Original publication: HR.com
Original publication date: April 5, 2017
I never knew there was a second layer of pressure that women face that I don’t. I have the first layer – deadlines, change and uncertainty, goals, too many meetings and e-mails, etc. For our Women Under Pressure initiative, we interviewed senior business women from many large organizations and we discovered tha tit doesn’t matter what country, culture or background a woman comes from, they face an additional layer of pressure that men don’t:
- Being the only or one a few women on a team
- Not feeling as valued when it comes to pay and promotions
- Feeling as though they don’t have a voice
- Believing that senior leadership has more confidence in their male counterparts
- Feeling the need to emulate more aggressive male behavior
- Work / Life balance
- Downsize the Importance. Often, we overstate the importance of a situation: “if I miss this meeting to pick up my kids, they’ll fire me”. The more important we appraise a situation, the more anxiety it creates, leading to distorted thinking, errors, lack of focus and less skillful behaviors. When you find yourself doing this, lessen the pressure by minimizing the significance of the situation. Think: “I would rather not miss the meeting, but I will be able to follow up afterward and get the updates.”
- You Don’t Need to be Perfect. In our study, we learned that many women, unrealistically, think they need to be perfect, over-perform or have super-human abilities to succeed under pressure. You can’t be perfect so don’t even try. When you make a mistake – whether it be at work or at home as a parent – don’t beat yourself up. Men don’t!
- Focus on What You can Control. When you focus on “uncontrollables”, you intensify the pressure; it boosts your anxiety to the point of disturbing your physiology, creating distracting thoughts that undermine your confidence. You can’t control that family commitments will interfere with your work, but you can focus on the things you can control – including your attitude in a pressure moment.
- Regulate Your Breathing. This may sound simple and obvious, but you’d be amazed at how often we let our breathing become irregular, when we feel overwhelmed and anxious about competing priorities and commitments. Anxiety speeds up your breathing, forcing you to breathe high up in your chest. By consciously slowing down your breathing and making sure you breathe from the diaphragm, you’ll be able to quickly calm yourself down and reduce the stress you are feeling about the situation.
Bill Benjamin is a training and leadership expert at the Institute for Health and Human Potential and a contributor to the New York Times best-selling book Performing Under Pressure. Bill is a highly sought-after speaker on the topics of emotional intelligence and performing under pressure, and is a co-author of IHHP’s Women Under Pressure white paper. Bill works with people in many high-pressure environments, including Intel, Goldman Sachs, the U.S. Marines and Surgeons.