But despite these gains, we’re still our own worst enemies when it comes to money.
According to a recent report by the Joint Economic Committee of Congress, women who work full-time earn nearly $11,000 less per year than men, which adds up to almost half a million dollars over the course of a career. Women earn 79 percent of what a man earns.
For younger women, the outlook is especially bleak. An April report released by the Economic Policy Institute states that gender wage inequality has grown since 2000. Recent female college graduates earned 6.8 percent less than in 2000, but recent male college graduates earned 8.1 more.
Our restrictive beliefs—I call them icebergs—keep us from asking for the salaries, benefits, and respect we deserve. We’re still not demanding that people acknowledge our value. Why? Because we’re caught up in a set of false beliefs about how the world works: We’re not good enough, perfect enough, likeable enough. To which I say: enough.
Here are six key icebergs that hold us back, stunt our growth, and deceive us into believing that we’re just not capable. These beliefs create confidence barriers and escalate our stress levels. I think of them like minefields: We don’t see them until they blow us up. Which is why we need to eliminate them before they strike.
“I lucked into my success.” You don’t take credit for what you’ve earned and accomplished. You think of your triumphs as flukes, or strokes of dumb luck. You somehow imagine that you didn’t work hard enough to earn your clout, and you don’t feel worthy of your title or your career. Own your successes. This sense of self-possession creates new opportunities. You’re successful because you worked for it—not because you stumbled into good fortune while lazing your way to the top. Nobody is that lucky.
“The world should be fair.” The world isn’t fair. People don’t play by our own set of rules, and we can’t control the world around us. We’re not going to get ahead unless we ask for more money, demand what we deserve, and take control of our future. Nobody else is looking out for us, so we need to look out for ourselves. Just as you’re not owed anything, nobody is going to hand you a raise. You need to ask for it. And, by the way, getting paid what you’re worth is perfectly fair.
“I must be perfect and do everything right.” The perfect spouse, the perfect mom, the perfect employee. This is impossible: One late meeting, and you miss baseball practice; one day at home with a sick kid, and you’re afraid you’ll look bad to your boss. It’s a house of cards that’s bound to fall. These icebergs are in direct conflict with one another, and when these quests for perfection collide, we fall apart. We just can’t be perfect at everything all the time, and the more we pursue perfection (and fail!), the more we’ll feel un-entitled to success. Your work needs are not in conflict with your personal needs; there’s a time for each.
“Avoid conflict at all costs.” This ties into my point above. We’re so focused on making sure we do everything properly and avoid rocking the boat that we undermine ourselves. Sometimes your worlds will be in opposition, and that’s OK. Sometimes you’ll disagree with a colleague, and that’s fine, too. You might even alienate a few people as you rise through the ranks. This is normal. If your life is completely free of conflict, it’s also free of risks. And without risks, you won’t get anywhere.
“I need to protect myself from failure.” From the time we’re little girls, we’re trained to be careful, to be a likeable “good girl.” We’re cautioned against taking big leaps that could hurt us; we shouldn’t make waves. But the only way to get ahead is to be fearless and to take those risks. We’re not hurting anyone by making waves, but we’re hurting ourselves by trying to insulate ourselves from false threats.
“It’s my job to make sure people are happy.” You know those speeches that flight attendants make before the plane takes off, about fastening your mask before helping someone else? It’s true in life: Your job is to make yourself happy, and only then can you help others. Women often get into a rut of thinking that if they please themselves, they’re somehow depriving someone else. But by asking for a raise, you’re not making someone else unhappy by depriving them—you’re simply setting the foundation for being a better employee yourself because you feel valued.
In order to fully succeed, we absolutely must steer around these icebergs. They impede our ability to get what we need. But there’s a domino effect, too. This issue is bigger than our own beliefs. If we know our own value, we’re then able to create more wealth and positions of power for future generations. By building a foundation of powerful women—on boards, in executive roles, in positions of influence across fields—we’re changing the paradigms. We’re investing in our own successes, and we’re also investing in the future.
The author Jan Bruce is CEO and co-founder of meQuilibrium, the digital coaching platform based on the science of resilience.