Self-Deprecation: Why Women use it as a Business Strategy

In many business situations, including taking credit, accepting a compliment, or even talking about their own work, the immediate knee-jerk reaction for many women is to put themselves down. In this satirical video clip [warning, adult language], comedian Amy Schumer and other female performers suggest that perhaps women do this because they have low self-esteem or hate themselves.

Consider how often you joke about yourself?  Do you constantly apologize, jokingly, when you ask a question? Do you push off credit, citing luck, or being surprised that you accomplish anything because usually, you’re a hot mess?  The temptation to self-deprecate is completely understandable. Research suggests that women who self-promote and behave assertively are more likely to be seen as pushy or arrogant than their male counterparts—displaying the same behavior. 

This is where self-deprecation can easily get tangled up with impostor syndrome. If you constantly tell others that you’re bluffing and blundering your way through life, putting yourself down offers a little safety net, but then becomes a vital truth. The assertion begins to be less joke and more projection. “I’m stumbling through my successes.”  Next thing you know, you believe the lies you’ve been telling everyone else, while you’re trying to convince them that you’re like-able.

But here’s the thing – you do know what you’re doing. Whether you’re a staff member at a big organization, a freelancer or a small business owner, if you’re hitting your targets, meeting your deadlines and managing to keep a roof over your head, you’ve proved that you’re more than capable. Don’t do yourself a disservice by pretending otherwise.

Research on gender stereotypes provides a powerful explanation for women’s use of self-deprecation. In western societies like the US, women are considered more empathetic, caring, supportive, and interdependent.  Conversely, men are seen as independent, ambitious, and the font in which decisions flow freely (without emotional constraints).

These stereotypes pose a significant barrier for women who want to highlight their accomplishments or advocate more assertively for rewards and recognition. Indeed, any type of self-promotion presents a dilemma for women. Any challenge to the typical gender stereotypes presents a dissonance of what a woman signifies in social norms, creating a backlash in social penalties.  Those consequences come from both men and women, who deem the lack of “ladylike” or womanly behavior an affront to the norm.  The penalties of that backlash can be social, organizational, and economic.

Successful women are caught in a catch-22: to overcome traditional negative stereotypes they are encouraged to adopt more stereotypical male behaviors, yet if they choose to do so, they are very likely to be penalized for violating the expected behaviors of women.

So, does self-deprecation work?  Sad honest truth, it does.  But like all things that are bad for us, it must be used in moderation, lest you fall into the trap of the imposter, or fall too far on the spectrum of perceived confidence.  You must walk the tight-rope of being effortlessly competent, while looking only a little halfhazzard, as you embrace the assumed overwhelming aspects of your too busy life.  This is the acceptable, successful, female. 

My personal opinion?  Self-deprecation is a socialized form of bullshi**.  Be a rockstar, be a good person, and be authentic in your accomplishments (and emotions).  Using self-deprecation in humor is a great way to connect with your team (transformational leaders know this), but it’s not an overall strategy for your career.

Go forth; be awesome.


Amanatullah ET, Morris MW. Negotiating gender roles: gender differences in assertive negotiating are mediated by women’s fear of backlash and attenuated when negotiating on behalf of others. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2010;98(2):256-267. doi:10.1037/a0017094


Top 5 Don’ts in Resolving Conflict

Conflict can arise in a myriad of situations and often is easily resolved when the individuals affected have the opportunity to sit down and openly discuss any issues.  However, there are specific things a person should never do when attempting conflict resolution, as the result will either escalate the current conflict, or create a situation where the issue may become the impetus behind greater problems. 

