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Women In Those High-Paying Positions Have Something I Don't Have - Are You Sure?

Dec 17, 2007
Women in Those High-Paying Positions Have Something I Don't Have - Are You Sure?

I believe there are three reasons why most women do not pursue positions which they know to be higher-paying.

* They believe they lack sufficient ambition
* They see the sacrifices as too great
* They view themselves as unqualified

Let's look at these, one at a time.


Think about how you define the work "ambition." Many people believe that people either have it or they don't, and there is no middle ground. Of course, ambition is not an either/or concept. The majority of working men do not aspire to be president of the company for which they work, yet they expect to earn enough to support themselves. They do not worry about unbridled ambition ruining their lives. They know that business is not a conveyor belt that they get on and cannot control. People are not promoted against their wills.

The issue of ambition may cloud your view of a specific job opportunity. You may decide that a particular level of ambition is necessary for a specific job, when other things are actually much more important. You may be wrong about your own ambition level, or unsure of it. This uncertainty may seem to be an important obstacle to overcome. You may not want to be ambitious. You might think it is unfeminine or unattractive to have ambition. You may feel it is selfish and greedy to want a lot of money. You may feel it is more noble to work hard for little pay than to work hard for a lot of pay.

Some people would have you analyze your feelings about ambition until they are completely resolved. You will probably retire before you can accomplish it. Try to simply put these bad feelings and all thoughts of ambition out of your mind. Ambition is a vague concept, defined by different people in various ways. You work for many reasons, and one of them is money. If you had enough ambition to get out of bed this morning, you have enough to pursue a new career.


You see women anchoring the news, selling cars, and developing new software products. If you're like many of us, you may see these positions as requiring more sacrifice than your current job. You may believe that these women will pay any price to climb further and earn more.

The fact is, different jobs require different kinds of sacrifices. Yes, there are high-stress jobs which require long hours and travel. But many, many jobs which pay more than yours require far less sacrifice than you imagine. I am constantly amazed at the sacrifices women are willing to make in long hours, extra work, harassment and belittling treatment, when their paychecks hardly warrant any sacrifice. Many working men and women who go home to their families every evening earn much more than you do. Be realistic, but don't count yourself out of a new career just because you have other priorities in your life. Everyone does.


The issue of whether or not you are qualified for a different career path is probably more simple, and at the same time, more complex, than you thought. The word "qualify" has been overused and abused in the workplace. In fact, it remains undefined and means different things to different people, even when they are talking about the same position. Women are much more likely to consider "qualified" to mean technically competent. We believe direct prior experience in that exact kind of position is necessary. We believe some kind of unique technical training is required. In fact, the position may require someone who is politically savvy, and is able to bring a new prospective to the job. Generally speaking, men with the same level of skill are more likely to consider themselves as "qualified" for a job while the women next to them see themselves as unqualified.

In 1977, Betty Harragan (Games mother Never Taught You, Warner Books, Inc.) quoted from a study in which men and women were asked how many of the appropriate job skills they would need to have in order to "qualify" for a job. Women responded that they would need 100% of the skills. Men, on the other hand, believed they needed an average of 40% of those skills. Personally, I think this study would have the same results if done today. Consider the difference between 40% and 100%! Yes, this is an over generalization, but you can probably think of several examples of this in your own experience. This alone can account for the difference in confidence levels we often see in business. If one person considers himself qualified with far fewer skills than another, he will automatically feel more confident and appear more confident. In fact, he will be better able to execute the job, since self-doubt is a barrier to success. Well-paid women have learned to live with this. They have recognized that if they wait to be 100% qualified, they'll miss their chance entirely. So will we.

What we consider to be good performance on the job may be impossible for any human. Until we can adjust our view of competency, we will never see ourselves as qualified for the jobs we so deserve. Until we can see ourselves as qualified, we will not be. Change your view of competency from perfection at all times to excellence in the context of the job. Make your demands on yourself more realistic, and you will be able to do more. More women must learn to "fake it until they make it." We must assume authority, instead of waiting for it to be handed to us. We must see self-doubt as a faulty mis perception that we must rise above, instead of an indication of our unworthiness. We are able to do this in other areas of our lives, we must learn to do it in the workplace. For most people (men and women alike) self-confidence is learned rather than earned. We simply do not have enough time in this life to overcome all traces of self-doubt before we act. When we act in spite of our own self-doubts, and succeed, or at least survive, we gain confidence.

In other ways, women often differ from the men around them in how they approach work. We are more likely to feel powerless and doubt ourselves. We are more likely to be paralyzed by that self-doubt, unable to act until we are certain of the outcome. We often have a different, and unhealthy view of risk. We are sometimes more task-oriented than is advisable in decision-making positions, and we may lack negotiating skills. What we can do about this is the subject of Each of Us: How Every Woman Can Earn More Money in Corporate America. It is important to remember that all the highly-paid men and women you know have learned these skills, they weren't born with them. They are only people
doing their jobs, they aren't perfect at the business game. With a few minor adjustments, we can make an enormous difference in our incomes.
About the Author
Patricia Smith is a businesswoman, speaker, and the Author of Each of Us: How Every Woman Can Earn More Money in Corporate America. http://www.eachofus.com
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