Top tips to help women thrive #IWD2019

It’s International Women’s Day this month and a time to celebrate what makes women great and bring awareness to the importance of a more gender balanced world.  It’s also the one year birthday for my second book, Like A Girl and a special 2 for 1 deal throughout March is on offer to celebrate!

The theme for IWD2019 is #balanceforbetter and I’m a firm believer that equality for women is not about the downfall of men – equality is everyone’s business and balance is definitely better!  Likewise, equality is not a women’s problem that can be solved by women alone, we’re all in this together. 

I’ve heard many awesome successful women as well as mentioning abhorrent stories of bullying, sexual harassment and gender bias also talk about men who have been their sponsors & cheerleaders. I’ve also been privileged to work with some great men. We often forget this bit.  It may be true that some men (& women) are part of the problem but many more are also part of the solution.  Men are a key part of us making change towards a more equal society, they still make up the majority of our positions of authority, not to mention important parts of our family too, so it’s critical we bring them along on the journey with us.

Having said that though it is still harder for women, things are not yet equal.  In gender pay, in leadership numbers, in the way we are treated, the expectations on us and how we are judged.  Many women are doing the lions share of housework, social organising and child caring despite having full time jobs.  We also have a habit of beating ourselves up for either having career ambitions and not being at the school gates at 3pm each day or for not contributing financially whilst that career is on hold so we can be at the school gates at 3pm every day – no wonder we feel we can’t quite win.

Quite simply if you walk in a woman’s shoes life is different than if you were a male wearing those same shoes.

Often though some of these issues are with us; who are the people who have the highest expectation of us, those who judge us most harshly, those who think it’s not ok to ask for help or say no – most often, as women that person is ourselves!  So what can we do in light of IWD2019 to ensure we’re being our best and thriving at life?  Here are 6 tips to enable women to thrive.

Be you and let that be enough

We’re always trying to be more, never feeling good, pretty, clever, rich, fit, strong, thin (place your word here) enough!  We have so many moulds to try and fit as women, in the workplace and at home.  It can leave us feeling like an expat living in a foreign country far from who we truly are and adrift from what matters to us, and it’s exhausting trying to ‘be someone’.  We live in a society though that puts pressure on us to fit in, to be liked, to follow the norm.  At work we have to tread the careful line between being more assertive but not labelled a bully, or be more vulnerable without being labelled as weak – it’s no wonder authenticity is so hard!

Knowing who you are, what you want and what matters most is key.  Making decisions in line with our values and doing things that align with our passions ensures that our schedule matches our priorities.

Speak up, lean in, take risks, back yourself

We can be guilty of standing back, waiting for permission, waiting for that idea to be 100% before sharing or waiting for someone else to speak before we ask the question, not speaking up at meetings or apologising too often before we speak or ask a question and waiting for a bit more experience before we apply for the promotion.  When we do this we can miss out.  If we lean back rather than lean in the opportunity will go to someone else.  Sometimes we have to back ourselves, lean in and take a risk.  This is how we grow and develop.  It’s easier said than done though and here’s why:

Face your fear, challenge yourself and have permission to fail

Generally fear is what stops us!  Fear of what people think, the unknown, leaving a familiar space, what if we make the wrong choice, what if fail.  We can be guilty of playing it safe to avoid failure, our fear of rejection sometimes mean we don’t even ask.

It’s called our comfort zone for a reason and sometimes we think it’s better the devil we know than the devil we don’t.  We’ve been taught to avoid risk and to play it safe – we don’t want to fail at any cost.  However getting out of our comfort zone is the only way we grow and develop, challenging ourselves and taking risks is a key part of this and yes sometimes we might fail and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

So often failure is a stepping stone to success, it’s how we learn and grow.  I’ve learned things from many trial and error moments that I’d never have otherwise known. 

It’s easy to look at those we admire and think they’re doing it right and we’re doing it wrong but quite often they’ve made mistakes, learned from them, bounced back from failures and that’s got then to where they are today.  Even the best fail in fact it’s often why they succeed.

So give yourself permission to fail and know that it’s often how we learn to succeed.

Let go of perfectionism

This can be difficult though if we’re perfectionists.  Sometimes we’re so scared of failure we go right to the other end of the extreme.

The irony with perfection though is it sets us up to fail, it’s not real.  Whether it’s an airbrushed photo in a magazine we’re trying to look like or a perfect side of someone’s life on Facebook we’re trying to emulate – we’re always going to fall short because we’re not comparing full stories, real life!  Yet we still beat ourselves up when we fall short and compare ourselves in this way.

Navigating perfectionism isn’t about not doing a great job, it’s about resetting the bar to a realistic level and understanding that sometimes done is better than perfect and being in touch with the imperfect reality that exists.

We are a breed of people pleasers and always so concerned with what others think.  We’ve probably spent our whole lives trying to make our parents, teachers, friends, bosses etc proud of us.  We feel we have to work twice as hard, exceed expectations and constantly keep raising the bar on ourselves to a point where we’re struggling to keep up.  We all know where this leads and it’s why so many of us are busy and burnt out.

Balancing busyness and avoiding overwhelm

We do have a tendency to be superwoman!  To do everything and do it perfectly.  We take on too much, over schedule ourselves and then feel like we’re failing when we approach burn out.  Saying no and delegating is a key part of avoiding this overwhelm and manging the busyness.

Resilience is key but so is having good boundaries and taking time out, prioritising self-care, prioritising us.  For people who put others first, don’t like saying no, feel we have to do everything and do it perfectly, please everyone around us – this can be tough.

We also have an attachment to being busy though.  We wear it like a badge of honour, it makes us feel valued and attaches to our self-worth.  This leads us into the trap of not taking time out or feeling like down time is lazy, selfish or unproductive.  However this stuff is the foundation we build on, to enable us to be superwoman, without it we’re always fending off burnout and exhaustion.

Celebrate success and own it, get comfortable accepting praise

We are so busy focusing on what we haven’t got, the things that didn’t go well, the bits about ourselves we don’t like that we forget about the good stuff.  Our brains are wired to think more negatively and as women we’re often taught to down play our success and wave away praise to avoid being a tall poppy and to appear modest.  So often we put our success down to something outside of ourselves or we respond with things like ‘it’s nothing really’.

If you’re receiving praise or acknowledgement it’s because you’ve earned it, saying thank you is a great start.  Remember to celebrate your success, own the praise and know that it helps address the negativity bias in our brains as well as doing wonders for our brand!

We are more powerful together than we are apart

We are often taught to compete and that our success must be at the expense of someone else’s.  I’ve learned that we are far more powerful together than we are apart and collaboration is key for us to flourish.  In the spirit of #balanceforbetter we are all in this together regardless of gender!

IWD2019 recommended viewing for more inspiration

Brene Brown on the power of vulnerability

Sheryl Sandberg – Why we have too few women leaders

Inspiring TED Talk – why do ambitious women have flat heads?

Gender bias, equality and why its still harder for women

Navigating perfectionism blog

Imposter syndrome resources page