As often as people confuse me for that “other” Kate, I do not fancy myself a princess. I wasn’t even a particularly girly girl, with no ballgowns for dress-up time or tons of Disney darlings scattered all over my room. I have been a working woman since I was about 17 years old, and yet somehow I discovered just last year that I definitely have “Tiara Syndrome.”
Never heard of it? Well, I first read the term in the well-known book Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, the brilliant executive formerly of Google and now Facebook, as well as an outspoken advocate for women in the workplace. She mentions it right at the end of Chapter 4: “Carol Frohlinger and Deborah Kolb, founders of Negotiating Women, Inc., describe this as the ‘Tiara Syndrome,’ where ‘women expect that if they keep doing their job well someone will notice them and place a tiara on their head.'” Rather than speaking up and advocating for themselves, women tend to wait passively for their bosses to do the investigating and then be pleased with them. Sheryl tells several stories about learning how to more effectively speak up for herself and her work, even if it was slightly uncomfortable in the beginning. Over time, she could see that it made a world of difference in her salary and career trajectory.
I can attest that the first time I had to discuss my salary with the owner of the company I was working for, I was nervous and doubtful. I knew that I had worked hard and earned his approval, but I still somehow felt that it was unprofessional of me to be so direct in asking for a raise. I didn’t want to be perceived as greedy or selfish, and looking back, I feel embarrassed that my own attitude probably gave the impression that I was far from a confident, self-assured employee. To be completely honest, I was also afraid that having very recently been out for maternity leave was going to make me seem less committed to my job and possibly less productive. Instead of really advocating for myself, I made a plea for what I thought was an easy number to agree to.
I cannot imagine that my husband would have felt that way, wondering if being a father would somehow damage the perception of him in the workplace. He has probably never worried that being assertive would make him seem unlikable or too bossy. He certainly doesn’t seem to believe that he shouldn’t share his triumphs and progress with his higher-ups. In thinking back about that time, I realize that I still have a lot to learn. I reached out to a friend who is a female executive of a very large corporation based here in San Antonio. Having only worked for small businesses, I wanted to ask about her experiences.
First, I asked if looking back, she felt that she had ever been too passive about her work or career path. “Yes, early on in my career, I would sit back and wait for others to recognize my work. That was a mistake. What I learned is that you are in control of your work and sharing the work that you are doing. Many people say that that is ‘tooting you own horn,’ but I look at it as basic communication. You have to share the work you are doing.” She also said that she now keeps a running list of accomplishments or large projects that she completes to ensure that she can include them all in her annual self-review. Having been caught off-guard myself when a superior has asked how my work is going, I am going to make an effort to do this as well! It can be difficult to quantify the quality of your work, but a list gives you a much better opportunity to point out times when you went above and beyond or were particularly successful.
You are in control of your work and sharing the work you are doing.
Thankfully, my friend said that her experience with her employer did not lead her to believe that she was held back or looked at differently because of her gender. She did mention that the company she works for allows them to have a Women in Leadership group that meets weekly. “We spend the time learning different/new leadership techniques as well as networking and bouncing things off of each other. It makes a huge difference.” They have an executive coach who teaches them how to be present, how to use their strengths, and to “show up” in meetings and projects. It encourages them to believe in themselves and their potential.
I want to make more of an effort to create a network among the women with whom I work, one that would serve as a motivator, a safe place to vent, a support system when we encounter challenges unique to mothers. We are part of the same team and should encourage healthy competition without tearing one another down. We know that there is enough worry in being working moms. Let’s not add each other to the list.