I’m not ready yet… Why Women Don’t Get Paid For Their Potential

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I have a female client, J, transitioning careers who just woke up to how she’s getting in her own way – and mustering the courage to stop. This post celebrates her, and every other woman who’s decided to “get ready to be ready” to take that next step and talk up her achievements for the next job, instead of reinforcing for everyone around her how good a fit she is in her current job.

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Research says that men are paid based on their potential while women are paid based on their performance and I believe this is a contributor to the equal pay gap. I used to find this curious but now I think I understand why. Most of the women I know are much more comfortable doing good work in their current job than they are talking up their accomplishments and what great capabilities they have for future opportunities.

While there’s nothing wrong with this desire to focus on getting the job done – on the surface – below the surface, it’s clear this is hurting us in more ways that a thinner wallet.

Meet J

My client, J, has a strong resume, plenty of experience relevant to her career switch, a social media following in her new career and is smart as a whip. We got into a conversation about promoting herself in her new field because she wanted to join my Coaching Circle to help women self-promote authentically and naturally – without feeling that “icky feeling” so many of us get when we have an opportunity to take credit and promote ourselves for the good work we do. J really wanted to join the circle but felt she wasn’t sure the time was right. I asked her why and she said was still working on getting her transition strategy together and wasn’t ready to tell people about her new career direction. “How long have you been working on it?” I asked. “Five months,” she replied. “Are you working in your old career now?” I probed. “Not really, I’m committed to make the switch.”

“How long is it going to take you to started talking to other people about this? People who could help you get work in your new field?” I asked. “I don’t know,” she said, “I’m not ready yet.”

This struck a bell for me because I recognized in her answer something that holds back the most accomplished of women. The new CEO of IBM, Virginia Rometty, told a story of how she once responded to new job opportunity with “I’m not ready yet,” until her husband pointed out that a man would never say that, even if it were true.

Why Women Wait To Be Ready

Women do this to ourselves all the time (myself included, until recently.) We tell ourselves the story that “I’m not ready” and so guess what? We’re not. And it’s not because we don’t have the qualifications, ideas or potential, it’s because we talk ourselves into waiting. And everyone around us knows instinctively that we’re really NOT ready because we don’t believe we are – at least we don’t believe we are enough to tell others we are. Often we hope someone else will see our potential, believe on our behalf we’re ready, and take us by the hand to guide us along the new path without us every having to acknowledge this. We have this fantasy of holding back, modestly protesting that we’re not ready and have the boss or the client SO confident in our abilities that they override us and give the big job and then back us up to make sure we’re successful. Early in our careers this does happen sometimes and it’s great when it does, but at some point, people start expecting us to do it for ourselves. When this point comes, the guys make the transition and learn from the handholding how to do it themselves. But many of the women don’t; instead we hit the glass-ceiling of our own self-confidence.

I’ve learned that there are multiple reasons for this. Girls/women aren’t encouraged to take risks on the playground, girls/women feel held to a higher standard, girls/women are perfectionists etc. etc. etc. Well, girls, it’s time to grow up. As women we can’t afford to hang around, stuck in whatever old story is holding onto us back, and keep waiting. Time’s running out.

Where Are The Women Mentors? Look To The Side

The other story we tell ourselves is that we don’t have women mentors showing us how to do this, so how can we learn? It’s true that there aren’t as many senior women around to model this kind of personal “I’m ready!” risk-taking behavior, and many of the women who have made it aren’t always so good at it either. We’re all a product of our culture, after all. But there is a way. Don’t look to your elders, look to your peers. Leverage the power of girlfriends.

I’m not talking about sleepover girlfriends here, I’m talking about professional female colleagues who can see and mirror your value and potential to you and accept you doing the same for them (which helps build your own confidence). It’s a formula that has personally helped me and many others I support learn to help each other stop telling the stories that hold us back and start stepping up to finding ways around that “icky feeling” when it comes to promoting ourselves as “Ready” to the world. And we have to believe we’re ready so others believe it and help us get that next, great job or project. They’re not going to do it for us anymore, but they will step up and help us out when we’re ready.

