Career / Confidence / Speak Up

5 Ways To Unlearn The Conditioning Holding You Back As A Woman In The Workforce

. 4 min read . Written by Sanjana Bhagwat
5 Ways To Unlearn The Conditioning Holding You Back As A Woman In The Workforce

Have you ever found yourself choosing to remain quiet because you feel like your opinion won’t add anything of value to the discussion in an office meeting? Chosen to not take an action that would displease a co-worker? Let it slide when the credit you deserve is overlooked or handed to someone else? Well, chances are, you’re a woman in the workforce.

We’ve discussed the ways in which societal and institutional education conditions women from a very young age, such that it is hard for them to succeed at work, here. These internalisations hold women back in the workplace, while simultaneously equipping them with crippling self-pressuring and an inability to deal with failure.

When starting out, it is hard to forget the learned helplessness and gendered training that is ingrained in our conscious and subconscious. This stifling cycle is not something that can be broken overnight. It must be unlearnt over time.

How To Unlearn The Gendered Conditioning That Is Holding You Back?

Here are 5 things I actively made an effort to change because I realised they were gendered conditionings hampering my growth and success at work, and that I needed to detach from my working style as soon as possible.

It’s Okay To Be Authoritative When Talking About Something You Have Experience In

You didn’t spend all that time and effort gaining educational or experiential qualifications in your field only to have your expertise remain inconspicuous in your workplace.

When there’s a project or conversation that you believe you have the required knowledge and skills to take charge of, or lead in the right direction, don’t hesitate to make that known.

If your authority on the subject is challenged initially, lay out your previous experiences with the subject that have shaped your intimate understanding of it. Chances are, not only will your authority and opinion not be questioned the next time, but will in fact be expected.

It Is Not A Crime To Ask And Ensure That Your Workload Is Evened Out

Women tend to have an especially hard time saying no at work.

The idea that we need to prove ourselves by working tirelessly and relentlessly in order to reverse the suppression caused by years of patriarchal conditioning is an unhealthy way to break the cycle.

Practice saying no when you don’t have the bandwidth to take on more work. If you’re feeling overburdened with work, don’t wait for signs of burnout to raise an issue with it.

Explain that workload is too large for you to be able to perform all the functions assigned to you well. Ask for your workload to be evened out, and suggest team members you believe would be better suited to the task, and have the band-width to take it on.

Making Suggestions, And Sometimes Taking On The Task Of Improving Someone Else’s Work, Is Not Overstepping

Years of patriarchal conditioning has also, on the other hand, made us excessively wary of other people’s emotions and comfort. We often tend to take them into consideration over our own.

Your job isn’t just to ensure that your own work is up to the mark. It is also to ensure that you’re unafraid to chip in when you believe someone else’s work does not align with the organisation’s requirements or standards, and could be improved with tangible solutions.

Unlearning the fear of displeasing people, or being viewed negatively by others, is one of the primary foundations to be able to unleash your potential and power at work.

Challenging A Senior’s Opinion Is Not Undermining Them

Years of being taught to obey, agree, and believe that others – especially those in positions of authority – always know better, have made it especially hard for women to question their seniors. It’s harder still since most positions of authority and seniority continue to be held by men, and their opinion being challenged by a woman is likely to be perceived as an attempt to undermine their authority.

Seniority does not exempt anyone from errors or room for improvement. If you don’t agree with your boss’s opinion, or believe their ideas could be improved, don’t hesitate to speak up. Do it in a way that it’s clear that this isn’t a personal attack, but your commitment to the quality of work done by the company, shining through.  

Hiding Your Emotions Doesn’t Make You Better Than Other Women Employees (“I’m Not Like Most Girls” Syndrome)

The path to asserting yourself in the workplace is not to try and stand apart from your gender.

Unlearning gendered conditioning does not mean unlearning your identity as a woman. Unlearning gendered stereotypes doesn’t mean undermining the entire gender. 

Just because women are stereotyped as being “too sensitive”, “hyper”, and emotional, doesn’t mean you break away from this stereotype by bottling and masking your emotions, or never expressing how you feel about something.

Lean in to your identity, as a worker and as a woman, and encourage other women to be unafraid to do the same.

Unlearning, updating, and re-learning is key to having a career that is enriching and empowering. The goal is not only to stand out in your workplace, but to stand up for yourself.

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