Don't Be a Short Poppy

February 27, 2018

A friend of mine, who is quite an amazing human - community-minded, caring for two infirm parents, involved in every social gathering and community effort going (and looking like she enjoys it) - is just one of those all-star people. She has such poise, she's articulate and compelling even when she is talking about headlice, and in my book, is pretty near perfect.

I saw her last week and she said that she wanted to go back to work. I saw her this week and whilst in hospital looking after her (critically ill) mum she signed up for four voluntary hours of pushing library books around the wards. More unpaid service.

I have written before about the power of volunteering and how great a tactic it is in transitioning back to work. That said, my friend already does alot of volunteering. She has a heart like Phar Lap (for the confused, that's a famous Australian racehorse).

I wonder if there is something else going on for her in the form of underselling herself. Is she thinking that what she offers could not possibly command a price out there in the market?

It is widely documented that we have four stress responses: fight, flight, freeze or fawn. We as women very often default to the latter. When we are stressed or frightened, our response is to fawn, or defer to others' needs. We at least subconsciously believe that if everyone else has been looked after and made happy around us, we can then finally have our own needs tended to.

It is a lovely quality but trips us up when it comes to representing ourselves in the world and fighting for our worth. It can play out badly when we look for jobs.

If we don't present ourselves as having a clear idea of our accomplishments and what we can offer to an employer, our application may be met with scepticism. It may be harder to negotiate a fair market rate or ask for a flexible work schedule. We can actually be passed over for roles as we can give the illusion of unworthiness. If an employer smells that we have low self-esteem, they will not be confident putting us in front of their clients, boss or to manage a team.

I believe we quite often mistake confidence for arrogance. There is a social cost to selling 'ourselves'. We listen to the inner critic, read the  negative press about female pay, and afford too little time to reflecting upon AND BEING ABLE TO ARTICULATE our achievements. In Australia, there is a cultural norm called the "tall poppy syndrome" i.e. don't tower above your mates. Awful isn't it?

With all of these cultural influences it can be easier to stay invisible. This false humility then plays out in the resentment we can feel in how 'unappreciated' we are. It then exacerbates the systemic issue of gender pay divide. This TedxUNLV explains the trap we fall into and what we can do.

If you've been raising kids, confronting the hardship of nursing an ill loved one, travelling on a shoe-string, volunteering, studying, you are building up phenomenally transferable skills. Think of the resilience and people- management that you refine in the above areas to name but a few. Resilience, resourcefulness, patience and wisdom will be cultivated in all of these career breaks and no amount of AI is going to replace that.

I'll be posting a vlog for you on baby steps to building up confidence. These actions, done repetitively and over time, will bulletproof you. Standing up for yourself is a good thing, it is liberating and you deserve it. You just need the "reasons why" to back you up. These come from the person that you are and your experience to and out of work.

You deserve this. And my friend does too... don't worry I will be getting her out for a coffee and a game chat later this week.

Related: Break The Chains Of Impostor Syndrome

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