While not a complete list, here are the top five tactics to avoid when attempting to resolve conflict:

  1. Do not attempt a discussion when your emotions are running high.  If the incident has just occurred, it may be prudent to wait a day or two to make sure that you have taken a moment to process the event and feel confident that you can approach the individual as calmly and objectively as possible.  Walking into a situation when you are still emotional spells disaster for the outcome and often leaves all parties on the defensive.
  2. Do not make assumptions about the other party.  It is easy to infer intent when you are left without explanations, but it is never a starting point in which to engage another person.  It would be more advisable to enter the discussion by immediately giving the individual the benefit of the doubt.  When you start at a point of understanding, the other party is more apt to return that same courtesy.
  3. Do not make it personal.  If the conversation opens with a personal statement directed at the other party, you have doomed the entire venture.  People are more apt to accept criticism of an issue if they do not feel personally attacked.   Additionally, your credibility becomes a focus rather than the incident.
  4. Do not seek guidance from possibly biased individuals.  It’s human nature to want validation for our interpretation of conflict.  However, if you are only looking for validation and not an unbiased opinion that may disagree with your own, you are only reinforcing your own preconceived notions. 
  5. Do not create a hostile environment.  Once the conflict has reached a resolution, no matter how tenuous, do not create an environment of hostility by discussing the incident with others in a way that negatively affects the other party.  Once again, your credibility can be questioned, as well as the ethics and integrity surrounding the resolution.

Handling the resolution process is a delicate enterprise that often requires a certain amount of experience and emotional intelligence.  It is important to remember that in a conversation between two parties, there is only one person you can control… yourself.  With that in mind, there is a greater possibility to create an environment in which both parties feel comfortable with a resolution.

Solving Conflict like a Kindergartner | TEDxYouth@StansteadCollege
Patrick Young…Resolving conflict. In this talk, Patrick outlines the key ingredients for conflict resolution whether it be a simple conflict between two teenagers or a major conflict between world powers, all we need to do is listen actively, show empathy and have the courage to de-escalate the situation. Why is it not that easy?


Leigh, A. M. (2009). Prove it! Making sense of the ROI from developing people. Human Resource Management International Digest, (January), 1–15.

Lies, J. (2012). Internal communication as power management in change processes: Study on the possibilities and the reality of change communications. Public Relations Review, 38(2), 255–261. doi:10.1016/j.pubrev.2011.12.015

Steele, C. M. (1997). A threat in the air: How stereotypes shape intellectual identity and performance. American Psychologist, 52(6), 613–629.


Statements That May Unknowingly Make You a Poor Leader

The makeup of a great leader is always up for debate. Are they born? Are they created? Is it thrust upon them? Research suggests that those that are truly successful leaders have a higher level of emotional intelligence and intrinsically know how to adapt to situations, with exemplary communication skills to navigate any moment (Judge & Bono, 2001; Judge, Jackson, Shaw, Scott, & Rich, 2007; Rosete & Ciarrochi, 2005).

Other times, a person might be a great leader, but have little awareness of how some occasional slips may make their employees feel. It’s not that those leaders have a lower EQ, but that they—like the rest of us—are human. Like all humans, we sometimes don’t say the perfect thing, and may even have a fondness for the way our feet fit into our mouths.

Here are five foot-in-mouth worthy statements that can be received poorly by your employees:

“I don’t have time to discuss it right now.” You’re busy. Your staff understands that. However, when you make statements that indicate you don’t have time for them, you negate their importance. You are essentially saying, “I don’t have time for you,” and in the same breath, indicating their value is less than yours (Kim, Egan, Kim, & Kim, 2013).

“I don’t get involved in the minutia.” Let’s assume you made this statement with laugh, or offhand remark. Sadly, the implication is that you find yourself of a position that is too high on the ladder, or status, to be involved in lesser functions. While you may not have the skillset to perform certain tasks, all good leaders should be prepared to fill any position or complete any assignment.

“We’ve always done it this way.” Just never say this. Personally, I want to bang my head on the desk any time someone utters this statement

“We’ve always done it this way.” Just… never say this. Personally, I want to bang my head on the desk any time someone utters this statement. You (with the best intentions) may be remarking on institutional knowledge, and may have every intention of being open to change, but the statement is restrictive and allows the person to whom you’re communicating interpret it as resistant to new ideas. Worst case, you may even imply that you are not open to that person’s ideas.

