Professional Growth: Insights and Strategies From a Woman’s Perspective

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Professional Growth: Insights and Strategies From a Woman’s Perspective

I'm thrilled to share an insightful conversation I recently had with one of my former clients. Here she shares her amazing journey [which I’m proud to have supported] in her career, as she climbed the ranks from an intern to a partner at a multinational corporation. Throughout our discussion, she opens up about the unique challenges she faced in the corporate world, and how building support within her company and her therapy played a crucial role in her journey. This interview not only highlights her personal growth but also offers valuable lessons on navigating workplace dynamics, overcoming gender biases, how to advocate for yourself and mastering some of the relational tools needed for growth. (To ensure confidentiality, her name has been changed.)


Ann: Hi Lauren. Let’s begin with sharing a little bit about your career trajectory immediately out of college.

Lauren: Well, when I was finishing my postgraduate degree, I was offered a summer internship at a multinational corporation and upon graduation, I was offered a full-time position as an associate. I spent several years working my way up through the ranks to become a partner. Through a combination of working hard, creating the right support system, and getting emotional support, I was able to progress at an accelerated rate compared to most people.

From Innocence to Awareness

Ann: What was your initial experience and how did it transform?

Lauren: As you know, since you were there, I moved from my smaller hometown to a major city and from college to a global company, all of which was so exciting. In many ways, I got swept up by the allure, and that, combined with my naivete, led to unexpected painful experiences. I had blinders on to how the corporate culture worked. For example, as one of the only women in my starting class, I entered the corporate workforce in a technology role, a field dominated by men. But at the time, I did not make those connections.

Ann: I’m wondering when you realized you needed support and decided to call me?

Lauren: It was when I began to have visceral reactions to things happening at work that I couldn't understand. I just knew that I was experiencing anxiety, self-doubt, and a tremendous amount of stress and pressure to prove myself. And whenever I felt like I made a mistake or wasn't doing 110%, I would take those setbacks very intensely.

Ann: Lauren, I can’t tell you how often I hear this story from women I’ve worked with.  They blame themselves and can’t figure out why their hard work isn't recognized, why they're experiencing so much stress and anxiety. What would you say to those women?

Lauren: With the help of therapy and aligning myself with supportive colleagues, I became aware of the environmental factors that contributed to many of my emotional responses. Had I not gained that clarity, I could have continued in that unhealthy way. Realizing that my need to be perfect reflected a gender bias was eye-opening.

This bias wasn't always conscious; it’s accepted, assumed and embedded in our world. After all, it's so rare to find a young woman in a large corporate technology role. People around me, right or wrong, had a perception that women couldn't perform that function. I felt like I constantly needed to prove I belonged, not just by showing up but by demonstrating my technical skills.

So to women facing this, I'd say, be aware of the factors driving you to perfection. It's not just you; these biases remain because of persistent perceptions that women can't handle certain roles in the workforce.  Overcoming these factors isn't something you can do alone.  Identify advocates who see your worth and help you show your value. I've been in multiple positions where what made the difference was that someone supported me when dealing with people who didn't appreciate my contributions.

Breaking the Myth of Self-Reliance: The Importance of Advocates and Allies

Ann: What you're saying is crucial. It breaks the prevailing myth that we can do it alone. How did you come to realize that you couldn't do it alone, that you needed support?

Lauren: When I started, like you said, I firmly believed I could handle it on my own. I thought I was immune to these biases because they weren't happening overtly like in movies or the news. And, their subtlety made them hard to see. Many conversations I had in therapy brought these biases to life.

The problem, which is really unfortunate for women, is that you can't just approach any senior colleague and ask them to be an ally. You need people who recognize that women are underrepresented and acknowledge these biases exist. That can be hard. Many of my friends who work in corporate America struggle to find such allies, often forcing tough decisions about staying in a workplace.  Fortunately, a couple of years into my career, around the time I started therapy, I began working with a manager who openly called out these biases. I remember a meeting where I was the only woman among 15 men, tucked in a corner. This manager stopped the meeting and asked, "Why is there one woman in the room, and why is she in the corner?" It was crickets! And while I felt humiliated at that moment, I was grateful for his courage. Seeing this was a lightbulb moment: I needed to align myself with people like him! He built an ecosystem of people with the same mentality, and I did everything I could to align with him and his team. This network became my core support system.

