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Women Who Work ... and Self-Sabotage

(93 Posts)
BossyBitch Mon 22-May-17 11:36:58

Sorry for the Trump-inspired title - couldn't resist, given that it's actually pertinent to the subject.

I'm hoping for some useful insights here. I'm a woman in tech and trying and failing to place women on my client projects. My firm is actively supportive and not the problem in this particular case. Much to my horror, however, I've become somewhat of a repository of real-life examples of the kind of female self-sabotage commonly described in literature.

For the purpose of illustration, these are some of the most recent gems from actual client interviews that I sat in on and cringed my way through:

- [Candidate is asked about her professional history and does fine up to describing her A-levels, then volunteers the following] ... so I enrolled at Oxford but then I failed my math exams [...] and then I failed the exam again and was made to leave, so I enrolled with the OU instead because there are no formal acceptance criteria
- I just put that project on my CV for fillers, really my colleagues did almost all of the work on it. I only [description of precisely what she was interviewing for].
- I reckon one could [perfect response to the question] - but I've only read that and have never actually done it in practice
- ...

These are all highly competent women whom I would have placed easily had they not opted to take a mid-sized nuke and shoot themselves in the foot with it. I see an urgent need to actively coach my women to do better in such situations but, TBH, really don't know where to start. The issue is obviously bigger than just my projects, the problem being that it doesn't make commercial sense for the firm to keep on pushing its female quota if we can't get our current women employees staffed to begin with.

Possibly relevant: I don't do great at self-promotion myself but am aware that it's part of the job and actively self-police in such situations.

I'm in a perfect position to push the issue and maybe even start a larger initiative but could really use some helpful input.

MineralWater Mon 22-May-17 11:41:08

I'm an academic and I agree, OP. I've been on interview panels where women self-sabotage and I've wanted to shake them for making themselves unappointable. Conversely, I've been on panels where men have talked up very minor achievements into world-saving heroics.

Coaching for women at very early stages of their careers would be great. I also think it'd be useful to film interviews and offer feedback to women candidates on what went wrong with their presentation of themselves (i.e. to point out self-sabotage).

BossyBitch Mon 22-May-17 11:46:54

Love the filming idea! After my most recent disaster I've actually reached out to the team that organises graduate scheme trainings at my firm and have asked whether they see any way of adding client interview training to their curriculum - this would be a great workshop (could also be used to teach them about giving and receiving constructive feedback).

StealthPolarBear Mon 22-May-17 11:53:58

I've recently done a couple of post grad modules taken by men and women. Their presentations were mixed, with some women and women men doing brilliant presentations, some less so. The women, almost every one apologised for talking too much (??) For boring us, for telling us what we already knew etc. The men, good and bad, assumed they were the experts and delivered tbe content.
It really stood out to me and I have a tendency to do it myself. My tip - if you're asked (paid) to get up in front of a room of people and impart your knowledge do not apologise either in words or body language. I am going to try to take my own advice.

ChocChocPorridge Mon 22-May-17 11:56:11

I think the thing that gave me the boost in interviews was running them myself, getting that overview and being able to analyse what made someone come across well, and what didn't. - That of course needs training to (I cringe at having to be pulled aside after the first interview I performed, where I sat and put big ticks and crosses on my interview sheet as the interviewee answered)

I think that it's hard in your first interviews not to get nervous and gabble - and when you've always been taught to be self-deprecating (as women are) that does mean that you tend to let things slip out that really shouldn't.

For me the things that make a strong interviewee are:

Confidence in and knowledge of extent of their abilities - and that includes being able to say if you don't know the answer, and what your approach might be anyway (so that last answer, I would actually have taken in a positive way).

Realising that they are also interviewing me - so they need to come away with at least an inkling of whether they think they fit the job too.

StealthPolarBear Mon 22-May-17 11:57:53

" when you've always been taught to be self-deprecating (as women are)"
Yes. Exactly this. I'm going to try so hard to teach dd not to do this.

