5 hurdles facing creative women, and how to overcome them

5 hurdles facing creative women, and how to overcome them

What are the most common stumbling blocks for creative women and how do you overcome them?

I love my job. I'm passionate about my industry and helping people thrive within it. I consider myself a creative leader, and for the past six months, I’ve had the honour to be president of SheSays London. Founded 11 years ago by Laura Jordan Bambach and Alessandra Lariu, it's the only global creative network for women. It’s been a fantastic opportunity to learn, teach, and expand my leadership skills.

It has also given me insights into personality traits, concepts and attitudes that are hurdles for creative women like me who are on our way up. Here are five of the most common stumbling blocks as well as my insights on how to overcome them.


1. Ditch the perfection paralysis

Perfectionism: in psychology, is a personality trait characterised by a person's striving for flawlessness and setting high-performance standards, accompanied by critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others' evaluations.

Perfection is unreal and unachievable. Aiming for it will only lead to frustration and inertia. In some cases, it can lead to depression.

When I feel paralysed by perfectionism, I remember that there is a difference between striving for excellence and demanding perfection. And I tell myself, ‘this is my very best’ rather than, ‘it has to be perfect’.

Here’s my formula for that:

Perfection = Your best + Real world - Unrealistic expectations.

2. Address your impostor syndrome

Impostor Syndrome: is a psychological pattern in which people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalised fear of being exposed as a fraud. The term was coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes.

I've struggled with Impostor syndrome. I've also seen it in most creative women. It's probably the most widespread creative block amongst us. The good news is if you have it, you’re not alone. The bad news is it can be a barrier in your career path.

In my opinion, it’s unlikely that we’ll ever get rid of it, all we can do is manage it. Dare I say, make friends with it. Research shows that keeping a diary is one of the most effective ways to deal with this issue. She then suggests keeping a journal of our self-doubting thoughts/actions.

I love this idea and encourage us all to write our impostor diaries, daily. And until then, how about a bit of ‘fake it until you make it’?

3. Ditch the self-promotion phobia

Phobia: an extreme fear or dislike of a particular thing or situation, especially one that cannot be reasonably explained.

Most creative women fear self-promotion without any reasonable explanation. A fear reflected in a SheSays event about networking and self-promotion in which almost everybody in the room talked about how much they hate it.

Then we can cut to the following common scenarios: male creatives go to the pub after work and chat about their work and the awards they've won over a beer or two. Women don’t get invited to the pub and go home. In a performance review, men talk about how much they contribute to the business. Women listen and welcome tips on how to improve their performance. Men proactively send their work to newspapers and magazines to be published. Women think the work is not good enough (see Perfectionism above). Men get a promotion; women drop out of our industry.

Let's treat self-promotion as part of the job, not something to be avoided; the more you talk about how proud you are of your work and performance, the less awkward it becomes.

4. Be the change you want to see

There are very few creative women in leadership positions in our industry. Fact! And as they say ‘you can’t be what you can’t see.’ Pause. But hang on! How about the saying ‘Be the change you want to see’?

We have a choice. We can decide what to tell ourselves. We can choose between an internal narrative that will bring us to a halt and one that will propel us forward. What will you be saying?

5. Get comfortable with the fear of failure

It’s ok to fear failure. I’m terrified of failing. As I write this article, I worry it’ll fail to communicate my key points the right way. But, the problems really come when we allow our fear to stop us from doing the things that can move us forward and achieve our goals. Our fear hides behind the mask of ‘limiting’ excuses; ‘I’m too busy to write that article’. ‘I can’t go to that networking event; I don’t look smart enough’. ‘I’ll never get that promotion because I have a kid and ‘only’ work four days a week'.

There are two things we can do here;  firstly identify when it’s a genuine excuse or a camouflaged fear of failure. Secondly follow the best advice I’ve ever heard, from the legend that is Vicki Maguire "It’s not a failure. IT'S-A-LESSON’. We learn more from our mistakes than from our wins."

The fear we all experience will probably never go away, but at least we can choose to see it differently. As with all the other stumbling blocks I mention here it is only by recognising and addressing them that we can help to be the change we want to see. 

Fabiana Xavier is a creative lead and president of She Says London

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