“You’re doing fine.” When any staff/employee/project member asks you for feedback, you should pay close attention. People that request feedback are usually your high potentials who are looking for ways to better their performance. Take a moment to respond thoughtfully and with positive constructive criticism if necessary. If you are at an instant where you cannot give the employee the response they are requesting, make sure that person knows you want to discuss it, and schedule a meeting in the very near future (Grossman, 2011).

“Give me the information and I’ll take it up the ladder.” You have the best intentions. However, without explanation or an invitation to join the meeting, you are opening yourself up to negative scrutiny. Your employee may feel they are not being recognized, or that you consider them too far down the ladder to present to those higher up. Either way, it’s best to either sponsor that person face to face or include them in a way that allows for recognition to be passed along (Parker & Baltes, 2003).

Managing different personalities with different expectations is challenging without adding to your personal arsenal of blunders and mishaps. While awareness can’t always solve the problem, it can help you in speaking with intention. The best option is to pause before talking to make sure you feel you are communicating clearly and effectively (Kim et al., 2013).

Grossman, R. J. (2011). The care and feeding of high-potential employees. HR Magazine, 56(8), 34–39. doi:10.1109/93.580390
Judge, T. A., & Bono, J. E. (2001). Relationship of core self-evaluations traits-self esteem, generalized self-efficacy, locus of control, and emotional stability-with job satisfaction and job performance: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86(1), 80–92.
Judge, T. A., Jackson, C. L., Shaw, J. C., Scott, B. A., & Rich, B. L. (2007). Self-efficacy and work-related performance: the integral role of individual differences. The Journal of Applied Psychology, 92(1), 107–27. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.92.1.107
Kim, S., Egan, T. M., Kim, W., & Kim, J. (2013). The impact of managerial coaching behavior on employee work-related reactions. Journal of Business and Psychology, 28(3), 315–330. doi:10.1007/s10869-013-9286-9
Parker, C., & Baltes, B. (2003). Relationships between psychological climate perceptions and work outcomes: a meta-analytic review. Journal of …, 416(July 2002), 389–416. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/job.198/full
Rosete, D., & Ciarrochi, J. (2005). Emotional intelligence and its relationship to workplace performance outcomes of leadership effec … Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 26(5), 388–399.


Performance Leadership During COVID

Even under the best of circumstances, most leaders aspire to engage their staff. If you are a performance-based leader, this is something you consistently seek, and during this new time of uncertainty, anxiety, disconnectedness, and turbulence, engagement is even more important.

Gallup has surveyed and reported on engagement for decades, still currently reporting that in 2018, engagement sits at 34%, the highest it has ever been. In academia more dissertations are written about employee engagement than any other topic in the world of workplace performance.

First, let us dig into the basics. What is engagement? The term is tossed about so often, and many have a general, if not explicit, understanding of the concept, but for the sake of having a common foundation from which to begin, let us quickly review it.

Employee engagement is a workplace resulting in the right conditions for members of an organization to give of their best each day, committed to their organization’s goals and values, motivated to contribute to organizational success, with an enhanced sense of their own well-being. Engagement is a mix of culture, leadership, resources, equity, values, and people.

Engagement is based on the ideals, values, and requirements of the current workforce, which like everything in our society, will progress over the years. For example:

For a quick refresher, let us also quickly define performance leadership—not to be confused with performance management as it is used in the practice of talent management and performance reviews.

Performance Leadership is a systematic, results oriented approach to management and leadership for high performing organizations, teams, and individuals. What does that mean? The goal is the completion of objectives, not the creation of workplace behavioral standards. As I like to refer to it: Performance leadership is about empowering an individual to work in their best environment, with access to the proper tools and resources, to achieve organizational goals. It is not about “butts in seats.”

One of the most troubling trends that have been present in leadership during quarantine is the complete unpreparedness for remote work and abject mistrust of personnel.

In a global economy and changing work norms, many organizations are already working towards a remote or global workplace. This has been driven by industry, and of course, there are positions where remote work is just not possible.