Not just any girlfriend will do. It has to be someone willing to put their own ego aside and SEE your true potential and then hold a mirror up to help YOU SEE it, too. I call these special ladies in our lives “promo-buddies” because they don’t let us believe our stories and they challenge us to see ourselves as capable and full of potential as they see us.

I’ve also learned that while some of us find a few of them in our personal lives, many of our closest women friends can’t or won’t do this for us. Too many of our close friends and family have their own stuff in the way or just don’t really understand our professional environment well enough to help us in this way. It’s a mistake to expect them to so stop feeling bitter if your inner circle isn’t supporting you this way and go find some of these special promo-buddy ladies. To find them, you have to go looking for them.

This is why J wanted to join our Coaching Circle. We’re bringing together a community of women to do this for each other. To get over the “I’m not ready” syndrome and help each other find the “non-icky” ways we can promote ourselves before time runs out.

“J,” I pointed out gently, “you realize you’re saying you’re not ready to get ready to be ready, don’t you?” J laughed and agreed that after five months of prep and more than that of “getting ready to get ready,” she was ready to be ready! She joined the Coaching Circle.

I would like to invite anyone reading this post to join J and I on October 23 at noon Eastern for a free discussion call to learn about the process that got her to the “I’m ready” point and to hear the stories of other women too. We’ll invite call attendees to share their stories as well. (The call will be recorded so go ahead and sign up to hear the recording if you’re reading this after the live call.) As I’ll share on the call, I have my own story I’m putting aside around this “I’m ready” thing. Because for most of us, this is an ongoing challenge that we have to keep getting over and then get over some more. Another reason why having these special promo-buddy friends is so important!

Time is running out. Stop waiting and get ready to be ready, now. There are ways to talk up your accomplishments and potential that don’t feel icky. Promo-buddy girlfriends can help but no one can do this but you. You’re ready now!

Aren't you? What's your “I'm not ready” story? When have you overcome it and “been ready” and had it work out well? When have you gotten in your own way? Share your experience in comments below!

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5 COMMENTS

  1. This is a great post! I “wasn’t ready” to start a photography business for years…but now I have a web presence and am doing shoots. I’m actually in the middle of rebranding (including a price hike) and will need to do things like more networking and actual advertising (somewhere), which is made more difficult because I don’t have much money. BUT I’m doing it! I don’t like feeling stuck. A friend of mine says that if you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward. How true that is. Thanks for writing this post.

  2. Hi Laura thanks for your reply. In retrospect, do you think you were ready sooner than you thought at the time before you jumped out on your own?

  3. Dana, yes, in retrospect I was ready before I actually struck out on my own. However, I have come to learn that fear plays a big part in my life (though less now). It has, in the past, ruled my life in many respects. Fear of failure, fear of looking like a fool, fear of doing things wrong, fear of putting myself and my vulnerabilities “out there”…you name it. I believe that fear can either be a great motivator or it can stop you from doing things. For me, it stops me dead in my tracks. Now that I have a handle on it, though, I feel the fear for a while, consider it and try to figure out if it’s real or imagined. Sometimes I can learn from it. But I move through it.

  4. I started before I was ready and I’m glad I did. Then I read an article about how when you follow your calling, the truth is, you’re not necessarily great yet, or even fully know what you’re doing. But that’s the point. You learn by doing. I told my son when he was frustrated learning to tie his shoes that it was something he would have to learn. You can’t know how to do it before you know how to do it. There is always a transitional period in a new endeavor that is called learning. Of course we are always learning and transitioning and that is what allows us to continue the process of becoming more and more great.

  5. Laura & Anna – I got such a good vibe reading your comments. We’re on the same path. Always learning and overcoming fear. Anna I can resonate with your experience starting before you’re ready and learning by doing. Throughout my career whenever I’ve done that it’s ALWAYS paid off! Laura, maybe you can relate to this… whenever I lean into the fear and overcome it, the next time there’s less of it there. In some places, I”ve managed to move out of fear all together – but it takes lots of practice! Thanks for reading and commenting, Ladies!