• Image Innovators SA

5 Mistakes women make at work (and how not to make them)

While women are increasingly valued for their unique strengths and insights in the workplace, studies show that men still dominate the most influential positions in business. So how do we navigate this reality and position ourselves as role models for future generations of women? As we strive to close the gender gap, let’s start by identifying some of the common - and often unconscious - mistakes women make and find ways to move past them in order to realise our full potential.



1. Dressing for the job we have, instead of the job we want


A poor professional image can ruin your business reputation, especially in the early stages of your career. Your professional image is your identity in the corporate world and is often the basis on which clients and colleagues form an opinion of you.


Take a cue from other women in your workplace or industry – how do the higher-ups dress? Dress like they do, but do it your way. Portraying the right professional image will motivate people to take you seriously and recognise you for your ideas and contributions.


2. Having a passive voice


As women, we often equate passiveness with being polite and can end up fading into the background as a result. Don’t be afraid to use your voice. Be the one to follow up on a job interview, take the lead on an important conversation, propose questions or voice your opinion in a meeting. Ask your manager for more responsibility or a promotion if you feel you are ready for it. Don’t forget to also focus on nonverbal communication cues like posture, gestures, eye contact and tone.


Use that voice and be strong. - Kamala Harris

Speaking on women in the workplace, Vice President of the United States, Kamala Harris, said: “You’re going to walk into many rooms in your life and career where you may be the only one who looks like you or who has had the experiences you’ve had. But you remember that when you are in those rooms, you are not alone. We are all in that room with you applauding you on. Cheering your voice. And just so proud of you. So you use that voice and be strong.”


3. Using 'out-of-power' language


Do you ever find yourself framing your suggestions as questions, or using phrases like: “I'm sorry”, "Could you possibly?” and “Correct me if I'm wrong...”? Do you often use emojis and exclamation marks in your emails?


The words you choose and how you put them together have a profound impact on the way you are perceived. Work on being confident and direct when sharing your ideas. Don't soften your requests or critiques with emojis, and stop prefacing your statements with apologies. You are in the position you are because you are smart, aware and capable. Trust your ability to communicate. Speak with integrity and truth. Use your voice and be strong.


4. Trying to be liked


It’s a hard lesson to learn, but spending energy trying to get your colleagues to like you may hinder your career growth. People who strive to be liked are generally more submissive and indecisive. While it’s great to have a good rapport with your co-workers, it’s important to remember that being liked is not the same as being respected. And in the workplace, respect is what matters most.


5. Being afraid to say “no”


How often have you made the mistake of taking on too many tasks in an attempt to show what a great team player you are, or how valuable you are to the organisation? A few projects that play to your strengths, are delivered on time and exceed expectations will do far more for your professional credibility than a string of under-par performances.


When you overcommit, deadlines tend to slip, the quality of your work suffers and you quickly earn the reputation of being 'unreliable'.


Don't confuse being busy with being productive. Productivity is working on what matters.

Give some thought to your priorities. Discuss these with your team and with your manager and get their buy in. Write them down. Make a commitment to yourself and your colleagues to focus on these areas. When a task comes up that doesn't align with your priorities, don't let it hijack your focus. Practice saying 'no'. In essence, when you say no, you are actually saying yes to all the ways that you bring the most value to your team and your organisation. Don't confuse being busy with being productive. Productivity is working on what matters.



Would you like to learn more about how to develop your professional image and help others to do the same? Find out more about our image consultant training courses here.