My sisters and I are reading Rick Warren’s Purpose-Driven Life this month. We work through the book individually and hold a teleconference each Friday to discuss the lessons learnt.
In our discussion last Friday, one of my sisters noted that women are forgetting to be women. We’re becoming more like men and losing both our confidence and femininity.
Her comment reminded me of a discussion I had with a former client (let’s call her Grace).
Grace works in a competitive industry that’s dominated by older men and she’s had to fight her way up the ladder. She’s a highly intelligent girly girl who now wears dark ‘gender-friendly’ clothing.
Grace is tall and she loves heels. However, she’s had to start wearing flat shoes so that she doesn’t tower over men (especially her superiors). It doesn’t help that this girl is really pretty and looks more like a model than a career woman.
Things have gotten so bad that when she attends meetings, people tend to downplay her role and many get shocked when she gives an informed opinion.
In our conversation Grace noted that people think of her as a ‘blonde’, meaning that they don’t expect to hear anything intelligent from her.
She’s had to downplay her femininity to fit in and be taken seriously by her peers. In the process, she became unhappy because there is a part of her that feels lost and unappreciated.
This is a common scenario today for professional and business women. The result is that women have become so competitive and are fast losing themselves in the competition.You cannot change what people think of you, but you can control your response. Click To Tweet
Areas Where Women Easily Lose Their Femininity
Here are common areas where it’s easy for a woman to lose her femininity.
In the workplace
Some professions run like boys’ clubs and many women (like my client above) have had to hide who they are to gain acceptance.
Old habits die hard and the workplace is a huge challenge for most women who want to grow professionally.
This is because in the old days organizational leadership was a male-dominated domain and for a long time, women were discouraged from being more than support and admin staff.
The good news for Kenyan women is that with the increase in women in leadership positions in all areas of the Kenyan society, we are now able to be more feminine even as we grow professionally.
Gone are the days when women had to wear suits to work. Dresses and trouser suits are now the norm. You’ll even find that some industries have relaxed the rules and allow for daily smart casual wear or jeans on Fridays.
It’s also easier now to navigate your way up the success ladder based on merit and not because you fought for the position.
In politics and civil society
When a woman stands up as a leader or takes a stand on a social issue, she has to fight both men and women in order to be heard.
A good example is the late Prof. Wangari Maathai who was insulted by politicians and other women on the basis of her gender and for being a divorcee. Many men are divorced but you rarely hear them being criticized for this.
Many women who have succeeded in leadership end up adopting masculine characteristics as they fight for recognition.
On the other hand, masculine-oriented women who seek public positions tend to lose votes from women when they come across as too aggressive.
A good case point is Martha Karua who couldn’t get enough women to vote for her in the last general elections although she had a very good agenda for Kenya.
It was also interesting seeing how women in America voted when the choice for a new president narrowed down to Donald Trump vs Hillary Clinton.
In our homes
Women are advancing fast in their careers and it’s no longer strange to find a home where the woman is the only or main breadwinner.
This has led to conflict in many homes when the man tries to assert his authority over the woman on the basis of money.
It also creates resentment if the woman’s financial contribution is downplayed or misused.
As single parents
I would not have thought of this as an area where women have to assert themselves until I became a single parent myself.
Single mums have to act as both father and mother, especially if they don’t have strong male role models for their children.
Since there is no one to share family roles with, many single mums end up becoming more aggressive as they fight both personal and societal expectations.
Among other women
This is an interesting scenario because you’d expect women to band together as one when they’re in a group.
Sadly, most women cut each other up when they’re together and the ones that win the fights end up being the opinion leaders in their groups.
Women who are already used to fighting for recognition in the workplace take the same behaviour when dealing with other women.
It’s common to find aggression being a deciding factor on the agendas that sail through in women’s meetings, friendships, groups, and chamas.
How to Reclaim Your Femininity (and Confidence)
Below are 5 steps you can take to be more feminine while growing professionally.
1. Accept that you cannot satisfy everyone
Start by recognizing that there will always be people who will put you down because of one thing or another, including your gender.
You cannot change what people choose to think, but you can control whether you allow their opinions to sink into your psyche or not.
In other words, don’t let other people’s opinions be the basis of what you do or don’t do. When such people realize that they have no effect on you, they will leave you and find someone else to pester.
Personal development expert Dr. Wayne Dyer gave sound advice when he said, “What you think of me is none of my business!”
2. Accept yourself
Self-acceptance is critical if you want people to take you seriously. Accept and appreciate yourself as a woman and be OK with it always.