Collidascope Mon 22-May-17 12:04:42

It's patriarchy in action, isn't it? Girls socialised to defer, keep quiet and not boast. Boys socialised to be loud and opinionated and show off. Pretty easy to see which sex is going to do better in an interview -a recruitment technique that's very obviously tailored towards the 'strengths' men have had tailored into them. It's like those comedy panels where they have a token woman and you know she's as funny as the men but she sits there quietly, reluctant to compete and show off.
I find I'm much better at answering competence questions on an application form than in interview, because I've time to think and the instinct to self-sabotage can be resisted. I kind of think we need to rethink the whole recruitment system until girls and boys aren't socialised so bloody differently.

angstybaby Mon 22-May-17 12:09:50

Hmm, i was wondering about whether I should introduce something for women students in academia (how to stand up for yourself, how to speak with authority, how to promote oneself, how to cope with being constantly outnumbered, etc) - judging from this, I'd better get a shift on!

any thoughts on what I should include?

tribpot Mon 22-May-17 12:12:00

This is impostor syndrome in action, isn't it? I don't deserve any of this success and here's why - I initially failed my exams, I only did part of the work, it was a team effort. And bear in mind the other research about women self-selecting out of even applying for roles in the first place if they don't meet all the criteria, so the problem is even worse than the interviews suggest. Those are the people with the confidence to at least apply!

Definitely coaching of grads and young workers is a good idea, although this problem seems to be endemic so perhaps also focus on returners to work and women going for executive positions (not that either group is more important than women outside them, but to give it a focus).

I'd maybe see if The Pool fancied writing an article on it.

Starduke Mon 22-May-17 12:12:22

Totally agree with PPs

I too am self-deprecating and I under-sell myself badly.

I got pulled up in a couple of interviews because I'd explain my project by saying "we did this and this", and they pointed out they wanted to know what I had done. Whereas it was me who had done the work, but I was guided by my manager so I'd said we.

I made a huge effort in future interviews to say "I".

StealthPolarBear Mon 22-May-17 12:14:52

Thay said I recently applied for a job with that in mind and when I read it back I don't sound like a team player

TantieTowie Mon 22-May-17 12:15:02

This is interesting. I didn't realise this was a 'thing' - but I have twice actively self-sabotaged in interviews because I got there and didn't want the job once I saw the reality of it. If I self-sabotaged I wouldn't have to think about whether or not to take the job if it was offered. (I can get very indecisive around life-changing decisions, as if there was a 'right' decision to make and I reacted against the 'wrong' one.)
It felt a bit like pressing an ejector seat button to get out of the process early. For background, I'm (still) a journalist and in both cases it was a potential move into PR. I have no regrets.

Foureyesarebetterthantwo Mon 22-May-17 12:17:25

I have also noticed this in academia, not with older women as they are usually the more confident ones to have got further anyway, but especially at the PhD and post-doc level. I have a really excellent current PhD student, but when I initially interviewed her, she was dire, said things like 'I did quite well in these modules' when she'd got the highest marks in them. It was only because I looked her up on the online system that I realised that the self-presentation (self-effacing, not pointing out achievements, sounding a bit wishy-washy) didn't match her abilities which were outstanding.

Once I work with students or post-docs for a while, it's easier to give feedback on this type of thing, but I think at interview stage, when there's little to go on but a CV and their interview, they can really self-sabotage, or rather just not present themselves well. Self-sabotage sounds kind of deliberate and in the cases of the women I have spoken to, it's lack of awareness of how they come over, and of how others are doing it differently that is underlying their behaviour.

I also know lots of confident women presenters, so it isn't universal in all situations.

EBearhug Mon 22-May-17 12:25:41

Coaching for women at very early stages of their careers would be great. I also think it'd be useful to film interviews and offer feedback to women candidates on what went wrong with their presentation of themselves (i.e. to point out self-sabotage).

This (especially in tech). No one ever told me the sort of things I should be doing to position myself for promotion or anything till I was late 30s. I thought that being good at my job was enough, that being honest would gain me respect. But it's not, especially without a penis in a particularly male-dominated area of IT.

As for self-sabotage - I sat in one annual review, extolling my own virtues and focusing on something I felt I'd done particularly well, only for my manager to say, "well, that wasn't just you, was it?" Well, yes, actually, it mostly was. So I don't really need to self-sabotage, as I have my manager for that.

I also find it difficult to tell what things I'm good at - and are valued. There are some things I am pretty sure I'm better than others at, and find easier than most people, and people seem to shout quickly enough when it's not done, but it still doesn't seem to count. And with all these constant little things, none of which are that important in themselves, you end up losing self-confidence and learn you may as well diminish the things you achieve before everyone else does it for you.

I am having particular challenges with my inadequate micromanaging are holes that are my managers just now, but reading plenty of women in tech articles, I also know my experiences are not that out of the ordinary.

redexpat Mon 22-May-17 12:27:32

You should all subscribe to the guilty feminist podcast. Deborah Frances White who hosts does lots of corporate type events and training.

