“Are you the owner? You look so young!”
“My, you speak so well.”
“Do you even know what Tik Tok is?”
To some, these may appear to be innocuous comments or questions. But for the professional women to whom such comments are directed, they can act as poison arrows, undermining how others view them and how the women view themselves.
While women have made gains in the workforce, female professionals – particularly minorities – continue to encounter bias and barriers to their professional lives. For example, women leaders and entrepreneurs are more likely to experience belittling microaggressions, such as being treated as a junior or less qualified coworker, according to the report, Women in the Workplace 2022, produced by McKinsey & Co. in partnership with Lean In.
The report also found that women leaders:
- Were more likely to have their judgment questioned than their male peers.
- Are twice as likely as men leaders to be mistaken for someone less experienced.
- Were more likely to report that personal characteristics, such as their gender or status as a parent, played a role in their being denied a chance to move up in their organization.
The start of a new year offers an ideal time for reflection and an opportunity to set goals and make changes for the year ahead. QCity Metro reached out to Tamika Stafford for advice on how women can develop leadership skills and remain tenacious and resilient in the face of obstacles.
As a Business Access Advisor with U.S. Bank, Stafford focuses on building wealth specifically among minorities in the Charlotte area. She is one of nine U.S. Bank Business Access Advisors hired nationwide as part of the U.S. Bank Access Commitment™, a long-term approach by U.S. Bank aimed at helping communities of color build wealth. About 75 percent of her clients are Black women.
She works closely with women executives, business owners and budding entrepreneurs, serving as a trusted advisor to create networking and business development opportunities. Because of this close relationship, Stafford’s clients confide in her about their struggles, and Stafford has been struck by how so many women of varied backgrounds and experience levels are dealing with similar situations and feelings.
“Everyone is struggling with something, and I knew it was important to identify these challenges and learn ways to navigate and solve these problems,” Stafford says. “Validating an experience helps women know they are not alone.”
Seeing a need for women to connect and be empowered, Stafford has been speaking with women about leadership, validating concerns and offering strategies for overcoming barriers.
Stafford suggests women develop the following skill sets for women looking to become savvy, strong, and smart leaders.
- Break Imposter Syndrome Cycle
Harvard Business Review defines imposter syndrome as a collection of feelings of inadequacy or that persist despite success. The self doubt can make “imposters” fear being exposed as a fraud. Imposter syndrome can also stem from perfectionism.
Stafford says she has spoken with women who have achieved the highest levels of business success who struggle with imposter syndrome, which can eat away at self-esteem and promote negative self talk. This feeling is even more pronounced when you’re the “only” in the room – be it the only female or only person of color.
“They will never show it, but internally it is tearing them apart,” Stafford says.
The first key to breaking free from this cycle of self doubt is to recognize these feelings when they happen. Then people can develop strategies for reframing their thinking.
“Putting a label on something people felt but didn’t understand helps them identify the source of the problem and craft a rebuttal and way of dealing with it,” she says. She recommends reaching out to others and sharing experiences as a way of exploring these feelings and finding common strength.
“It is important to silence your inner critic and look toward your strengths,” Stafford says. “It is common for our minds to minimize the successes. But we have to keep trying.”
- Prioritize self-care
Women are raised to be nurturers, sometimes to their detriment, Stafford says.
“We are at the forefront of being allies for others often to the neglect of our own wellbeing, physically, emotionally and spiritually,” she says.
Signs that women may need to take a step back and focus on their well-being include feeling moody, losing touch with friends or family, and feeling like one is going through the day on autopilot. Stafford says it is crucial that people create boundaries for themselves. Entrepreneurs, for example, often are asked if people can meet to pick their brain, or if they want to do a collaboration. But what seems benign can end up being distracting.
“Be strategic in the things you accept and set time limits,” she advises. She also encourages women to ask for help and delegate, noting that it not only can provide a break, but can be an opportunity for someone else to grow.
- Stay well read and connected
Stafford stresses the importance of being well read and staying abreast of trends. She suggests finding colleagues and influences you admire and following them on social media.
Stafford, who is active on Instagram at @bankervibe and on LinkedIn, recommends learning about what fuels the people you are following and how they achieved their success. Connecting with others can move a person outside of their comfort zone, exposing them to new trends and ideas, Stafford says.
- Build alliances
Staying connected ties in with Stafford’s fourth recommended skill set: Building alliances. Stafford urges women to make networking a priority, noting that 85 percent of job openings are filled through networking. For people who find networking tedious or awkward, she recommends breaking it up into smaller, more manageable tasks. If the idea of going into a crowded room and trying to meet everyone is too daunting, pick five people to have a conversation with. Be strategic in who you target, and follow up with that person when the event is over. That way you are able to further a goal of building alliances without depleting your social battery.
She recommended women reach out to groups such as The Women’s Business Center of Charlotte, a nonprofit that aims to empower female entrepreneurs through one-on-one counseling and more.
“No matter how intelligent you are, or good you are at your craft, it’s important for us to connect with other people, not only for camaraderie, but because people are different it helps us grow as an individual,” Stafford says. “They see gaps or blind spots we may be missing, we see things we can emulate or avoid. It’s always a growth process. If we don’t connect, we become stagnant.”