In places where remote work is possible, organizations should already make this available. Changing generational needs require a flexible workplace, and that often means providing a different physical environment. Generational progression aside, every organization should have preparations in place to provide an appropriate environment for a person with ability requirements. COVID brings drastic revelations of disparity to light, one of which is inequity in managing an entire facet of the workforce.

For those who can work from home, but have not worked remotely previously, should easily transition into this new environment, if the organization has the technology to do so. For the interest of this paper, let us assume that leadership has already provided a mobile workstation (laptop, tablet, cloud computing, etc.). And why wouldn’t they? Most staff attend meetings, attend conferences, or participate in organizational committees. If your staff does none of those things, I suggest you review your leadership style immediately.

If your leadership strategy is to make sure someone is present 8am – 5pm every single day, when their position is not forward facing (face to face, customer service, working in human services/education), your leadership style is potentially antiquated. In every position, the overall goal should be the objectives of the department, unit, and/or organization. If their position is not forward facing and you believe having butts in seats enables the accomplishment of those goals, you are wrong. The question you should be asking is whether it is a business need or personal preference. If you prefer to have someone there because you require face to face interaction, that is not a business need. If the rise in virtual assistants is any indication, even that position can be done at a distance.

This is where you tell me that I am wrong and that hallway conversations are necessary. I get it. I love to bounce ideas off my colleagues. I love to see reactions during conversations. I love to go to lunch. In all of this, there is one common denominator. “I”. Hallway meetings can be quick Slack or Teams conversations. Reactions can be gauged through Zoom, GoToMeeting, Duo, FaceTime, Meets… you see where this is going. If COVID is teaching us anything, it is that we CAN adapt.

The other most concerning part of the “butts in seats” mentality is that it is seated in mistrust. The idea that the watchful eye will keep personnel from wasting time is a misconception. The (Meyer, Becker, & Vandenberghe, 2004) has been done, and employees who are going to goof off will find ways to do so… even if you’re in the room. If the concern is wasted productivity, then the next avenue is to determine how well your staff is engaged.

Engagement and performance leadership are reciprocal workplace strategies. If we refer to the definitions, the relationship is obvious.

The unfortunate side effect of the “butts in seats” mentality is the micromanaged employee. This carried over easily into the quarantined environment, in which employees are now tasked with recording every moment of every day to prove they are working. While structure and accountability are important, the overall implication of mistrust only breeds a less productive and unhappy work environment. Imagine the anxiety around a pandemic, supporting your loved ones, taking care of children, and worrying about finances, only exacerbated by an unforgiving work environment.

Breaking down the arguments:

My employee will not do their job unless I am there to observe their performance. My staff will not understand the objectives unless we discuss them in person. My staff will not correctly complete tasks unless I am present and available to guide them.

If that is the case, there is a problem with leadership, engagement, or your hiring process. If your default response is to blame the employee, this is an opportunity to check your biases, your emotional intelligence, and the need for control.


Cook, J., & Wall, T. D. (1980). New work attitude measures of trust, organizational commitment and personal need non-fulfilment. Journal of occupational psychology, 53(1), 39-52. Retrieved 5 5, 2020, from http://jwalkonline.org/docs/grad classes/survey/articles/psyclimate/noted/org comm scale.pdf
Kirkman, B. L., & Shapiro, D. L. (2001). The Impact of Cultural Values on Job Satisfaction and Organizational Commitment in Self-Managing Work Teams: The Mediating Role of Employee Resistance. Academy of Management Journal, 44(3), 557-569. Retrieved 5 5, 2020, from https://journals.aom.org/doi/abs/10.5465/3069370
Lok, P., & Crawford, J. (1999). The relationship between commitment and organizational culture, subculture, leadership style and job satisfaction in organizational change and development. Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 20(7), 365-374. Retrieved 5 5, 2020, from https://emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/01437739910302524/full/html
Meyer, J. P., Becker, T., & Vandenberghe, C. (2004). Employee Commitment and Motivation: A Conceptual Analysis and Integrative Model. Journal of Applied Psychology, 89(6), 991-1007. Retrieved 5 5, 2020, from https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2004-21169-007
O’Neill, J. W., Harrison, M. M., Cleveland, J., Almeida, D. M., Stawski, R. S., & Crouter, A. C. (2009). Work–family climate, organizational commitment, and turnover: Multilevel contagion effects of leaders. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 74(1), 18-29. Retrieved 5 5, 2020, from https://sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/s0001879108000948


Why is Microlearning More than Just a Trend?

