You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it. — Maya Angelou
You know the old saying, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Many women have taken that message to heart. Take the case of Oprah Winfrey, who started out as a television reporter, and was fired from one of her early jobs because producers thought she was “unfit for TV.” She persevered and not only proved she was fit for TV, she redefined it. Nora Ephron recalled an article returned from Glamour, “with a note that just about said never submit anything to us again … it will be fine if we never hear from you again.” Yet years later her words continue to inspire and entertain. J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter novels, was waitressing and on public assistance when she wrote the first installment of what would become one of the best-selling series in history–a book that was rejected by a dozen publishers before it was finally picked up. And Sallie Krawcheck, often called one of Wall Street’s most powerful women, was fired from Bank of America in 2011 before acquiring the influential women’s networking group, 85 Broads, and renaming it Ellevate Network. The list goes on and on of powerful, and successful women who have refused to give up and ultimately achieved their goals.
However, new research finds that when it comes to the workplace, many women are NOT trying again, and are letting rejection stand in their way. A study by researchers at Harvard Business School found that there is no gender gap when women think a promotion is within reach, it’s how women handle rejection that may contribute to the gap. The new research showed that women are less likely than men to apply for an executive job if they had been rejected from a similar job in the past. More specifically, they are less likely to apply to the same firm that had previously rejected them. Forbes reports that while men were also less likely to apply if they had been rejected, the effect was 1.5 times stronger for women.
So, the million-dollar question is why does workplace rejection impact women more than men? Are women less likely to take risks? Do women lack the confidence that men have to get back on track and try again? The study suggests that a woman’s past experience with inequality may explain her reaction to being denied a promotion or new position. Since childhood, it has been ingrained in women that executive jobs are primarily for men. Rejection further sends home the message that women don’t belong in the executive suite, and reinforces the notion that the odds are stacked against women, especially when it comes to senior positions.
While past experiences and conditioning may play a part, they key could be confidence. Fast Company reports that The Confidence Code authors Katty Kay and Claire Shipman found women tend to struggle with a lack of confidence disproportionately. When something goes wrong professionally, women blame themselves while crediting others when things go right. In their research, they also found that women are more likely to be perfectionists and hold themselves back from asking for a raise or even answering a question until they’re 100% sure the outcome will be as they predicted. With this limiting self-programing, it is unlikely that women lacking confidence will apply or re-apply for an executive job.
Don’t let being passed over for a promotion or denied an executive position be a defining negative event in your life. See it for what it is – a moment in time. Rejection and success go hand in hand, and all successful women have received their share of rejections. How they handle that rejection is what defines them. Women who can accept momentary rejection and use the experience to alter their course build resiliency to be better leaders when they do get promoted or land a new executive position.
One of the 9 Leadership Power Tools created by Leading Women co-author Gloria Feldt, co-founder and president of Take The Lead Women, Inc., is to “Carpe the Chaos.” Gloria tells women to embrace the reality and then forge a new plan. Regardless of the setback, it’s important that we get back in the game quickly. When women quit trying for the promotions, it impacts us all by moving us further away from parity and further ingraining the idea that women don’t belong in the C-suite. Women need to get to the top positions in order to make a greater impact. That requires working with our colleagues to create leadership environments throughout our organizations that are supportive to both women and men, and especially to provide women the support we need to keep our eye on the prize.