High achieving women rock the world! Women leaders face unique challenges which require individual solutions.
Women and the workplace have changed exponentially during the past two decades. Women continue to enter the workplace in greater numbers, and many women have achieved leading roles at many companies. While women leaders still number less than men, there are currently 26 female CEOs at leading Fortune 500 companies, according to Pew Research.
Despite these increases, women still continue to face a number of challenges that their male counterparts may not understand. These issues can have a negative impact on leadership ability, quality of life, and even overall health.
In the public and private sector, women face myriad challenges. These challenges can test their skills to the max, whether it's meeting revenue targets, building alliances with decision-makers, or navigating the social complexities of the #metoo era.
Women also face perceptual challenges, striving to achieve the role of a respected leader instead of the stereotypes often associated with women in these positions. In addition, many women in relationships with male partners still oversee domestic duties and errands, which can make time management difficult.
Instead of focusing on what women shouldn't do in the workplace, many experts in the field like Mika Bryzinki now recommend an opposite approach. Instead of focusing on what not to do, they should focus on what to do. Most important of all, women should Know Their Value.
Women share the challenge of reconciling being perceived as a respected leader versus a bossy woman. Moreover many women with male partners still execute or oversee much of the household and extended family logistics. As Mika Bryzinki has evolved from providing lists of ‘what not to do’, women now have guidance based on ‘what to do’ At the top of the list is Know Your Value
In one 2004 study of nearly 1000 senior-level men and women, over 700 of whom were women, found that in order to succeed in high-powered positions, corporate females worked harder than their male counterparts in eleven of eighteen areas. These included exceeding performance expectations, taking high-visibility assignments, changing companies or moving to different functional areas, and being willing to work long hours and weekends. For women trying to balance home life against the demands of a career, this can be overwhelming. When the fear of mediocrity is constantly on one's shoulder, it can be easy to internalize negative and unproductive feelings.
What makes a woman "high-achieving? It's a psychological state, not a specific position or title. It's any woman with multiple roles who has the sincere desire to achieve in those roles. It's a characteristic way of thinking about achievement. It's not a matter of socioeconomic status or how how one has climbed the corporate ladder, but instead it's a way of thinking about achievement and excellence.
And when women do achieve success, they can sometimes experience 'imposter syndrome', where they have an inability to internalize their accomplishments and recognize their inherent value. conversations with leaders, there is one recurring theme that haunts me. A common question women ask themselves too often is: “Who am I to…?”
For female leaders, it's important to recognize that they haven't risen to their current title by accident. It's important to learn to trust and use their own voice, and avoid negative thoughts that arise in their mind and letting them control their life. One of the challenges women leaders face is taking control of their thoughts by becoming consciously aware of them and to either replace them with more positive and encouraging thoughts or to accept them and decide to move forward despite them.
In addition to the health symptoms that are brought on by stress, these additional health problems can develop in women exposed to stress over long periods of time.
Stress can hurt the heart. It’s no secret that stress gets the heart pumping and the blood moving, which taxes the body if stress is prolonged. And it’s not a coincidence that cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death among women and men in the US. Stress is a major contributor. As significant as smoking, high cholesterol and elevated blood pressure. Think of it this way; the elevated blood pressure from adrenaline pumping to keep you going to complete a last minute report works for you short term–but stress hormones work against you, literally can kill you, when you are constantly stressed; juggling roles, tasks and enduring sleepless nights.
A recent longitudinal study of over 17,000 women with demanding jobs illustrated that they were 40 percent more likely to suffer from heart problems, including heart attacks, strokes or blocked arteries. While many women susceptible identified themselves as feeling as though they had little control on the job, research from the Scott Health Advisory suggests a paradox exists for the most elite high achieving women. In women who often appear to have ultimate ‘control’ ,the subtle signs of strain and impending heart disease often go unnoticed.
These powerful behaviors and characteristics are a double-edged sword for most high-achieving women. What accounts for so much of their success is responsible for so much negative stress. Striving for excellence is great until you expect yourself and others to be perfect. Feeling like you can handle everything is wonderful until you find yourself at work until 10pm most nights and are unable to appropriately delegate.
Being highly responsive is appreciated by clients but becomes negative when you put pressure on yourself to answer emails at all hours of the day and night. Continuing to achieve requires risk taking, but if you only take risks that are 100% safe and predictable, you might be missing out on a wonderful opportunity.
In addition, high-achievers often feel a tremendous amount of guilt. How many times have you wondered whether you're spending too much time at work? Not enough time with your family?
In addition, female leaders can sometimes limit their personal interests in an attempt to create balance. And while most companies tout work flexibility benefits, less than a quarter of women believed they could use them without jeopardizing their positions. According to the Pew Research study, more than half of the women found found it “difficult to balance the demands of their work and family/personal life. While husbands and male partners are picking up the kids and laundry, women still carry the load. And this can cause high levels of stress for many women.
Stress is your body’s response to the daily events that occur in your life. Everyone experiences stress. Stress can be positive and motivate women to achieve notable goals. But stress can also be negative and destructive, taking its toll in many life areas. When stress becomes chronic or excessive, it becomes harder to adapt and cope. Chronic stress builds up so that stress seems like a normal way of life for some women. Oftentimes women are so busy that they do not take time to slow down long enough to think about how stress is negatively affecting them.
There are many causes of stress. Men and women share many of the same sources of stress, such as money matters, job security, health, and relationship issues. Perhaps a little more unique to women are the many roles they take on.
In today’s society, women’s roles often include family obligations, caregiving for children and/or elderly parent (statistically more likely to be a woman) and work responsibilities as well as other roles. As demands increase to fulfill these roles, women can feel overwhelmed with time pressures and unmet obligations.
They may feel a sense of failure in not being able to meet expectations for themselves and others. Oftentimes women spend more time meeting the needs of others rather than nurturing their own needs. If functioning at high stress levels, women may not even recognize what their needs are.
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© 2019 Carol J. Scott, MD, MSEd, FACEP
The information and reference materials contained here are intended solely for the general information of the reader. It is not to be used for treatment purposes, but rather for discussion with the patient's own physician. The information presented here is not intended to diagnose health problems or to take the place of professional medical care. The information contained herein is neither intended to dictate what constitutes reasonable, appropriate or best care for any given health issue, nor is it intended to be used as a substitute for the independent judgment of a physician for any given health issue.