#WorkingWomen | Why We Must Stop Pulling Ourselves Down

Credit | Diego Cervo via Shutterstock

A few days back I showed a video of a recipe to my cook and asked him to prepare a dish that way. When we finished playing the video, my husband asked if he had followed the steps or wanted to see it again just to be clear. That’s when my cook replied ‘No, not necessary. I know how to make it. In fact, I have prepared it many times before.’


Well, I don’t know about my husband, but that statement struck to me. The thing is, my cook isn’t that great a cook. Let’s just say, he cooks as a way to earn his living but he’s not really a cook. People like myself employ him because of the paucity of time, choice and energy.


Now coming to the dish in question. Well, I can wager my books (yes, you know how precious they are to me) that he had never even heard of that recipe before seeing the video. The result actually did prove that quite comprehensively. But like always, he not only pretended that he knew how to make it but was good at it too.


Now, why do I mention this here?


Because I actually found it very fascinating. Well, if I could for a moment forget the horrible dinner from that night, that is.


The thing is, I have never ever seen him admit that he doesn’t know anything or even take the blame of a bad dish on himself. It is always something or someone else’s fault. And he is very casual while doing it. Maybe that is one of the reasons he still works at so many households in spite of not being a good cook.


This is the exact same behaviour I see in most men at work as well. I’m not saying they are bad at what they do but they never admit they don’t know something. Even if they have only heard about it in passing, they never so much as admit that. They always seem and claim to know everything. And if something goes wrong, they steer the conversation away from what they have done wrong so very skilfully. I have hardly ever seen them apologise for any mistakes or oversight. And apologise profusely? Hardly ever.


But when it comes to us women, it is not always the case. We are quick to take the responsibility for anything that might have gone wrong. We are adept at apologising profusely. Our thinking is what harm could an apology do. And that’s where we are wrong because in a workplace, it does affect perceptions of our competence even though it probably shouldn’t.


If we don’t know something or know very little about it, we hardly ever pretend that we do even though we might actually know more than the man standing next to us. In fact, sometimes we take ownership of mistakes by others too.


Well, while what we do might be the right thing to do, it still isn’t right when it comes to the workplace. Well, at least one which is male dominated.


But why the self-doubt and sabotage?


Louis P Frankel, in her book Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office: Unconscious Mistakes Women Make that Sabotage Their Careers, says ‘We come to believe that our possibilities are limited, when in fact, they’re limited only because we allow them to be.’


Makes sense, doesn’t it? So many times we stop short of being what we were meant to be because of these self-doubts.


When we not only question our own abilities but exhibit that uncertainty verbally and through our body language, it does irreparable damage. We not only lose out on a possible life changing opportunity knocking at the door but often on more in the future too. Our opinions are ignored. We are bypassed for promotions, new assignments and projects. Not something you want happening to you.


The playing field isn't level for women and pulling ourselves down isn't the way to navigate… Click To Tweet


I don’t know why we are programmed this way. Louis P Frankel says it all stems from our intrinsic need to please everyone, be the quintessential nice girl. While I might not agree with everything she says in her book but she does make an excellent case with compelling points and some very pertinent observations.


Repeat after me - I'm better than I think I am. #Women Click To Tweet


As for why I do it. Well, probably because I don’t like the idea of not being completely honest with myself and others when I claim to know something that I don’t. And then there is the risk of sounding overconfident as well.


But over the years, I have realised that this isn’t how the workplace functions, at least not one which is male dominated. Of course, I’m not saying we shouldn’t be honest but we shouldn’t also be quick to pass on opportunities. The playing field isn’t level for women and pulling ourselves down isn’t the way to navigate towards the goal post.


Eleanor Roosevelt said you gain courage and confidence from doing the things you think you cannot do and I think we all need to remember this.


Chin up and face all the obstacles and prejudice head on. Take on new challenges while you are at it. 


While honesty is still something that I hold dear, I’m coaching myself to not make light of my own abilities. In the quest of being humble, I shouldn’t end up hurting my prospects. I’m better than I think I am. I can do more that I can even imagine and that is only possible when I acknowledge myself.


You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, smarter than you think. – Louis P Frankel


As women, we already need to fight so many prejudices at work. Why make light of our fight by belittling ourselves or disregarding our abilities? We don’t need to know everything about something to actually know it. The truth is nobody knows everything. Women need to remember that and grab every promising opportunity they want to and not pass it off to someone else. Remember, we played nice for long but to no avail. It’s time we play by some new rules and beat them at their game. It’s time we give ourselves the credit we deserve.

What do you say?


Linking to #mg hosted by Mackenzie Glanville


14 thoughts on “#WorkingWomen | Why We Must Stop Pulling Ourselves Down

  1. So agree Naba. In fact, as you climb further up, it will become more difficult. As children, we girls were held back so many times that it is conditioned in us. Statements like, ‘don’t talk back to boys’, or ‘don’t talk when an elder is talking’ is all grilled into us. We are always told boys are better than girls. Future generations shouldn’t be put in shackles like this.

