Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Stopping the "Super" Cycle

According to The Supergirl Dilemma, a nationwide survey commissioned by Girls Inc. and conducted by Harris Interactive, girls feel increasing pressure to do everything, please everyone, and be thin and well-dressed while they're at it. Unfortunately, these pressures and expectations only intensify as girls get older. Too many Supergirls are growing up to be Superwomen, who struggle with perfectionism, work-life balance, and gender stereotypes at home and at the office.

We wanted to know how these issues affect women in our own professional circles, so we conducted an anonymous online survey. 95 women shared their experiences with us. We invite you to review our results, which are summarized in four sections: Perfectionism, Work-Life Balance, Executive Presence, and Support Systems.

Read what other women had to say, post your own comments, and check out our tips and resources to stop the Supergirl/Superwoman cycle in your own lives.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


Perfectionism is a way of life for many women. In today's world, the phrases "good enough" or "I tried my best" have been replaced by "never good enough" and "I must do better."
  • 86% of women we surveyed said they always or often feel pressure to be perfect in the role of professional.
  • 78% of women who indicated they are parents said they always or often feel pressure to be perfect in the role of parent/caregiver.
  • 67% of women said they always or often feel pressure to be fit, healthy, and attractive.
  • 51% of women who indicated they are partners or spouses said they always or often feel pressure to be perfect in that role.
According to The Supergirl Dilemma, these pressures are also an overwhelming force in the majority of girls' lives.
  • 84% of girls said they are under a lot of pressure to dress the "right" way.
  • 74% of girls said they are under a lot of pressure to please everyone.
  • 70% of girls said they worry about achievement.
  • 60% of girls believe that the most popular girls in school are very thin.
Full Circle...
We must lead by example and show future generations of professional women that strong leaders don't stand out because they are perfect--they stand out because they are risk takers and decision makers. If you are stuck in your fear of making mistakes, you won't take risks. And if you are paralyzed by your eagerness to please everyone, you can't make courageous decisions.

"I want [adults] to know that it is extremely tough growing up in this world today. There are so many pressures of being a teenage girl. You never feel like you're thin enough, pretty enough, or just good enough."
-9th Grade Girl, The Supergirl Dilemma
"I am challenged when I have not mastered a situation. Until I master it, I feel pressure-- and that comes from me, not any individual. I myself, I am striving to be the best."
-Professional Woman
"My greatest challenge as a woman in the workplace today is acknowledging and accepting when I have too much on my plate to manage and feeling the need to do it all for fear of appearing inadequate or incompetent."
-Professional Woman
  • If you have something to say in a meeting, speak up! In the time it takes to "perfectly" form an idea in your mind, there's a good chance the subject will change, or someone else will raise your point.
  • Recognize that "self-brightness" is your key to career success. Good leaders embrace the self-development process. Don't internalize constructive feedback as criticism-- welcome it as an opportunity for growth.
  • Develop crucial employees/associates. You don't have to know it all. In fact, if you are guarding information because you are afraid of others knowing more than you, you are hurting your own chances for upward mobility. Have the confidence to empower others. The result is that you will empower yourself in the process.
Girls Inc. recommends:
  • Help girls develop a healthy body image. Teach them that beauty comes in different sizes, shapes, and colors. Encourage girls to focus on health flexibility, and strength.
  • Tell a girl she is great because of what she does, not because of what she looks like.
  • Avoid rescuing girls. Encourage girls to take healthy risks, make mistakes, and get dirty or disheveled in pursuit of a goal.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Work-Life Balance

  • 42% of the professional women we surveyed indicated work-life balance is their greatest challenge as a woman in the workplace today.
  • According to The Supergirl Dilemma, girls also struggle with balance issues. 50% of girls, grades 3 through 12, said it is true that girls are expected to spend a lot of their home time on housework or caring for younger siblings; 65% of girls said they worry about getting good grades at school; and 60% of girls said they often feel stressed.
Full Circle...
Are there expectations placed on young girls that are attributes found in grown, professional women today? Can we help girls and women find balance to make a difference tomorrow?

The answer for us lies in the definition of balance…

Despite the worldwide quest for Work-Life Balance, very few have found an acceptable definition of the concept. It does not mean an equal balance--it will vary over time, and there is no one-size fits all. Read a definition of work-life balance that will positively impact your everyday value and balance today.

