It was lovely to celebrate the hard work and commitment of our Year 11 students in front of their parents at Monday’s graduation ceremony. It is very important that we celebrate the diversity of our girls’ achievements and encourage them to own their successes from an early age, because there is powerful evidence that women’s self-effacement can hold them back.
Sally Helgesen, a writer and lecturer on women’s leadership, argues that women often get in their own way. Her most recent book, How Women Rise, looks at behaviour most likely to get in the way of women rising in their careers. Helgesen said, “It became clear to me that there was a common thread. There are certain behaviours that women have to embrace and they have to let go of.” For example, she believes that women should embrace the need to actively seek opportunities to claim their achievements. “Often women will say ‘thank you, my team did all of the work’ or in some other way push aside or spread credit.” On the other side of that, women need to let go of expecting others to spontaneously notice and reward their contributions. According to Helgesen, women will often keep their heads down, do their jobs and expect that others will notice. Organizations don’t work that way, especially at the more senior ranks. This tendency has been called the “tiara syndrome” – a term coined by Dr Deborah Kolb and Carol Frohlinger from Negotiating Women, a US firm that coaches women in leadership skills – because “[Women] sit there thinking the work I’m doing is so great someone will come along and they’ll put a tiara on my head [while] at the next desk, is going to be a young man who has perhaps done one terrific thing and has no embarrassment about jumping on his desk… and saying to the CEO: ‘look at me, look at me, aren’t I fabulous?’”
And so, as our Year 11 girls prepare to move on to the next stage of their education and look towards their future careers, I hope they bear in mind how important it is for them to own – and celebrate with pride – all their achievements.