Can Women Really Take Their Authentic Selves To Work?

Men bring in disruption, women are labeled as disruptors. Men take charge while women are expected to take care. How do you then break the stereotypes and be authentic at work?

The struggle to be authentic at work can be hard for anyone, but harder for women. We live in a society that is hardwired with the age-old gender stereotypes and consciously, unconsciously, or subconsciously, these biases impact people’s behavior and actions. We often see women being labeled e.g. men are considered to bring in disruption while women are labeled as disruptors, men are considered to take charge while women are labeled to take care and so on. Because of these biases, women often lean towards displaying behaviors that seem less feminine to fit in, without appearing too masculine. The conflict of maintaining that sweet spot is difficult and energy-draining.

The COVID-19 crisis has further exacerbated the divide women feel. Women are not able to take their true selves to work for fear of being seen as caregivers first and professionals second. They feel that being real may make them vulnerable to stereotypes at work.

Stumbling Blocks in Women’s Career Journey

Fear of facing unconscious bias

Many women find a disconnect at work, which makes them hesitant in revealing their authenticity—often keeping the “bigger part of the iceberg underwater”. The fear of unconscious bias and negative evaluations by others makes them feel less valued, leading them to feel pressured to alter their workplace conduct constantly. Some women try to adopt their male colleagues’ behavior, trying to don a “work mask” to gain respect from others.

Fear of unfavourable perception building

Women often feel that openly expressing their needs for flexibility and work-life balance would make them susceptible to unfavorable perceptions by their managers and colleagues. These can cause their careers to get derailed, making it extremely hard for women to open up. The struggle to reconcile with multiple identities and responsibilities at work and home, coupled with the vulnerability in communicating their needs, impacts their health and performance.

The pressure of home-work responsibilities

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Working mothers (who now also have to homeschool their children) are facing much more stress juggling various roles. The blurring line between work life and personal life due to the work-from-home setup means women are experiencing more commitments in their already busy lives—making it even more challenging to strike a work-life balance. This double shift as an employee and as a caregiver at home makes work ongoing. It leads to burnout and an emotional toll—especially in dual-career households. This turmoil is making a lot of women employees concerned about the impact on their career progression.

Absence of open communication at work

A lack of open communication and empathy in the workplace means many women are not able to discuss their needs and career aspirations with their managers. This has caused many women to take the difficult decision of stepping down from their positions or leaving work altogether to cope with their situations.

While organizations now have started taking note of it and taking affirmative actions to provide a workplace environment that is more inclusive for women, a lot more needs to be done. Women also will have to take charge of their career and make conscious efforts to break the existing biases. Here are some of my suggestions to women to bring their authentic selves to work, which would lead to a more meaningful career journey.

How to be authentic

Your path to leadership will be unique

Every individual is different and therefore you would find a difference in their aspirations, needs, career path and learning curve. Do not try to copy others, build your own brand that truly stands for who you are and what purpose you want to achieve. With this greater self-awareness, you will be able to carve a path for yourself which would be authentic and satisfying.

Listen to and learn from women leaders 

There are many women leaders across who have been doing amazing work to build a better working world and there is so much to learn from them. Do not miss out on opportunities to learn from their journey and the legacy they have created. There is power in a pack and if we as women together pay it forward to other women colleagues, it will really accelerate women’s advancement.

Find your voice

We as women are still very modest about our achievements and shy about articulating what we would like to achieve in our careers. Do not suppress your voice and do your seniors know what your aspirations are. Have meaningful career conversations with your manager and chalk out a progressive career plan.

Have a career sponsor

Sponsors open doors to opportunities, advocate for growth and give visibility to stakeholders and in relevant platforms. It is critical to have Sponsors at an early stage of the career itself.

It’s all about the mindset

Women tend to hold themselves back and this lack of self-belief limits their potential. Keeping a growth mindset can help turn adversities into learning opportunities and enable them to actively seek out their blind spots. Taking small steps can create a big impact and give the confidence to step outside the comfort zone.

This article is a part of #ThoughtMatters – a thought leadership series at Women’s Web. The views expressed in the article are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of any organization. 

Cover image via Canva


About the Author

Vineeta Raghuwanshi

Vineeta is an Associate Director – Talent at EY India and is the India D&I Champion. She is a strong believer of building the right diversity and inclusiveness to bring in change which will read more...

1 Posts | 1,429 Views

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