By Trish Burridge
“Sorry but can I just ask you to repeat that last number?”
“Sorry, umm, sorry would you mind if I…”
“Sorry now but, sorry, can I just ask if it would be okay if I expressed a thought?”
Sound familiar? Okay, so that last one might be a bit of a stretch, although unfortunately not as much of a stretch as you might imagine. What is it about women and their attachment to prefacing almost every statement or question with ‘sorry’?
I have spent the last 12 years managing teams and currently, in my role as Director, Consulting Services EMEA and India, I work with around 40 people, many of whom are women. And if I had a pound for every time I hear someone start a sentence with the word ‘sorry’, I’d like to think I’d stay with Skillsoft, but…..
This universal—and very popular—predilection by women for opening all remarks with an apology has thankfully become a matter for attention. The internet is awash with articles and blogs discussing the various reasons behind this phenomenon and what it means for women in the workplace. The topic even got its own hashtag – #sorrynotsorry – as part of a campaign launched to encourage women to not only stop saying sorry, but also to feel stronger and more confident, and not just at work.
Since it is unlikely I will get rich from hearing others saying “sorry,” I decided instead to turn it around. I began asking these women why they felt the need to apologise. And not surprisingly, most of their reasons boiled down to a confidence issue – many felt conscious of looking like they were not smart enough, not techie enough, not experienced enough. In short, many simply felt that were not sure they belonged in their position, that they are not “worthy of being here.”
This got me thinking. All of these women are highly capable and competent, and yet they all appear to be suffering from Imposter Syndrome, a term coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes. What this means is that the individual feels like a fraud, undeserving of their success. Someone with this syndrome simply awaits the moment when they will be unmasked and revealed as the impostor they believe they are. Consequently, any success is attributed to luck, timing or fooling others rather than perceived as a reflection of hard work and achievements.
Armed with this knowledge I am now waging my own war against “sorry,” against all those times women doubt or devalue themselves. I continually remind everyone I work with that it is better to speak up – even if what you say reveals that you have no idea what is going on – because everything you say is valuable. Often it takes one person speaking up to highlight a fault or an error in how material was presented or communicated.
As someone who was guided (well, you might say pushed) into management, I know from personal experience just how difficult it can be to always believe in yourself. That although I know that my current role reflects my abilities, it doesn’t mean I do not sometimes suffer moments of self-doubt. Of course I do. I think in truth everyone does–as it should be. But I do not let these wobbles detract from my overall sense of my worth. And that is the most important lesson of all – to keep that niggle, that momentary blip, in perspective and to outwardly demonstrate that “Yeah – I got this.”
And no, I'm not sorry.
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Trish Burridge is Director of Consulting Services for EMEA and India at Skillsoft.