Microlearning is an up and coming topic in the training industry—especially in the new workplace shaped by COVID. For me, the idea that microlearning is becoming more popular is very exciting.  We have an opportunity to create quick burst programs that are effective, applicable, available, and fun!    

Let’s run down the aspects of a microlearning module.  Typically, a microlearning module consists of content (usually video) that lasts no more than four minutes.  You may have an overarching theme, but each module will have only one objective.  Assume the average attention span of your audience is limited, so content is key.  

Chunking—short-term memory allows individuals to recall information, several seconds to several minutes. Although the capacity of short-term memory is considered to be 7 ± 2 items, this can be increased through a process called chunking (Osaka, 2014).  By grouping relevant information together in short sequences, you are not only providing valuable content, but doing it in a way that promotes retention.

Availability—primarily online, microlearning modules are easily accessible from any device.  For instance, eLearning tools like Articulate (which is very adaptable) have apps to make them effortlessly accessible from any platform.  This means that your employee can review a four minute module at the gym, from their desk, or during their morning ride on the subway (if they prefer).  As the incoming workforce prefers schedules that are less rigid than the 8-5, this is one way to give them flexibility from being tied to a desk.

Applicability—these focused modules do very well in the providing information relating to a specific objective that can be immediately used.  If your company has an internal or private social media site, push out your content through that media and ask for employees to start a discussion.  Create tools that are applicable to your end user so that once it’s gained, it’s also retained.  Don’t forget, 50% of what we learned is lost if we don’t use it within six hours, 90% if it’s not applied within 30 days (Hagendorf, Klix, & Ebbinghaus, 1986).

The challenge to microlearning is the mindset transition from traditional face to face interventions that are the primary tool used in workforce education today.  Blended, online, and social learning is more applicable to the younger and incoming workforce; why not tailor instruction to a medium in which they are proficient? 

By bringing the training to them, we are creating a workforce that is more educated, more informed, more efficient, and more willing to learn.  The results of which can increase productivity and dare say it, a more sustainable learning environment.


Hagendorf, H., Klix, F., Ebbinghaus, H. (1986). Human memory and cognitive capabilities: mechanisms and performances : symposium in memoriam Hermann Ebbinghaus 1885, Berlin Humboldt University 1985. Amsterdam: North-Holland

Osaka, M. (2014). Probability theory predicts that chunking into groups of three or four items increases the short-term memory capacity. Scientific Research, (June), 1474–1484.


Communication: The World We Want and Reality

There are many things I feel strongly about as a woman in the workplace.  I should never have to wear a skirt.  I should be able to wear jeans through the week if I want to.  My tattoos shouldn’t be an issue when it comes to whether I am respected or taken seriously.  I should be able to speak directly without worrying that someone will consider me too blunt or hard to work with.

It’s that last one that probably chafes me the most.  It has only been in the last few years that I’ve given myself permission to communicate in the way I’m most comfortable.  Yes, I am aware of the communication preferences of others, and I can respect that.  However, I will no longer spend much of my time trying to be less direct.  One major reason why?  I sound like an idiot. 

It has only been in the last few years that I’ve given myself permission to communicate in the way I’m most comfortable.  Yes, I am aware of the communication preferences of others, and I can respect that.  However, I will no longer spend much of my time trying to be less direct.