Building Authentic Workplace Relationships: Distinguishing Mentorship from Advocacy

Ann: Many people are afraid to ask for help and haven’t developed the skills to build those relationships, especially at work. As you aligned with your team, what did you learn and how did you grow?

Lauren: There's a misconception that you have to be rigid and "professional" all the time. In reality, you can find ways to bring your authentic self into conversations, just like building relationships outside of work. If you're rigid and cold, those relationships won't be strong.  When I saw people who could be my advocates, I learned about them and talked about myself. Now that I'm a manager, I tell my team, "I want to know everything. I want to hear about your weekend plans, the good, the bad, the ugly." How else can you build relationships if it's only about the job?

Ann: I’m inspired by what you're saying and hope you represent a new generation of workplace leadership. What would you say to women who have the kind of relationships you're describing but whose colleagues ignore gender bias?

Lauren: There are still many who recognize gender inequities but won't acknowledge them when they occur, attributing why a woman was denied a promotion or raise to other factors like affordability or saying, "You just didn't do X." These people rationalize and actually believe this narrative.  I've learned that expanding your network and having different mentor relationships is key. I collected mentors like playing cards. I had a mentor who deepened my technical skills and another to help with customer relationships. But, and this is important, not all stood up for me in a room full of men. Only a small handful did, and those were the people I trusted to help when I wasn't treated fairly or given equity.  For promotion conversations, I knew who would vouch for my work, but I trusted only a small group to hold firm and not let biases affect my career.

The Promotion Process

Ann: Can we revisit what you said earlier about the lesson you learned that outperforming your responsibilities and hitting metrics did not guarantee success? 

Lauren: I believed that if you did your job well, you'd naturally get promotions and raises. Unfortunately, these decisions aren't made in a vacuum; you're compared to your peers and in those closed meetings, managers jockey for their teams.  Make your intentions clear to decision-makers and keep them involved in your process. When senior colleagues meet and compare you with others, you could fall behind if you haven't done that.

Ann: What if someone doesn't have an accessible or supportive manager?

Lauren: Yes, of course. Ask your manager, "What's the performance review process like? Who makes decisions?" If your manager doesn't help socialize your case, you will need to do it yourself by meeting others on the decision committee. It's not about bypassing your manager.  You need to keep them in the loop, saying something like, "Just a heads up, I mentioned my business case to so-and-so." Take charge but be tactful to avoid burning bridges.

Beyond Tunnel Vision: How Therapy Nurtured My Professional Journey

Ann: You mentioned a couple of ways our therapeutic work helped you see the work culture and overcome challenges.  Can you say more?

Lauren: Again, I think the most important thing was becoming aware of what was happening around me. I don't know where I'd be if therapy didn't help me with that. 

Ann: How were you made aware?

Lauren: Through one-on-one and group therapy, I discussed work situations but with tunnel vision. I'd think, "This happened to me specifically, so I must be the problem." Group therapy broadened my perspective. To others in the group, it was often clear that a male leader was pitting me against another woman, creating competition.  The group empowered me and help me address not feeling good enough, with blaming myself and dealing with men relating to me in ways that felt uncomfortable.  

The fact that the group wasn't directly involved in my world was also helpful.  It could offer an outside perspectivs. Hearing things like, "This happens to everyone" or "You're not alone" was a huge aha moment. The challenges I faced weren't unique but common to many women. That was sad but also comforting.

Therapy provided a community to engage these issues.  We created lifelong tools that I continue to access today. After a tough day, I can talk through challenges and seek help and support, which is a life-saver. 

 If workplace stress is impacting your mental health, Ann Green, NP, a psychiatric nurse practitioner and social therapist with over 35 years of experience can help you develop tools for your emotional and professional growth. Contact us at Psych Options NYC, our private practice located in Midtown Manhattan (near Penn Station), New York City, to schedule a virtual or in-person consultation.