How Women Rise | Sally Helgesen

Summary of: How Women Rise: Break the 12 Habits Holding You Back from Your Next Raise, Promotion, or Job
By: Sally Helgesen


Welcome to the summary of ‘How Women Rise: Break the 12 Habits Holding You Back from Your Next Raise, Promotion, or Job’ by Sally Helgesen. This book sheds light on the common habits that hold women back professionally. From underplaying personal achievements and excessive self-reproach to the pursuit of perfection in work environments, this book delves into various behaviors that lead to career stagnation for many women. It emphasizes the importance of acknowledging one’s worth, overcoming the ‘disease to please,’ and cultivating a willingness to take risks.

The Power of “I” – Women Taking Credit for Their Success

In the book summary, “How Women Rise,” the author Sally Helgesen interviews successful women to discover what may hold younger female professionals back. The feedback was unanimous – women struggle to use the word “I.”

Senior women in accounting, consulting, and law agree that their female subordinates deliver high-quality work and tend to work harder than men, but they undervalue and underplay their individual contributions to a team’s success. Being overly modest harms women’s careers more than advances them.

The authors have observed that men distrust self-deprecating women, considering them inauthentic. In a management role, not taking credit on behalf of one’s team is a failure to acknowledge their hard work, resulting in demotivation and resentment from staff.

The reluctance to take credit for personal achievements is prevalent among professional women, spanning diverse industries and various hierarchical levels. The problem is seen as polite behavior, but it can hinder women’s career growth.

Disease to Please

Women’s desire to please robs them of authority and success in the workplace.

Women have long been conditioned to prioritize the needs of others in both their personal and professional lives, while men are not taught to do so. This “disease to please” is especially prevalent among women, who are encouraged to be obedient, helpful, and agreeable from a young age. Even in the workplace, women are often hired for roles that require fulfilling the needs of others, where being assertive is not seen as an asset.

The excessive desire to please others holds women back and robs them of their capacity to exercise authority. Women who have a need to please fear letting people down and making others unhappy, even temporarily. This prevents them from being direct and decisive, which is crucial to success in both leadership and non-leadership positions.

To overcome this “disease to please,” women must learn to prioritize their own needs and not let the desire to please others get in the way of their success. By being assertive and confident, women can exercise authority and achieve their goals, without fearing the displeasure of others.

Avoid Excessive Expertise

Excessive expertise can hinder career progression, especially for women in male-dominated industries. Instead, focus on building workplace connections to position yourself for promotion. In male-dominated workspaces, women feel pressure to prove their competence, leading them to internalize a need for excessive expertise. However, developing such expertise can hinder career growth by leaving less time to nurture relationships with colleagues and clients. To grow professionally, women should aim to fit into the role they aspire to, not just their current position.

The Power of Taking Up Space

At a board meeting years ago, the author witnessed women making themselves physically smaller, while men spread out to take up as much space as possible. This behavior is common in professional environments, with women crossing their legs, pressing their arms to their sides, and keeping their belongings close. Such behavior can hold women back as it communicates submissiveness, which can be interpreted by those in positions of power as a lack of commitment. Neuroscientists have found that the act of drawing oneself in and making oneself smaller undermines attempts to communicate power and authority. Women also tend to use phrases that suggest uncertainty, further reinforcing this submissive image. To counter this, women need to actively take up space, both physically and verbally, by not being afraid to speak up and make their presence known. Doing so can improve their image in the eyes of business leaders and help them communicate power and authority.

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