Women worry themselves away from the top positions | Women's Agenda

Women worry themselves away from the top positions

According to a recent study examining the factors hindering aspiring women leaders, a number of women tend to display ‘worrier’ behaviours, preventing them from reaching the top in their careers.

The study conducted by CDR Assessment Group, Cracking the Code to the Glass Ceiling, says that despite good intentions, mentoring and diversity training, the glass ceiling continues to be an impenetrable barrier for many female leaders because of their tendency to be ‘worriers’ and to move away from conflict and tough debate due to fear of failure.

Based on a sample of 137 women and 123 men across 35 companies, the author of the white paper, CDR Assessment Group CEO and president Nancy Parsons, says there are significant inherent personality risk factor differences among men and women leaders, which is the main cause keeping the glass ceiling in place.

The eleven inherent personality-based risk factors that erode leadership performance are the ‘false advocate’, the ‘worrier’, the ‘cynic’, the ‘rule breaker’, the ‘perfectionist’, the ‘egotist’, the ‘pleaser’, the ‘hyper-moody’, the ‘detached’, the ‘upstager’ and the ‘eccentric’.

While the research found that a statistically significant percentage of women leaders display worrier behaviours when under stress, men tend to be egotists, rule breakers and upstagers under adversity and conflict. Women leaders tend to dig in, over-analyse, pull back and review the situation when under stress, whereas men tend to react by standing their ground, becoming more aggressive and exhibiting ‘fight’ behaviours.

“What I find most illuminating and new is that many women leaders are ‘worriers’ and their own risk factors are self-defeating,” says Parsons. “They lose visibility, hurt their credibility by not standing their ground and tend to spend too much time over-analysing and studying, versus engaging in the toughest leader discussions and engagements necessary for advancement.”

Parsons says we need to stop women from “resorting to these natural self-defeating and self-doubting tendencies and learn ways to manage, neutralise and prevent the worrier behaviours from derailing their visibility, upward mobility and success”. To facilitate development, Parsons suggests individual assessment and coaching to help women (and men) understand and manage their risks more productively, particularly the ‘worrier’ tendency.

“While training and development or wishing cannot erase this risk factor, these actions can go a long way in managing and neutralising these ineffective coping strategies so that they do not take women away from the table,” she says.

Discussing the study’s findings on leadership gender perceptions, Total Balance career coach Kate James says while it may be true for some women, not all exhibit the ‘worrier’ behaviours in the workplace.

“It’s not true for everybody. There are certainly many men in leadership positions who have a high level of empathy and there are certainly a lot of women who are strong,” she says. “While it’s a valuable study, it’s a small group. I’d argue that it’s both men and women [who exhibit ‘worrier’ behaviours]. We can’t be too gender specific.”

Not surprised by the survey results, the founder of Women’s Network Australia Lynette Palmen AM says when searching for a job, women, unlike men, need to have all their ducks in a row or all the required attributes before they apply for a new role.

“Women worry about the ramifications about having a say or stepping up or being perceived as pushy. It’s doesn’t pay well for them in the workplace,” she says. “It comes from a lack of confidence, a fear of being wrong.”

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