“Girls are very pressured today to get good grades, look good, have a lot of friends, do a majority of the chores, and still have time for family.”
-9th Grade Girl, The Supergirl Dilemma
“[My biggest challenge is] having it all…and defining what 'all' means to me.”
-Professional Woman
“[I would like to see] the expectations of a ‘leader’ shift so that other things in life (i.e. family, friends, hobbies, rest, etc.) are just as valued and expected as work performance and commitment.”
-Professional Woman
Time Management... Delegating is entrusting someone to make decisions; it is not dumping work on people and feeling guilty.
  • Remember the 80/20 Rule: 20% of your inputs generate 80% of the outputs.
  • Use 10-10-10 Rule: Ask yourself; Will it matter in ten minutes? Will it matter in ten days? Will it matter in ten months?
Technologies can be barriers to finding balance. You must set the expectations and communicate YOUR availability.
  • Turn off devices when it’s your time.
  • Prioritize and answer emails accordingly.
  • Recommend others that can assist on your behalf or attend meetings.
  • Build “me” time into your calendar. Great leaders need time to just think and to be strategic.
Know the Four Time Traps
1. Procrastinator. If you find yourself procrastinating. Try this…
  • Set deadlines for yourself.
  • Understand why the task is unpleasant for you.
  • Assess the negative effect of avoiding this task and what impact it will have on other priorities.
  • Break task into small steps.
  • Understand why you procrastinate and take steps to change behavior.
2. Perfectionist. Do you set unreasonable standards for yourself? Worry that people won’t like you? Constantly displeased with your work? Try this…
  • Commit yourself to the idea that getting the project out by a designated deadline is your highest priority.
  • Clarify the expectations of those who will evaluate you work before you begin.
  • When you have completed a project, get feedback.
3. “Yes” Woman – Is it hard for you to say “no”…to turn down requests? If so, you are not alone. Many people find it hard to refuse requests for a variety of reasons. Try this…
  • Determine if you are the best and/or most appropriate person for the task based on your responsibilities and priorities.
  • Don’t postpone your decision.
  • Say, “No” immediately, but take time to explain factors involved in the decision.
  • Suggest other possible solutions.
  • Understand that saying “no” does not have to mean rejection, become a confrontation or cause bad feelings.
4. Distraction Driven – Distractions come in all forms but they have a common characteristic: they divert you from the task at hand. Try this...
  • Understand the real issue: you are allowing yourself to avoid completion by giving in to distractions.
  • Determine if you enjoy the distractions.
  • When you feel yourself being tempted, stop! Remind yourself of your priorities and what you stand to lose if you give in to distractions.
  • Don't be misled by the apparent urgency of a distraction.
*** Try and value your time. An extra hour at work adds 10 % to work and reduces all other time by 50% ***

Girls Inc. recommends:
  • Help girls think about how to make smart choices and set priorities.
  • Redefine what it means to be kind and caring. Help girls overcome the pressure to please everyone. Support them in learning to say "no" and in establishing boundaries.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Executive Presence

Just what is Executive Presence? It is a set of behaviors and attitudes that convey to others a level of confidence, competence, authenticity and leadership ability. It involves all elements of self-presentation – body, voice, personality and energy.
  • In our survey, 1 out of every 5 respondents indicated issues around workplace perception and confidence as their greatest challenge as a woman in the workplace.
  • More than half (56.4 %) of women took credit for their work “rarely” to only “sometimes.”
The Supergirl Dilemma found that gender stereotypes could have a serious impact on girls' and women's abilities to develop strong leadership skills.
  • 55% of girls and 71% of women believed that “girls are expected to speak softly and not cause trouble”
  • 45% of girls and 71% of women believe that “girls are told not to brag about things they do well.”

Full Circle . . .
Professional women often struggle with effective self-presentation. As girls, we may be socialized to treat modesty as a virtue. Therefore, self-promotion may feel uncomfortable. As children, we may have been rewarded for being soft-spoken and non-aggressive, even non-competitive. Unfortunately, this model of behavior is not usually rewarded in the workplace.

The surveys showed that both girls and women hold beliefs about gender expectations or expressed behaviors that could impact their leadership presence.

These beliefs can stand in the way of career progression and satisfaction because they can detract from executive presence. Presence is enhanced by speaking with sufficient volume and projection and by effective self-promotion.

