned. We do unintentionally end up absorbing some of this unconscious gender bias. But it is not our fault. Let us not blame ourselves, but we want to become aware as working adults, as professionals, we wanna just become more cognizant of the effect that this invisible context has on us. You know, this gets played out most often in how we end up seeing, thinking, and feeling about ourselves, vis-a-vis other people's actions, thoughts, and behaviors. Take for example, if your manager doesn't immediately or doesn't readily heed your request for you to be reassigned to a different project, for you to work on projects that you would find more meaningful and fulfilling. And of course, that's upsetting. Of course, anyone would feel like, oh, that's disappointing.
But notice, just become cognizant of if your brain starts jumping to the farone conclusion that this means something about who you are. If your brain starts jumping to the conclusion that, oh, this means I'll never get what I want, oh, this means, oh, this is always how it is for me, right? I'm always doing this kind of work. Like I coached a client and she felt like she felt like, um, I'm always taking more responsibility than I need to, right? And as a woman, of course, she has that thought because she's been conditioned and socialized to feel like she's responsible for other people's wellbeing, other people's emotional wellbeing, right? Other people doing well to be supportive and nurturing. It's not bad, it's not good. We just want to be, become cognizant of it and to notice it, okay? So that's number one. We do absorb it.
And so let's not blame or shame ourselves about it. Let's just become aware and notice it. So that should we choose to, we can do number two, we can reflect it back instead of absorbing UV rays, like a black sweater on a hot bench, on a summer day. You can choose to be a mirror and reflect it back, not take it all in, not absorb it, all right? Um, you can check out my past interview with former client Amy Scoville. That is episode 14. And I think that is a really great example of how you can become conscious, become aware of that unintentional programming that you've been exposed to, and then make a new decision. How do I wanna reflect back? And, and Amy does a great job of walking us through her experience from the beginning, you know, step-by-step of how she became cognizant of, wait, you know what?
My manager is telling me that I'm not yet ready because he thinks I'm not technical enough. But you know, I'm gonna reflect on that. I'm not gonna take it all in. I'm gonna sit down. I'm gonna ask myself, I'm gonna make myself sit down and really like, ask my own discernment, my own judgment. Where am I in agreement with this? Where am I not in agreement with this so that I can reflect it back to my manager? And in fact, uh, what I think Amy did was she did mirror. And so now we're gonna talk about the other meaning of that word mirroring. Mirroring is first of all, something that you can look up on Wikipedia. It's um, it's a psychological behavior. It's an unconscious or subconscious behavior that people who are socially attuned to other people do. So if you, if you are high on the autism spectrum, this might be something that you might not engage in as much.
And again, it's not a sign that's good or bad, it's just, you know, I I just wanted to help you become more aware of it. And mirroring is something that you can do on at least two different levels. Number one, you could do it at non-verbal communication level. Like, if you are talking to somebody that you, like, you enjoy being with, or you want to sort of like be, uh, in good graces with them, you might notice yourself unconsciously, right? It's not like willingly, it's not intentionally, but like unconsciously, you start mimicking their body language. You start mimicking their tone of voice. You start mimicking their, their phrases or how they, you know, use language so that you can signal with your unconscious brain that, yeah, I'm like you and I like you. So that's, that's nonverbal mirroring, and it happens all the time in all the different aspects.
But then there's also the second type of mirroring, which is verbal mirroring. And Amy Skoal, um, talks about this. I, I think this is also what she did really well in her conversation with her manager who gave her the feedback that she's not yet technical. She went back to who? Him, and said, you know, this is what I'm hearing from you, right? These are the facts of what you shared with me, right? She mirrored back what she heard from him, and then she went a step further and she told him, and I think this is what is in your blind spot, right? And this is something that you didn't address, right? This is something that you're missing. And she said it without shame. Without blame, right? And I think this is so great. Again, I highly recommend you go listen to that interview episode. But it comes from when you're able to reflect and be a mirror in this courageous, but graciously assertive way.
What you are doing is you have chosen your opinion of you, right? Earlier when I talked about absorbing unconscious bias, it's like your brain is jumping to the conclusion. This means something about who you are and what you're capable of. And oh, doom and gloom. Maybe I'm not good enough, blah, blah, blah. I've been there. That's why I can speak to it. But when you can reflect back this unconscious bias and be a courageous mirror, you're choosing, you're consciously choosing, you know, what, what they think about me, what they say about me is not the full picture of who I am and how a manager manages or mismanages an employee or you is not a reflection of who you are. Your identity, your capacity, your potential. You could even just be like, Hmm, that's interesting that they would have this opinion that I'm not yet ready.
