- Certain labels can be cathartic for women, but words like “lazy” and “snail” and “bossy” can have damaging long-term effects.
- Women thrive at work when they make a positive contribution, have the opportunity to learn and grow, and are valued and recognized.
- Three “thriver essentials” can help women feel more productive, engaged, happy, and confident.
It’s hardly surprising that there’s a growing obsession with labeling women in the workplace. From “girlboss” to “lazy girl” to most recently “snail girl,” women are looking for ways to redefine their professional relationship with themselves so they can lead an integrated life. This isn’t about ambition — the new McKinsey report confirms: Women are as driven as ever.
Nobel prize winner Claudia Goldin’s work proved most glaring gender gaps would diminish if employees had more control over where and when their work got done. No wonder why trends that originate as “a less exhausting paradigm” are catching fire. Perhaps these trends satisfy the many women who are searching for ways to “be” professionally that don’t lead to burnout or backlash. While certain labels can be cathartic for women who feel burned out or consumed by their work, words like “lazy” and “snail” and “bossy” can have damaging long-term effects.
Put simply, we have an opportunity to create a new paradigm for women to thrive in life and in the workplace. To realize sustainment of impact — never mind manifest gender parity in leadership — we don’t want women to adopt a new (potentially brand damaging) trend, or wait until they can work where and when they want.
Instead, there are things women — and their organizations — can do today to overcome many of the challenges they face at work that have led to the “great breakup,” “quiet quitting,” and burnout.
The thriving integrated woman
Through the Simmons University Institute for Inclusive Leadership, our recent Thriving At Work survey found that women thrive at work when they make a positive contribution, have the opportunity to learn and grow, and are valued and recognized. And when they thrive, not only do women report feeling more productive and more engaged, they also feel happier and more confident. Organizations also benefit from the productivity and the cultural implications of having happier, more satisfied employees.
Here are three “thriver essentials” to get women started on the thriving, integrated journey. First, a reminder: there is no scoreboard that awards extra points for women who neglect or minimize their own needs and wants. Women will need to try on a variety of ways to “be” as a professional and shift their configuration as their life context shifts. What looks messy to one person might be another’s perfect current integrated manifestation.
- Thriver Essential #1: Enable your best self (and help others do the same): What brings us meaning — and usually best effort and impact — is where our strengths add value to others and we experience vitality. Discover this in yourself and help others do the same, then leverage the heck out of it.
- Thriver Essential #2: Share the load (don’t go it alone and instead ask for help):When we believe we need to be the one to do it all, say yes all the time, think we can get it done better or faster if we do it ourselves, or we don’t want to ask for help for fear of looking like we can’t manage it all, we risk eventual exhaustion and/or resentment. Realize the opportunity for yourself and others when you invite people in to help get things done.
- Thriver Essential #3: Be real about what’s hard: Genuine wins. Learn — and discuss — how to effectively narrow the gap between your intention (your espoused values) and your impact (your actual behavior). Create connection, innovation, engagement and a culture of teamwork by standing in and returning to grace about yourself and others.
Guidelines for support
Studies show that women self-promote less than men and at least some of the aversion is attributed to backlash avoidance. Women are less likely to ask for help at work than at home, and when women need to invest more time in a task they can experience higher levels of burnout symptoms. Women can also be tough on themselves: in a recent report 61% of women say their inner critic is the biggest factor undermining their confidence at work, and 72% say they have experienced feelings of imposter syndrome in the past 18 months.
There is a lot that allies, champions, managers and leaders can do to support women as they activate the “thriver essentials.” If they sound like general good management practices, it’s because they are — so feel free to adopt for all. They include:
- Generate a “best self” culture in your team where everyone is expected to know and discuss their strengths often. This is also a great way to recognize team members — by seeing and stating the value of their unique contribution.
- Create promotional support for women. This isn’t about acknowledgement — it’s about truly championing the unique gifts and talents she brings. Get to know her strengths and what brings her meaning, provide growth opportunities that show her contribution is valued. Note: not all women — or people — like others to endorse them in the same way. Sometimes, simply speaking about someone in favorable ways behind their back to others in positions of power makes all the difference.
- Ask how you can help, by specifically inquiring about what she believes enables her best self and where she feels blocked at work. Encourage enablers and offer support to remove barriers.
- Model the way in being real about what’s hard. All humans have a gap between espoused values and intent and what we actually practice. The stakes are higher for women who are encultured and rewarded for pleasing others and being perfect. Let the veneer of your own perfection have that crack — model being human.
How can we shift our society’s attitude towards women in the workplace to something more positive and helpful than trends that have a shadow branding side for women? Start telling others that your best self, the one who asks for help and stands in compassion about herself and others, is practicing leading an integrated life.
The name of the game, in a world of highly subjective ideas about what “integrated thriving” means, will be supporting one another as women try on different ways of showing up professionally to see what works. Integrated thriving isn’t lazy or snail-like — nor is it bossy. It’s intentional, genuine, collaborative and thus, powerful.