I spent so much time trying to reword things in my head before speaking that I’d pause for long periods, stare off into space, or just look completely flummoxed.  I knew what I wanted to say, but I just couldn’t get it out in a way that I assumed it might be socially accepted.  I believed that if I made this extra effort, I’d be taken more seriously.  What happened is that I looked uncertain and as though I couldn’t coherently put together a strong (or any) idea.  Worst of all, when my patience ended, which is dramatically short as it is, I finally would say what was on my mind, but I would preface it with an apology.  “I’m sorry, this is going to be a bit direct,” or “I’ve been told that I’m too direct, so excuse me when I say.” 

In the workplace, people are continuously — and often unconsciously — assessing your communication style for two sets of qualities: warmth (empathy, likeability, caring) and authority (power, credibility, status).

Is Your Communication Style Dictated By Your Gender?
Carol Kinsey Goman

It was when I had a disagreement with a colleague that I’d had enough.  The conflict was frustrating on its own.  The other party had not communicated what he was doing with the team, making decisions for the group, and then reporting back as though we were all on board.  I disagreed with the outcome and said so in a calm, but direct (and somewhat shocked) manner.  My push-back was met with outright anger.  There was no cool down period.  He marched into my office, sat down and told me how, as a person, I had failed.  His biggest point was in my communication and he used my own words against me.  “You have said you’re too direct, maybe you should consider that before you speak to me.”

I was blown away.  I had no words, no rebuttal, and I was pissed as hell.  Knowing myself and everything I wanted to say, I thanked him for coming and speaking with me, and ended the meeting.  Then I seethed for nearly two weeks—venting quietly to a close friend, to my boss, and not so quietly to my partner.  Otherwise, I stayed professional, held my tongue, and never disparaged this individual.  He on the other hand, made remarks on social media, complained to anyone who would listen, and made passive aggressive comments in meetings.

The interactions lessened, and he left the department a short time later.  But, I’ll never forget the way that my directness was used as a weapon to shame me.  At that moment, I vowed that I will never change who I am for the sake of what I interpret to be the social expectations.  Funny thing, those perceptions were also my own.  As the workplace has changed over the years with younger generations, expectations have begun to shift.  The ways I had been coached to communicate by my mother and colleagues were changing as I got older.  There’s also the fact that I AM older, and I’ve demonstrated that I’m good at my job.  There’s a certain amount of privilege I carry as a white woman that I will also acknowledge. 

The lesson I took from this is that it is OK to reevaluate my beliefs of office conduct and some of the norms I’ve been holding on to that may have shifted. 

The reality is that we’re not at a place where every person can communicate in the way in which they are comfortable.  The reality is that the majority will always create the rules, and hide things in the guise of professionalism, customer service, business needs, and good organizational citizenship.  The old saying still applies, “If you want to get along…”

This is especially true if you’re just starting out in the workforce.  You may not have a space to assert your communication style or set boundaries.  That’s a reality as well.  You may have to wait to be heard or take the chance that you’re perceived as being too direct or *gasp* hard to work with.  As leadership begins to shift, those chances are lessening as well, but are still very much a reality.

If you’re established, give back to the newbies who are helping you shape the new world in which we work.  Invite them into conversation, sponsor them into the meeting, pull them aside and tell them not to apologize.  Pull them up with the lessons you’ve learned and help shape the reality for the next generation of workers.


Weinberg, Frankie & Treviño, Len & Cleveland, A.. (2015). Gendered Communication and Career Outcomes: A Construct Validation and Prediction of Hierarchical Advancement and Non-Hierarchical Rewards. Communication Research. 10.1177/0093650215590605.


Highlight your Resume with Scope and Context

When my husband and I sat down with an early intervention learning specialist to write up my autistic three-year-old son’s Individual Education Plan (IEP), she asked what we do to specifically address our worry that he might run off at any time.  My husband and I shared an incredulous look.  We never really came up with a specific plan.  Without conference or agreement, we simply added the measures needed to compensate.  We had come up with a strategy, understanding the large overarching implications, and implemented that plan on an individual level, collaborating and coordinating our efforts without articulation.