You could even think about how can I see myself as having more agency in this situation, right? So we're sort of turning that unconscious, uh, bias, that gender socialization on its head. It's like, if I saw myself as an empowered person, somebody who has agency choice and power to make a decision for my career, I might even think about this opinion, this feedback that I'm too blank, whatever, as hmm, interesting. That's just information. And that information helps me decide how I can want to continue to pursue my growth. Because I'm somebody who always grows you who are listening to this podcast, you are somebody who's always growing, right? Whether it's enjoyable or not, whether it's by choice or not, you're always somebody who's learning and growing and developing herself, because by nature, that's what you do. So now, let's think about number three. Photo synthesize it, right? You could be like a black sweater on a hot bench in the middle of June in New York City, absorb all that unconscious programming and be like, oh, boy is me. Or you could be like, reflective path. Let me be a mirror. No, I have agency. I have choice. What they think about me is not a reflection of who I am. In fact, what they say them is just in information I can act on, right? And I think you can even be like a plant. <laugh>.
Bear with me, okay? Photosynthesize those UV race a plant is a very powerful thing. I love plants. My home office is surrounded. It's, it's like I got so many plants and trees, and I live right next to a beautiful park. I, I love to eat plants. I like to be with plants because plants are powerful. Plants absorb UV rays and carbon dioxide and water, and they transmute them into growth and nourishment for the earth, for humanity. I read this in a book by Martha Beck. Martha Beck is a, just happens to be one of my favorite authors, as well as an excellent, excellent life coach. She used to write a column in the O magazine, uh, which I absolutely adored. And, uh, in one of her books, she says, if all the humans went away, if all the humans, you know, went extinct on planet earth, plants will continue to thrive.
But if all the plants went extinct, humans would not survive because we need plants to, to live, to, to be nourished, and to live and to survive. So how do you photosynthesize? How do you transmute that unconscious bias into something that is nourishment for you and for other people? And I think, again, I the interview with Amy, please go check it out. <laugh>, I think in a sense she did photosynthesize that unconscious bias because she courageously reflected back that unconscious bias to her manager in a way that was very gracious. And the manager was like, oh, you know what? I'm so glad you brought this up. I'm, I'm really grateful you're helping me see my blind spot. And he was able to improve his decision making, and, and he also changed his decision. He's like, you know what, Amy? I'm gonna fast track your promotion, and I get it.
If you're thinking that's great, but I highly doubt my boss is gonna do that. And, you know, that might be the case. In which case, again, you come back to, you know what, this is just information helps me decide, helps me decide how I want to continue to pursue my growth, helps me decide how I vote with my feet, right? Because that is agency, that is choice, that is power. And you will always have it no matter who is being biased or not against you, no matter what that person's gender is, right? Uh, and I wanna just take you just a little bit deeper into this photosynthesis, how do you photosynthesize <laugh> take somebody's unconscious bias and turn it around into something that nourishes not just your own growth, but the growth of other people like your manager like Amy did, right? And I think there are, I think, four key ingredients here, okay?
In terms of photosynthesizing unconscious bias. Number one, unconditional positive regard first for yourself, right? We've already been touching on this, in this discussion, right? Even though we are not perfect. And even though, yeah, we have unintentionally unconsciously absorbed some of this programming that we didn't choose, right? Doesn't make us wrong. It just makes us a byproduct of our environment. It just makes us somebody who's human. So no matter what feedback you get, good, bad, you know, um, surprising, unexpected, extreme, otherwise, how can you continue to have unconditional positive regard for your self? I think that's really key. And that's something that I, I think is essential to helping you grow your self confidence, which is the raw material for growing your muscle, for self-advocacy. No matter what other people say, no matter what setback, no matter what disappointment, no matter what mistakes you make, how can you be on your side?
How can you choose to not abandon or to make you wrong in the situation? This is a muscle, this is a practice. This is something that for me, I, you know, I teach it and it's something that I have to consciously practice all the time as well. So it's not like once and done, you've got it. No. This is something that you work on for the rest of your life and the dividends are a hundred percent worth it. Because when you can have unconditional positive regard for yourself, right? No matter who's being a jerk or giving you some weird feedback, then now you have the wherewithal to give it to somebody else. And you can even extend it should you choose to the person who's giving you this feedback, right? We're so used to conditional positive regard. This is how we've been conditioned to operate.