Carolinethebrave Mon 22-May-17 12:31:46

Interesting OP. I do agree, this is awful but it is how women and girls are taught to be. I am very conscious that women who are confident are marked down as 'aggressive' (feedback I had recently) and that therefore you almost can't win! I'm not suggesting that's the case with your examples.

OMG at the manager who sabotaged! That's awful.

AllMyBestFriendsAreMetalheads Mon 22-May-17 12:35:02

Interesting thread.

I'd do things like this, mainly coming from a sort of honesty is best place regards things I'm not good at, but a "must not boast" place about things I am good at. At school, I hated getting high marks and feeling bad about doing so (and being called swot etc.), so I didn't try as hard confused

I would definitely say that I'm doing quite well on my modules, even though my marks are generally 90%+. But I wouldn't tell you my grades because I'd worry you'd think I was an arsehole.

If this is mainly a female thing, what are men doing instead?

(I'm also going to find the boasting thread I saw on here the other day)

MineralWater Mon 22-May-17 12:47:01

AllMyBest 90%+ isn't "quite well". It's fucking amazing. Tell people.

If this is mainly a female thing, what are men doing instead?

Men are passing off very average 62%s as if they were 90%s or they're drawing out the positives of their completely average performances.

Example:
*Me interviewing for a PhD student*: "How do you think you're performing in your third year modules?"
*Male candidate*: "I'm doing well. I am consistently achieving marks in the mid to high 2:1 category and am taking modules that cover a good range of theoretical material. My dissertation is very applied, which is where my passion in social sciences lies"
Interpretation: He's doing okay but he's trying to throw me off the scent of his average performance by drawing attention to his consistency. He can't decide what he wants to focus on so he's taken the modules that sounds the most interesting with little regard as to whether/how they all hang together. His dissertation is something bullshit that's very theoretically thin

grin

MineralWater Mon 22-May-17 12:48:07

AllMyBest 90%+ isn't "quite well". It's fucking amazing. Tell people.

If this is mainly a female thing, what are men doing instead?

Men are passing off very average 62%s as if they were 90%s or they're drawing out the positives of their completely average performances.

Example:
Me interviewing for a PhD student : "How do you think you're performing in your third year modules?"
Male candidate : "I'm doing well. I am consistently achieving marks in the mid to high 2:1 category and am taking modules that cover a good range of theoretical material. My dissertation is very applied, which is where my passion in social sciences lies"
Interpretation: He's doing okay but he's trying to throw me off the scent of his average performance by drawing attention to his consistency. He can't decide what he wants to focus on so he's taken the modules that sounds the most interesting with little regard as to whether/how they all hang together. His dissertation is something bullshit that's very theoretically thin

KatharinaRosalie Mon 22-May-17 12:56:19

It's definitely a thing, and yes to men boasting. I noticed this very clearly during one meeting we had, where we discussed and reported about various items on our plate. A male colleague and I had done exactly the same thing - separately, for different parts of business.

I said that oh and yes, then I also did that.
His description of what he had done sounded like he had just single handedly climbed the Everest and built and ark and gathered all animals of all species at the same time..you get the idea. Same exact thing.

Carolinethebrave Mon 22-May-17 13:07:18

lol at the ark, ha ha ha.

LassWiTheDelicateAir Mon 22-May-17 13:47:21

" when you've always been taught to be self-deprecating (as women are)"

Are we ? By whom ? When?

Starduke Mon 22-May-17 14:03:25

This thread reminds me of a moment at work. I was talking to another female consultant, who said that when she comes out of a meeting with her manager, she'll review it pointing out what went well but also how she could have done better, where they didn't get the answer they wanted etc.

Another colleague of ours comes out saying how well the meeting went, how they got what they wanted etc. It's not necessarily true, but that's the message the manager leaves with.

As an aside, the bloke has risen through the ranks really fast. Female colleague and I left as we felt we'd hit our ceiling.

YetAnotherSpartacus Mon 22-May-17 14:43:02

I'm an academic and I agree, OP. I've been on interview panels where women self-sabotage and I've wanted to shake them for making themselves unappointable. Conversely, I've been on panels where men have talked up very minor achievements into world-saving heroics

What I've found is that women who act like men are punished for it - found guilty of driving with an ego and without a dick. At the same time, men are encouraged to talk up shit they have done and rewarded for it. Self-effacement is a survival strategy that ultimately does not produce survival. It's catch 22 for women.

KatharinaRosalie Mon 22-May-17 14:52:18

It's true that you can't win. Don't boast and it's your own fault for being so modest and not talking about your achievements, how are people supposed to know?
Boast and you're not seen as achiever, but arrogant and aggressive..

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