This is an important perspective for any person.  Consider the application to your career, and how you define your current or past job duties and experience.  Now, consider how your resume is written, and the descriptive terms you use.  If you are early or mid-career, the easiest trap in which to fall is to undersell your achievements by simply stating what duties you carried and your corresponding performance.  While completely necessary, you still miss the opportunity to provide scope and context.

Early professionals are the most common offenders of either the terse (just the facts) resume, or the gregarious, buzz-word filled resume.  It’s something that is easily remedied with expert advice or experience.  However, it is no secret that regardless of career stage, women[1] will ultimately undersell their experiences on resumes.  Women commonly devalue their talents and abilities by perpetually omitting valuable information about their core skills, and fail to acknowledge key achievements.  Not only can underselling make a woman less competitive in the overall job market, it can also affect the compensation offered upon hire.  

Women commonly devalue their talents and abilities by perpetually omitting valuable information about their core skills, and fail to acknowledge key achievements. 

In a recent conversation with a colleague, “June”, we discussed updating her resume.  She asked me about listing her duties, doing so in the traditional way of listing them on a day-to-day basis.  While completely appropriate, the simple bulleted list completely negates the brilliance of June. As an outreach professional, June single-handedly constructed her small department, defining her position as it grew.  She created media and content, disseminated it at an international level, and presented at an expert level at national conferences. 

This is why context and scope are important. Forbes published a great article in September 2019 that outlined the ways to get a resume noticed, including the need to “sell” instead of “summarize” your experience.  While the author talks about using high impact words to influence the resume reader, I also believe that adding context without resorting to buzzwords is a huge benefit.

Using June’s experience, she may easily bullet her experience as:

  • Created media content for outreach services.

This is factual, but doesn’t encapsulate her true efforts, or the results.  Let’s try this:

  • Developed, designed, and implemented an informational outreach campaign—behavioral, transactional, and engagement-oriented—delivered to over 2 million users, reducing general inquiry traffic by 27%

The new bullet does describe the experience and reframes it to give a clearer scope of the project and includes measurable metrics to show her success. 

Another example of June’s experience might be expressed as:

  • Leveraged experience to present at national conferences

Again, this is accurate.  Let’s try this:

  • Well-honed public speaking skills, developed over the course of a ten-year career as an expert in outreach, regularly presenting at national conferences with audiences of over 3,000 participants.

As you can see, June’s true scope of expertise is outlined with the appropriate context.

When listing your experience, consider the overall impact your position had on the organization.  Did you create a position, streamline a process, introduce something new, or eliminate an obstacle?  Now think about the action words and how you should describe them.  Did you just “create”, or did you assess data, devise a plan, and implement it?  It’s not an exaggeration or an oversell.  Consider the opening paragraph.  In order to create, streamline, or introduce, strategic thought and planning are necessary. 

Perhaps you aren’t giving yourself the proper credit, compensating for a need without consciously acknowledging it.

Here are a few other basic recommendations:

Review the job listing and incorporate key words into your resume.  More online application portals utilize some form of AI, which scan resumes and score them.

Save every resume and cover letter you submit (they should be tailored for every position), using a filing structure that allows you to pull the appropriate resume for the interview.

Do not add your picture to your resume.  While trendy for a short time, this can work against you.  More HR departments are stripping the indicators of gender, race, ethnicity, and age from the review process.

Add metrics of measurement.  Consider the overall impact your initiatives had on the organization and include them in your experience.

Always submit a cover letter.  If the organization says it’s optional, submit one anyway.  If they only have a place for “other documents” upload it there.  A cover letter is your shortcut to adding information about you that isn’t easily translated in a resume.

Use a resume building application.  Tools like Novoresume or Cultivated Culture are great resources with drag and drop capabilities.

Apply for positions that are tangential, you have the skills, they are applicable.

Have someone else proofread your document.  Most people cannot find their own mistakes.

Beware of “team-player” language.  While you want to have an impressive grasp of soft skills, you want to avoid passive terms like “assist” or “collaborate”.

