By Joan Baker*
I’ve puzzled for years about why women often handle their careers and money poorly. After all, we know that women are at least as smart as their male counterparts – for many years girls have been outperforming boys at school, more women are graduating from most courses at university, and they perform very well (at least initially ) in the workforce.
So often, however, that does not convert into ongoing career success as measured by income or by achieving promotions.
There’s a lot to derail women of course, not least their biology as many women opt out of the workforce for years to have children, take care of young ones or even to look after aging parents. However, there’s plenty of evidence that there’s more to it than that.
Within a few years of entering the workforce women’s pay and progression lags behind equivalent males. This has a big effect on financial health, irrespective of how you handle money: if you earn less in the first place it’s harder to get ahead financially. So, women’s earnings over a lifetime are significantly less, women retire with less net worth, and so are often poor when they finish work.
This really matters and we women should be doing everything we can to reverse that position – our security and choices in the future depends on it.
I'm an imposter
But why is it so? Psychologists talk about the ‘imposter syndrome’ – self-doubt that mostly afflicts women. Women often report that they feel like ‘frauds’ – waiting to be found out as incompetent and undeserving.
Samples are always dangerous but my own experience bears this out. Over and over again I observe my female friends and clients underselling themselves and being unduly modest about their abilities and achievements. As a former manager and chief executive (and now as a consultant and coach), I was repeatedly struck by how poorly women argued for themselves in recruitment interviews and pay negotiations.
My experience was that women generally accepted whatever was offered while men sought pay and positional increases from the outset. Even with equal starting pay it is easy to see why men’s incomes stretch ahead of equivalent women very quickly. And this gap only compounds over time.
It’s always dangerous to generalise but I’ll take the risk!
Generally speaking, my experience is that women lack self-belief and self-confidence about their abilities and worth. Women in the workforce tend to underestimate their value and potential while males generally overestimate theirs. This would be merely an interesting observation if it didn’t result in such a difference in pay, promotion and opportunity. The financial consequences alone are huge, not to mention the fact that women (and society) miss out on the contributions that females bring to influential roles.
What to do?
- Recognise that you may (unwittingly or consciously) be a victim of imposter syndrome.
- Understand that the feelings are likely to persevere – after all, you have been practising this for years and much of our upbringing and culture reinforces these feelings.
- Resolve, however, that you will not allow these feelings to impede your progress in your career or with your finances.
- Deal with the data, for example, rewrite your CV as if you were a male.
- Practice your interviewing skills, for example, asking a competent male friend to interview to your CV, noting how well he would claim your accomplishments.
- Get some mentors and coaches – for both sexes.
I am all for the sisterhood but sometimes we need the insights and chutzpah that male models bring. Go to your next performance interview prepared to negotiate a pay rise, better opportunities and promotional prospects. In all likelihood, you are neither an imposter nor a fraud so don’t behave like one!
*Joan Baker is a Queenstown-based business consultant, financial columnist and author of "Why a man is not a financial plan.'' Her latest book, "My Time: How to Make the Rest of Life, the Best of Life'' was co-authored with Mandy Fealy.