You know, especially in the workplace, in the workplace, when we'll be like, well, if the manager is managing me well, if the manager is liking me, if the manager is telling me that I'm doing a good job and makes me feel good, then he's or she or they or a good manager. But if not, then they're an obstacle. They're annoying and they're not good. They're terrible, and I don't like them <laugh>, right? I, I am very familiar with this cuz I used to think this way. I used to be this way, right? A lot of conditional positive regard. And my client, Amy Scoville, who turned that unconscious bias around, reflected it and got promoted faster, she also had the choice to give conditional positive regard to her own manager. And yes, it absolutely did help that between her manager and Amy, they had, um, a reserve of positive experiences from which she can draw upon to be like, you know what?
He's giving me this feedback, but I know he's a good manager. I know at heart he's somebody who would have my back, right? And so this, this feedback that I'm not technical enough, it's not really congruent with the person that I know him, the manager that I know he can be, right? So yes, that did help. But also unconditional positive regard is a choice that you can make set a different way. Unconditional positive regard is a choice you make for you. It helps you feel better, it helps you be more resourceful, it helps you be more grounded should you choose unconditional positive regard. Amy could have chosen conditional positive regard, but then she would've been approaching the conversation while feeling frustrated, angry, resentful, less resourceful than she can be. And I want you to be as resourceful as you can be, even when you're contending or encountering unconscious bias in the workplace.
And it's a choice. So you don't have to choose unconditional positive regard, but if you do want to bring that unconditional positive regard so that you can feel more grounded in how you respond to it, I do have some suggestions that can help you tap into this unconditional positive regard. It's something that I have helped my clients practice engage in if they want to feel differently about a person with whom they're in a relationship. So it's like this, it's like, instead of thinking about what they said or instead of seeing their face and, you know, feeling the frustration go deeper, go way deeper beyond the surface, think about this person's beating heart and see how that changes how you feel and how you can regard this other person, whether it's your boss or whether it's somebody else. So here's why that unconditional positive regard matters.
When we are able to look beyond the surface of what they said, what they did, and you know, how we initially the knee jerk reaction around that, now we can engage in empathic confrontation. This is a topic I also covered in episode 15. An empathic confrontation allows you to be able to see the issue, see the concern, the topic from their perspective to be able to empathize, but stand your ground to confront and to advocate for what you want. And for my client, Amy, this meant, she said something along the lines of, Hey, manager, I know you mean well. I know your intention is not to be biased against me because I know you wanna be a supportive manager. You've said it to me and I, I know that about you, but here's what you are missing. But I still want to request for you to reassess my promotability at this time.
So when you combine these elements, unconditional positive regard for yourself, and if you make the choice to bring unconditional positive regard for the other side, you are better equipped, you have better resources to engage in empathic confrontation. And this helps you to separate the people from the issue, to separate the people from what we really asking for and what's most important at hand. It helps you to make other people's unconscious biases. They're not even conscious of it most of the time, right? They don't even know where that they have this filter. It helps you make that not personal, not to personalize it for yourself or for them, right? But to be able to objectively, calmly, in a grounded, empowered way address it so that you can transmute it into something that fuels your growth and other people's growth as well. So there you have it.
You have three options. When you encounter unconscious bias in the workplace and the kinds of feedback that you receive when you are pursuing career growth as a woman or a woman of color, as a minority in the workplace. You can absorb it, you can reflect it, you can reflect on it, you can reflect it back. And when you do that with unconditional positive regard for yourself and for other people, you can also transmute it into growth. You can photosynthesize it and turn it into something that is nourishing, something that supports your growth and other people's growth. I hope you enjoy this. And if you want one-on-one help, if you want personalized help through any of the things that we discussed here, you're more than welcome to book your free one-on-one consultation, and I'll help you co-create your custom blueprint of confidence so that you know how to transmute difficult things, feedback that you don't agree with, right? Misunderstandings into opportunities for personal and professional growth that has your heart singing with joy. I look forward to talking to you soon. And if you want expert guidance in your corner to help you achieve greater self-confidence and greater career satisfaction as you grow your skill and negotiating, leading and influencing as a woman professional, I invite you to book your free one-on-one sales call with me to find out how executive coaching can help you do exactly that. The link is in the show notes, talk soon.