Men are by nature more stoic while women are emotional. I’ve met successful women who are afraid to show emotion simply because they think that they will lose face with their peers.
While you don’t have to go overboard and flaunt your femininity, you also don’t have to hide behind many masks until there is nothing left of you.
You didn’t apply to be born a certain gender. God in His wisdom created you a woman. If someone has beef with that, let them take it up with God.
3. Change your wardrobe
It’s time for a wardrobe change to bring the girl into your professional life. Start weaning yourself off drab and dark clothing and making your outlook more colourful.
For example, you can add a bit of colour to your dressing through the use of simple accessories like scarves, and then upgrade to wearing more colourful blouses, and work your way into professional but feminine office wear.
By the way, the main person you have to convince that this will work is yourself. The more confident you become, the easier it will be for other people to accept and appreciate you as you are.
4. Be professional at all times
One of the downsides of allowing your feminine self to shine is that you will get unwarranted attention from both men and women.
There will be men who will become more attracted to you and pull some weird moves. And there will be women who will attack you as you start looking better.
Don’t go overboard with makeup or and start wearing clingy or revealing clothing as you bring your inner girl out. Also, don’t use your femininity to take advantage of men who admire you.
Finally, expand your professionalism to social media and clean up your online image. This is the first place people check when they want to get to know you better.
You can easily lose face when the personal posts or posts/images you’re tagged in are embarrassing professionally.
Carry yourself with pride and confidence and be professional. Avoid situations where you will create unnecessary expectations from men whom you have professional dealings with.
Your reputation is very important so create and maintain strong personal and professional boundaries.You didn’t apply to be born a certain gender. God in His wisdom created you a woman. Click To Tweet
5. Negotiate like a pro
One of the areas where women lose out the most is when negotiating for what they want or need. Be confident in yourself and your abilities and negotiate for what you want.
Learn how to fight and win as a woman in your home, at work, in relationships, with friends and extended family, in your business and with your employees.
Research has proven that many women earn less than their male counterparts all over the world. Research what you’re worth in your organization and industry and then negotiate to rise to that level if you’re not there yet.
Another critical area is your romantic relationship – whether it’s with a spouse or significant other. Don’t settle for less and don’t allow yourself to be demeaned or taken advantage of in your relationship.
If your partner doesn’t treat you well as his woman, then you need to reconsider your relationship. If this is happening in your marriage, seek professional help from a marriage counsellor, therapist or relationship coach.
Negotiating in personal relationships is a learning curve and it’s not an easy one. However, the wins of having your partner treat you with respect are more than worth it.Your reputation is very important so create and maintain strong personal and professional boundaries. Click To Tweet
Confidence and Personality Building Resources
These resources have been of immense help to me and my clients. The books are available from Amazon.com and local bookshops.
- Your Erroneous Zones: by Dr. Wayne W. Dyer
- The Princessa: Machiavelli for Women by Harriet Rubin
- The Confidence Factor for Women in Business by Carol Sankar
- Successful Women Think Differently by Valorie Burton
- The Successful Single Mom: Get Your Life Back and Your Game On by Honorée Corder
- What You Wear Can Change Your Life by Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine (this amazing manual is not easy to find and you may have to look for it in second-hand book stores).
- The Power of the Subconscious Mind by Joseph Murphy
- The Big Leap: Conquer Your Hidden Fear and Take Life to the Next Level by Gay Hendricks
- Lead the Field by Earl Nightingale (eBook link; audio program)
(Disclaimer: I am an affiliate of Amazon.com and Nightingale Conant. This means that I get commissions when you buy from their sites using any of the links on this blog. However, I only recommend resources that have worked for me and my clients).
Your Next Step
Most women who have achieved success through merit have gotten used to fighting their way up the ladder. If this is your normal way of life, then the concept of being both feminine and successful might sound strange.
The problem with fighting for recognition is that you will have to keep fighting all the time. This has the potential to turn you into a fighter in all areas of your life.
For today, I suggest that you start allowing yourself to relax a bit more and allow the girl inside you to come out. Pick up one of the resources above and use it to gain more confidence in yourself and your femininity.
And if you’d like to have faster and more sustainable change, then I invite you to take the step that my client Grace took and sign up for the next Free To Be Me coaching program.
This program was specifically designed for successful professional women who find themselves losing confidence as they pursue their career goals.
You can also contact me on email@example.com or call 0703 119 241 if you’d like to work with me 1-1 for a more personalized program that is tailor-made for you.
(Images courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos)