Do You Value Yourself?

by Gloria Feldt on October 28th, 2010
in Define Your Own Terms, Power Tools and tagged , , , , , , ,

Nicole Baute from The Star asked me to share some of the central messages of No Excuses when she interviewed me last week. I posted part of the interview Tuesday on the 9 Ways Blog. Here is another excerpt from that interview.

One of the things in the book that struck me was the stat that women are four times less likely to ask for a raise. Why?

I don’t think we always value our worth as much as men value their worth. Men are pretty ruthless about valuing their worth, they’re not at all timid about it. In fact, they tend to overstate their worth. Women understate their worth.

Why do women isolate themselves and try to fix things on their own?

We’re working in a workplace culture that was designed by men for men, who could work day and night because they had a woman at home taking care of the house and the kids. And that paradigm no longer works for anybody, I don’t think. So as women have entered that workplace culture, if you’re the first one, if you’re the only one in a department, you tend to try to fit yourself into the predominant culture.

That’s exactly why we need to consciously un-isolate ourselves and reach out with what I call Sister Courage. Ask another woman for help if you need it. Ask a man for help if you need it. Offer help if you think someone else needs it.

Do you think that competition — women competing with each other and women competing with men — is a barrier to asking for help?

It is a barrier when we define power as the power-over. And that’s why I say in No Excuses that we need to redefine power on our own terms. Women feel very comfortable thinking about power as the power-to — the power to accomplish things in this world. The power-over implies a finite pie: ‘I have to have power over you because I want what you’ve got. And if I take a slice of the pie, you have less.’ But the power-to implies an infinite resource — the more there is, the more there is. And that’s a definition of power that women are much more comfortable with and frankly, it’s a definition of power that allows people to be much more creative.

You wrote that some political programs meant to eliminate external barriers overlook the fact that the most stubborn barriers exist within women. I’m wondering if you got push-back from the women and feminists that you interviewed on that concept.

I got that every time I talked about it. I get push-back occasionally from some of the women who run the groups that help women run for politics. Whenever I make a speech about it, I do usually have someone who says, ‘But you know, there are still these structural barriers, there are barriers of class and race and poverty.’ And every bit of it is true. But there does come a time when we have to just take the responsibility for ourselves. You can wallow in that fact that there are still external barriers, or you can decide, ‘I’m just going to take that on.’

A lot of women slow down their careers or opt out because they want to be mothers or for other reasons. If they’re making those choices for themselves because of what they value, is that necessarily a problem for the rest of us?

I think the idea of what is called choice feminism is bad for everybody. All choices are not necessarily of equivalent value. A choice of eating a greasy hamburger, while it may be good, is not as good a choice for your health as eating, you know, a turkey burger. This is not something you can do by law. It has to be done by changing how we interact with the culture.

Right now over 50 per cent of the women who have MBAs leave the workforce when they have children. And that’s why we’re so slow, that’s why only 18 per cent of management teams in our workforce are women. The more women who don’t continue working their way up the ladder, the more people can say, ‘Look, don’t even think about hiring a woman into that position, they’re just gonna leave the workforce anyway, when they have kids.’ That said, what I think needs to happen is that women and men together need to change the workplace and how it’s structured. I really think that instead of castigating women that leave the workforce, I think it would be more productive to change the workplace.

I assume you would agree that we need more of a critical mass of women in the workforce to make some of this happen and if women do opt out, it’s just going to take longer.

That’s precisely why I say it’s not a good thing. It’s unhelpful to (society) as a whole. And again, to put it into a more positive cast, there is a social responsibility we have to each other. We do make our choices for ourselves and ultimately we’re only responsible for our own lives. But if we can take a slightly more expansive view (we’ll) realize that what we do today is going to be somebody else’s history tomorrow.

Gloria Feldt

Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

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