It is critical that you see your thumbprint on your success. Without owning and internalizing your successes, it’s challenging to raise your self-esteem, feel confident, believe you are worthy of higher pay, promotions, respect, great opportunities, etc. There is an entire field of study around what you attribute your successes and failures to at work and in life. Drumroll, please, we are talking about Attribution Theory. Research has found that gender strongly impacts the way in which we explain our successes and failures. Many studies have found that men tend to blame external forces for their failures and women assume the failure lies within them. Men may say they were terminated because of the economy, a non-appreciative boss, or office politics. Women are more prone to say it’s because they were not smart enough, skilled enough, or savvy enough. Just NOT ENOUGH! An interesting study was conducted at the Center for Creative Leadership in North Carolina. Program participants were asked to respond to the statement, “Tell me about a time you tried something and failed.” All the women responded in detail, but half of the men said they could not come up with a single example.
What about successes? Gender plays a role here, as well. Often men own their successes, their result is great because they are smart, skilled, and savvy. Women frequently will attribute the success to luck, help, or hard work. Hard work is a slippery slope. On the surface hard work would seem like a positive attribute but compare it to being smart, skilled, or savvy and you will see the difference. I currently have a client who is a perfect example of not seeing her thumbprint on her success. Let’s call her Lindsey. Lindsey works for a large Fortune 500 corporation. She has been performing the role of the leader in her department, without any perks. She had not received a raise, the title of the leader, or any authority. Together we have been positioning her successes to increase her credibility, increase her visibility, and increase her clout. She emailed recently, she was overjoyed to report that she had landed the raise, the title, and the accompanying authority. When I congratulated her, her response was, “It’s all thanks to my boss, he advocated for me.” Where is her thumbprint? Yes, he did advocate for her but without her skills, leadership, and smarts he would have had nothing to “sell” about Lindsey.
If you wonder, how did we end up in this success/failure gender discrepancy? One origin can be found in our education system. Groundbreaking work by Dr. Myra Sadker and Dr. David Sadker shows teachers often explain away boys’ poor performance by suggesting they were tired, distracted, or having a tough day, etc. Rarely did the researchers find the teachers excused the behavior of girls in the same way. This is just the tip of the iceberg in the gender research done by this pair. For an eye-opening read, get your hands on the book Failing at Fairness: How Our Schools Cheat Girls.
Does all this mean we should never be appreciative of the efforts of our employees, team members, colleagues, bosses, sponsors, mentors, or coaches? Of course not, but we certainly deserve at least equal ownership of having our thumbprint on successes. The belief that we have efficacy, that ability to produce a desired or intended result, gives us confidence in creating outcomes in the world. Outcomes not just once, but over and over.
Don’t stop reading here. Kay’s Corner will give you a step-by-step plan for impacting the negative effects of gender-skewed Attribution Theory.
To what you attribute your successes and failures can make and break your career. These tendencies are deeply rooted and if you fear changing this may be daunting, perhaps guidance in this area would be impactful for you. Let’s do a complementary 45-minute phone consultation and determine if coaching could change the tide for you! Email Kay@highheeledsuccess.com or call the office at (513) 561-4288 to set up a complementary 45-minute consultation.