Sometimes a gremlin sits on your shoulder, an inner critic whispering negatives at you, reminding you of doubts and failings. In a tense moment at work, it’s the gremlin that makes your mouth go dry, makes you stumble over your words and leaves you casually wondering whether your pants are done up or your skirt’s the right way round. When you’re struggling to find a guardian angel for the other shoulder, the next best thing is Jennifer Logue, Director of the Americas for Working Voices – our guardian-angel-at-large.
Jennifer, executive coach with a focus on women’s leadership, is supporting the themes of International Women’s Day, particularly with regard to managing biases. In looking for examples of biases, a good place to start is the documentary Framing Britney Spears which examines the singer’s career, her rise to fame and the personal struggles that led to the LA Superior Court placing her under conservatorship in 2008. At age 39, Britney, with an estimated net worth of $59 million, has remained legally under the control of her father Jamie Spears ever since.
Biases, our own and other people’s, can easily tangle us in a spider’s web – which is where Britney is, as Jennifer explains:
Grappling with inner demons
Britney isn’t alone in grappling with inner demons. You don’t need to be a pop star to experience a negative internal voice, or the sexist, racist or otherwise divisive biases that others might cling to, whether consciously or unconsciously. Wherever they originate, biases are easily scooped up by the gremlin, twisted into self-doubt and flung at us when we’re not always ready for them. Caught in their shadow, we end up selling ourselves short, damaging our personal brand.
Difficult conversations, job promotions, career changes and fulfilment at work can all be compromised by self-doubt. These things don’t appear as neon signs, that others see and make allowances for. They are shrouded in silence, they are ‘absence’, the loss of an opportunity or a missed moment to shine. This makes them hard to detect and difficult to manage.
Being heard in the workplace
Managing biases starts with a personal decision to take action. This is a process of recognition. By recognising the impact of bias, you set yourself on the road to tackling it. How does bias make you feel? Does it make you feel uncomfortable, restricted, unable to own the moment, capture the room? Is that because you have feelings of self-doubt – if so, are those feelings justified?
Here we get to the crux of the issue. In truth, your achievements are beyond dispute, it’s just that sometimes you feel a little doubtful. It might help to find some solid evidence of the wider truth. If you can give yourself reminders of all the things you’ve succeeded in, it becomes easier to see that doubt is just a feeling that is largely unjustified. It’s not accurate. You don’t always need to believe it.
Reminders can also come from a trusted friend. It’s not an easy thing to turn to someone and say ‘hey, just remind me how terrific I am.’ But you don’t have to go that far. Just as a scientist collects rock-solid evidence, you can do the same – and use it to plug the gap in your confidence. You’re not asking your friend to tell you how amazing you are, you’re only asking for a few reminders of the evidence – the time you delivered that presentation, closed this deal, impressed that client. A journal might also help here, or any other way of gathering evidence of your ability, evidence which in truth surrounds you.
This process can be used to soften the impact of all types of biases, the inner critic as well as a biased co-worker. In both cases, doubtful feelings can be examined. Is there any truth to these doubts? If not, they can be ignored. If there is a little truth there, what do you need to do about it? In treating yourself with kindness and empathy, as you would a friend or family member, you make a little progress, reclaim a little control. You get to decide what to accept, what to reject and what to do going forward. As noted, this is a process – it can take time to learn to trust yourself on these issues. In the meantime, you can ask for a little amplification.
Getting a little help – with amplification
In writing an article on International Women’s Day, I wasn’t the obvious choice. But Jennifer made the point that these themes include amplification, and as a guy this is where I could make my voice heard, literally. In a past life, when working as a lowly researcher in TV, I was once in a room with a gaggle of high-power executives. We were patched into a conference call, all of us leaning towards one phone, jostling for time with a space shuttle crew who were about to go mend a satellite. I was struggling to make myself heard. And were it not for an astronaut asking the great and the good around me to politely hush while I repeated my question, I would have struggled for the rest of the meeting. That was amplification, a kindly moment of support offered by one person to another.
A great example of this comes across in the Framing Britney Spears documentary. Britney, caught in a web of personal demons and external challenges, is widely supported by fans who are trying to draw attention to her cause. Again, Jennifer explains this in detail:
Men and women together have a responsibility to amplify the messages promoted by International Women’s Day, (March 8). Chief among these are the need to ‘raise awareness against bias’ and working towards a gender equal world. Levelling the playing field is also a key objective of our Women’s Leadership course, which explores how to change your own and others’ behaviours. By building a strong personal brand, you’ll find it easier to communicate with authority.
We might not all have a large international fanbase who recognise the difficulties we face. But perhaps, inspired by Jennifer, you might seek to become your own guardian angel. There’s plenty of evidence of your achievements. In using it to tackle the gremlins, you’ll find it easier to silence your inner demon, and biased critics will find it a whole lot harder to be heard.