Women: It's Time to Change the Way We Talk to Ourselves

By: Jennifer Farrer

You’ve probably recently seen my bold statement that I’ve made my life’s mission to get more women in the C-suite.

As I’ve made this sweeping declaration public, I thought I better ask myself... well, if I want more women in the C-suite, what's keeping us from getting there?

Yes, there is ​bias and prejudice in the system, and every woman in the workforce today has grown up in it. But to me, breaking the glass ceiling will not result from prescribing how women should behave in the workplace — lean in, but don’t step on toes; speak up, but not too loudly; be like the boys, but better yet, lead with femininity; improve your "​executive presence." These are prescriptions for addressing the symptoms, behaviors, and not the big, complex, thorny issue at the heart of it all.

We as women have to change the way we talk to ourselves. We have to change the patterns of thinking and feeling that have us working in ways that aren’t working well to get us to the top—overcome our own self-doubt, silence our inner mean girl (because she’s a damn bully), challenge the distorted beliefs we have about ourselves and our place in the world. Because what's even more damaging than the broken system itself is what growing up in the broken system has done to our inner narrative.

For almost every businesswoman I’ve worked with, these patterns of thinking and feeling initiate in childhood, in the way adults talk to and about girls and boys. Things that we begin to believe about ourselves — that to get to the top, we have to do more than the boys, work harder, be smarter, faster, better. Oh and by the way, look pretty and don’t be a b*tch. Have it all, do it all, and do it all perfectly. These engrained messages over the 30, 40-year course of our education and career fuel an inner critic that says, “You are not ________ enough.”

What happens when we doubt ourselves is that it throws off our game in ways that (gasp—I know I’m going to catch a lot of flak about this) make us less competent leaders, make us less promotable. Self-doubt puts us in a defensive position, a threatened position. Physiologically, we feel that fight or flight response.

We hold ourselves back—we don’t speak up in the meeting, we don’t imagine the big possibilities, we don’t ask people for what we need.

We stay mired in the details — we get sh*t done, dammit — and that makes us the best right-hand-person to the boss, but then one day we’re up for a promotion and someone says we’re not strategic enough. Because out of fear that we’ll make a mistake with disastrous consequences, we don’t trust other people to get it done—disempowering them and leaving us with no time or space to think (or breathe).

We have something to prove. And when we feel like we have to prove our worth, we push our point of view, fighting to the death for “our way,” we don’t listen. We make mistakes because we haven’t considered all input, and what’s worse, we can cut others off at the knees.

Women, to rise up to being our best selves, living our best life and bringing the best of who we are to the workplace, we must address our inner life first. We must believe in ourselves. Believe that what we bring is enough. That WE are enough. 

This article previously appeared on ​LinkedIn.


Jennifer Farrer is a leadership coach, trainer, and speaker known for her no-nonsense approach to getting at what’s really holding you back and a knack for having tough conversations with both warmth and persistence. Drawing on her training in social sciences, research into wellbeing and work, and own experience in management, she helps business people lead better--and lead better lives.

Ellevate Network is a global women’s network: the essential resource for professional women who create, inspire and lead. Together, we #InvestInWomen.

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