“[Girls] don’t always want to wear dresses, play with dolls and be nice & quiet – we sometimes like to be the opposite.”
- 5th grade girl, The Supergirl Dilemma
“[My greatest challenge as a woman in the workplace today] is to be taken seriously. To not have ambition translated into aggressiveness or unfeminine."
- Professional Woman
We recommend that girls and women practice speaking up, both in terms of volume, and in terms of confidence.

Below are some useful tips that can help with boosting self-confidence, developing your “Competency Commercial” and projecting the image of a leader:

Body - Do you project a professional, confident image?
  • Take Up Space - Confident people take up space. At meetings, give yourself and your belongings room to spread out a bit. Don’t sit in the far reaches of the room or meekly squeeze in between others. Make sure your presence is obvious to others.
  • Looking Good is Feeling Good – Project a polished, competent appearance.
Voice – What does your speech convey to others?
  • Speak Up – Your voice can be a powerful tool, but only if others can hear you. Be sure to turn up the volume if needed.
  • Go Slow and Low – Speaking slowly and with a deeper voice increases the perception of confidence. Avoid upward inflections at the ends of sentences.
  • Pause, Don’t Fill – Be aware of how often you use fillers (such as “ums” and “ahs”) and replace them with pauses. You speech will appear thoughtful and deliberate versus nervous and choppy.
Personality & Energy – Do you attract and inspire others?
  • Stand Tall – Keep your head, shoulders back stand grounded, as though you are supported by both legs. Good posture conveys energy and power.
  • Let Your Authentic Self Shine – Understand your own strengths and be sure to capitalize on them. Strive to project an image that is consistent with your self-perception.
  • Smile – Smiling appropriately makes others see you as likeable and approachable. The simple act will also improve your mood.
Your Competency Commercial – Do others know what you do and how well you do it?
  • Summarize your accomplishments and strengths.
  • Identify why you are excited by them.
  • Practice speaking them aloud so you are more than ready when the time comes.
Girls Inc. recommends:
  • Tell a girl it's okay to brag about something she's good at.
  • Confront notions of female fragility. Challenge views in the media and elsewhere of assertive women as unfeminine.
  • Teach girls skills that help them think on their feet, make their points, and defend their positions without apology.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Support Systems

  • More than 14% of our survey respondents said they do not have at least three people they can turn to in their professional life (either within or outside their company) for career advice and support.
  • According to The Supergirl Dilemma, more than 12% of girls report that they do not know three adults to whom they could turn if they have a problem. The lack of support intensifies as girls get older. High school girls (20%) are almost twice as likely as middle school girls (12%) and five times more likely than elementary school girls (4%) to say they do not know three adults to go to if they have a problem.

Full Circle...
Girls Inc. notes that “adult support and guidance are important parts of growing up and can influence girls’ quality of life and resilience.” As women, we know that a strong support network is also important for us both personally and professionally. Our survey respondents named many benefits of having a support system:
  • Sounding board
  • Different perspectives/objective views
  • Feedback
  • Advice/opinion
  • Someone to relate to
  • Confidence/validation
  • Coping strategies
  • Share success and disappointment
  • Support/encouragement
"Having professional friends and mentors who genuinely care about my development and advancement enables me to make more informed decisions and look at my professional environment more clearly. This core network also enables me a sounding board for discussing and preparing for important presentations and/or conversations."
– Professional Woman
"It's helpful to talk to people who have been there - gone out, gotten their dream job, negotiated the salary, etc. Reading up on career sites, articles, etc. can only teach you so much."
– Professional Woman

"It is very hard to figure out what one really wants to do in life. I want to take my time in finding out who I am."
– 11th Grade Girl, The Supergirl Dilemma

Remember not only to develop your network, but to also give back to a woman/girl who has not yet realized the importance of mentoring or mastered the art of networking.
  • Have a memorable introduction prepared (“elevator speech”) that is clear and to the point.
  • Join professional organizations/associations that interest you.
  • Consider asking someone to commit to be your mentor for a shorter time frame (i.e. three months).
  • Help others understand the importance of networking.
  • Build relationships up (i.e. your boss); down (i.e. your direct reports); and across (i.e. your peers).
  • Develop critical relationships. Review your list of critical contacts for any gaps to make sure you maximize relationships that are important for your effectiveness.
Girls Inc. recommends:
  • Invite successful women to talk to girls about how they resist internalizing societal messages about what women can and should be.
  • Share profiles of women, particularly ones that reveal how they overcame obstacles to achieve the success.
  • Introduce girls to career options at your organization. Introduce girls to women leaders in your organization.