Women have fought for equal rights in the workplace for decades, and while progress may be slow, it is being made.
The pay gap continues to close, and more women are being hired in traditionally male-dominated industries like tech. However, with all eyes on achieving external benchmarks of equality, a key blind spot has emerged.
That's because how we perceive our own worth is just as important as how others perceive us. And even if gender parity were to be achieved in tech, if women in tech don't view themselves and their skills as being equal to their male colleagues, all that progress may be for naught.
A crisis of confidence
Women have faced a raft of challenges in the workplace, and it's only natural for that to have shaped how one sees oneself as a professional: From workplace harassment to being talked over in meetings to being passed over for promotions it's no surprise that many struggle with maintaining a positive perception of their own self-worth.
To put this in perspective, a recent study found that one in two women report feeling more self-doubt than self-love, and 60 percent wish they had more respect for themselves. At work, this can translate to a lack of confidence, where women regularly score lower than men on self-reported confidence-at-work claims.
Given how closely tied self-esteem and confidence are to career success and fulfillment, failing to break free from the cycle of negative self-talk could end up holding back women — no matter how much external progress is made toward workplace equality.
How to identify negative thoughts
Our sense of self-worth is shaped mostly by our thoughts. While it's true we're confronted with outside events that result in clear and defined outcomes, your mind gets the final say in how you internalize them. An easy illustration would be a poor performance review at work. That is, by it's definition, a negative assessment, but when you store it away at the end of the day, are you viewing it as an opportunity to improve or a condemnation of your competence?
Negative thought patters can often be so engrained that it can be hard to spot them. To help you identify when your thoughts may be headed down an irrational path, watch for these four warning signs:
Personalizing: Are you about to blame yourself?
Magnifying: Are you focusing only on the negative of a situation and ignoring the positive?
Catastrophizing: Are you already expecting the worst about an unresolved outcome?
Polarizing: Are you framing the situation in black and white, ignoring all nuance?
These are the four main types of negative self-talk, and learning how to spot their signs can help you quickly shift your thinking before they take root.
The friendship fundamental
This is the golden rule of improving your own internal thoughts, and if you make only one change, make it this: If you wouldn't say what you're about to say to yourself to a friend — don't say it. In other words, you likely wouldn't tell a friend that they're not cut out for their job or that every disappointment is a result of their own actions, so why would you say it to yourself?
You'd likely be more objective when helping a friend or colleague work though a disappointment. Passed up on a promotion? There were a lot of qualified candidates and it's impossible to promote everyone for one job. Failed to execute a project on time? Nobody is perfect, reflect on what went wrong and avoid it in the future.
The next step is to learn how to replace negative thoughts with positive ones. However, the trick is to thread the needle perfectly between positive and positively realistic.
"You don't want to set yourself up for failure by replacing the thought with something that may not be realistic," says Rachel Goldman, Ph.D. and psychologist and clinical assistant professor at the NYU School of Medicine. In other words, instead of replacing "I'm going to fail" with "I'm going to succeed," "You instead would want to replace it with something more neutral, which is also showing some self-compassion, like 'I don't know if I am going to be able to do it, but I am trying my best.'"
It can be daunting to rewire the entire framework you've used to shape your thoughts your whole life, but it's encouraging to know that self-perception can indeed change. Confidence levels among women have been shown to improve over time. While women may start out less confident than men, by the time they reach 40, their confidence levels equalize — and even surpass men as they continue to grow in experience and age. In that way, the best is yet to come, and minding these principles and practicing them daily is a surefire way to get there.
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