Traditionally, the best way for women to get ahead was by being adaptable. If you came to a new organization feeling like the clichéd square peg in a round hole, it was the job of that square peg to shave off its edges, smooth its sides and make itself better suited to its surroundings. While it often helped with advancement, it came at the cost of all those little pieces of oneself that got left behind. Now, a courageous new wave of female leadership is helping us celebrate not only the square pegs, but every other shape as well.
Having risen to the top, Inview Champion and General Counsel at Glowforge Megan Fouty, is making it her mission to inform women that their path to leadership should not require such sacrifices, even though her career started down such a path.
“For a while, I would change who I was based on feedback," she says. "If someone said, 'You’re too bubbly and smiley, I would work hard on being more serious in meetings. If I were told, ‘You really should dress up’ or ‘So and so likes it when women show up and look girly,’ I would think I've got to go get my hair done, get a new outfit, or whatever.”
Fortunately, she began to notice a trend whereby the closer she was to her authentic self the better she performed, and ultimately the further she progressed. It was as if not having to focus on maintaining those illusory work personas freed up more of her capacity to concentrate on getting her work done, and getting it done well.
“To some extent we all have our self-work to do; there’s ways to be a better public speaker, to articulate yourself better. What I realized was that finding out the way I wanted to lead authentically, becoming okay with that and then perfecting it, yielded much better results. It was better than trying to change what I am or the way I am and showing up as something else entirely different, because quite frankly I sucked at being something else."
Fouty's advice? "If you want to show yourself in your very best light, it’s about perfecting your authentic self and not changing to be something else."
It is important to acknowledge that perfecting your authentic self is much easier said than done, and that in some circumstances it may not be wholly possible as it requires a great deal of self-confidence, not to mention a work environment that wants to celebrate your difference. But the change in how you feel about yourself and the work you deliver will be not insignificant, and if it requires you jumping to more supportive pastures to do so, that is a decision worth considering.
Because Fouty came to this realization when she’d already begun her ascent to more senior positions, it was more about self-confidence and reminding herself that the organization hired her for her.
“What changed was I stopped focusing on how to adapt myself to fit in. I stopped trying to be or do what other people wanted. Instead, I began to focus on how to grow who I am authentically, and I kept reminding myself that’s the leader who was hired in the first place.”
It takes courage, confidence and determination to represent yourself fully and authentically at work. It means you must disregard others' perceptions and expectations and deliver a version of yourself that is uniquely you. While there may be doubts and growing pains, putting in the hard yards can help you achieve a work life where you feel complete rather than fragmented. You deserve to be yourself.