  2. So true, Naba. I agree with your observations. Men do seem to get away with a lot of things while we women belittle ourselves for the tiniest mistakes we make. We really should stop being so hard on ourselves. This really is a thought provoking post.

  3. While it may be correct to some extent that women generally are more quick to own up their limitation or take responsibility for their action if something goes wrong, but I also see this as more of a personality thing than only a gender thing. I think our workplace cultures – both in the formal and informal sector – are generally such that it is not easy for any worker to own up and say that he/she doesn’t know something or did something wrong. It is always safer to blame the system or someone else for one’s shortcomings. Only success is rewarded, failures are not seen as stepping stones to self-improvement. Only efficiency is rewarded, finding one’s way through mistakes isn’t valued as part of self-discovery process. Women in general having been late entrants to the organised work force (though it is not the case in domestic or agricultural sector) are still mastering these men’s ways of being seen as effective and efficient workers! I am however not so sure if that kind of imitation will be helpful in the long run, though in the short run it may yield rewards. I have come to a point where I feel women need to figure out their own view of effectiveness, efficiency, workplace success, etc. Good post, Naba! Made me ponder!

  4. You have nailed right on the head Naba! You know I have at times felt like a worm when the people at home say something about the food or about other things that are not done by the household helps. I take it upon myself and check and recheck things as if they were pointing their hands towards me.
    Though my husband keeps saying that I do not have to feel guilty, I can never overcome this feeling.

  5. It is a fact that we are as good as we think. We are often limited by our thoughts. There are people who don’t admit that they don’t know something because they are insecure. No one except God knows everything. So it makes no sense to pretend. It is not important to know everything. But more important is to have the ability to learn something if you don’t know.

  6. Guilt is a familiar friend of women. We often perpetuate ‘must dos’ among our siblings, friends, daughters and other young women. I know I’ve self-sabotaged in the past, something I’m more conscious of these days. Strangely the people who pulled me down in the blogging world were other women!

  7. It is high time women stood up for themselves. Most of the times it is wired into our minds that anything we do that is out of the ordinary needs to be frowned upon. The situation has got to change and it should begin with us women.

  8. I love the way you’ve taken this and reflected about how women act. It is so true, no matter where you are in the world, I think!

    I remember many years ago seeing a woman who was CEO of a company saying that she worried that she’d be found out a fraud, and was amazed someone else felt that way too. I think that women tend to suffer from “imposter syndrome” (as I’ve since learned it was called) far more than men, but perhaps because we’re told not to show off, to be too brash, or simply that we’re not as good, it seeps into our psyches, and certainly into our language and bearing. Yet one of the most successful men I know is great at pretending he is an expert at things when I know I know more than he does about X or Y. So much of it is confidence or the perception of confidence, and/or- dare I say it – arrogance.

    This is also another variation of the old cartoon of a woman sitting at a board table, surrounded by men, and the Chairman says, “that’s a very good idea, Ms X. Now we’ll just wait till one of the men make it.” I’ve experienced that many times too, even when I was the Chair!

    A thought: Is it a cultural thing, that your cook can’t admit that he doesn’t know something? (I’ve seen this many times in Cambodia and Thailand, for example). Would it have been better to have left the video or recipe with him till he made it?

  9. Spot on!! Women are brought up to feel responsible or everything wrong that goes on around them – whether it’s a stranger groping them, a husband cheating on them or not being able to bear a male child. It’s really hard to break out of this pattern of thinking, but we must and can do it. Well written!

  10. In my experience l have noticed that even women like passing the blame. But it is surely more prevalent in men. Perhaps due to their larger number of more experience work wise. I agree with Beloo that it must be more of a personal trait than gender.

  11. Have you ever seen Amy Schumer’s sketch pointing out how women apologize for everything — whether we’re actually at fault or not! It’s funny, but it’s also painful because it’s so true. I’ve been trying to ensure that my daughter owns her mistakes but doesn’t apologize just for the sake of apologizing.

  12. I do agree with the fact that men are more laid back when it comes to work. That is mainly because this is the only work they have to do. They take their time and go easy with it, even if they have no clue how it has to be done. For woman like us, office is another place we work in. If we didn’t take things seriously, nothing would get done.

    Thankfully in the current place I work, I don’t see much of a bias when it comes to men and women. Appreciation and promotions have always come to me as and when I deserved it. I take my work very seriously and expect the same from others. Else, they have no place in my team. Yeah, I like to run a tight ship. But you know what, that is the only way I know to work and I am proud of it. So are my superiors!

    If I make a mistake, I take 100% ownership and sort it out myself. It is important to accept that you are wrong. It takes guts to do that. Which sadly many men are not blessed with. In that case, I’m more than happy to point out their mistakes to them. At the end of the day it is not about being a man or a woman, it is about the work in front of you and getting it done.

  13. Luckily I have worked with men who have owned their mistakes and women who know it all 😉 In a few ways it is gender and I know many who shy away from showing their confidence at work. At my workplace, I feel that both men and women take ownership of what they do.
    Women need to not be so harsh on themselves. Maybe that will help us know. I loved how you wrote this post with instances from book. Great post.

Comments are closed.