Melissa Walker, Ph.D. is the Director of the TRIO Training Academy within Educational Equity at Penn State University, the Associate Director for Penn State’s Talent Search and EOC Programs—programs specifically designed to create equitable pathways for first generation/low-income students, and the owner of Training and Development Network.  Prior to joining the university in 2010, Melissa spent over 12 years working in the software industry under talent management to enhance organizations’ development of diversity, leadership, teamwork, and performance. As a person dedicated to social justice, she has run volunteer training programs for domestic violence centers in CA, as well as volunteer research and training design for the CA Dept. of Corrections. 

Melissa has presented on topics such as equity, leadership development, and talent management at national and international conferences such as the Council for Opportunity in Education (COE) and the Association for Talent Development (ATD).

Melissa holds a Ph.D. in Workforce Education, a double M.Ed in Curriculum and Instruction for Non-Traditional Students/Career & Technical Education (CTE), and a B.A. in English Literature and Culture.

Melissa is the mother to four children, ranging in ages from 17 to 3 years old, so in her spare time, she sleeps.

[1] Landmark feminist writers such as Judith Butler have written that gender is socially constructed, meaning that the ways that we as a society view men and women have everything to do with the culture that we live in and rather than biology.

Resiliency, Buzz Word or Bad Word?

A common reference today in many circles of education, industry, and politics is the use (and overuse) of the word “resilience.”  On its own, this is not a bad word.  It is powerful, invigorating, and inspiring.  How it is used is where it becomes problematic.  According to Richards (2020): 

Resilience is a dynamic process of positive adaptation in the face of adversity. When individuals face major stressors due to events such as natural disasters, trauma, public health crises, and now, coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), resilience is tested on an individual, organizational, and societal level. But resilience is not stagnant. Appropriate guidance, access to resources, and early intervention can strengthen resilience and lead to improved mental health outcomes.

This definition is important as we realize how much more is involved in resiliency than the immediate reaction of overcoming a hurdle.  Resilience is not another word for “grit” or “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps,” but sadly, is being used as a synonym without the consideration of the most important parts of the definition, as stated above.  Guidance, access to resources, and early intervention.  For those reading between the lines… equity.

Often, when those in power are faced with concepts of adversity, resiliency is trotted out, as an easily obtainable existence, if one just tried hard enough.  Failure?  That is at the hands of those that seek success.  

But resilience is a political concept with political origins, designed to promote compliance to the status quo.

The concept of resilience was introduced in the 1970’s to provide context around the systematic response to disasters by Neil Adger.  This became politicized immediately to cultivate national resilience in the face of global strife and terrorism.  Davis (2016) notes that resilience has also come to be associated with disadvantaged individuals who overcome great obstacles or circumstances.  It is the latter we see in educational and political circles.  Additionally, the outcomes of disadvantaged youth are solely placed under the responsibility of those who are disadvantaged.  

In the worst circumstances, resilience is used to inspire by appealing to society’s desire to see an underdog win, a victim survive, and a disadvantaged person overcome adversity.  We read the stories, Like the posts, and maybe even share with our friends.  “What an inspiration!”  Our hands placed over our hearts, we commend their strengths and feel better as humans for joining in their celebration.  All of this is done without taking a hard look at the circumstances that created the hardship.  Did the underdog not fit into societal norms, making them less popular and thus, less likely to succeed?  Were there structural supports and legal ramifications to prevent the victim from ever being victimized?  Did the disadvantaged person have access to the same level of resources in which a person of privilege has?  If there are inequities in the structures of our society, then resilience isn’t the answer to hardships.

So, who does resilience serve, and for what purpose? Those who support resiliency as an answer recognize adversity and feel that resilience is something that should be cultivated to mitigate these effects. By contrast, those who lean away from resiliency as the answer to adversity, find that they focus on the individual instead of the system. 

The truth may be that resilience is a flimsy bit of gauze on a gaping wound: an inspiring concept, but one that is poorly equipped to deal with the severity of the issues at hand.  Rather, it is resistance that might be more appropriate as a response to untenable situations—not to lament of our inspiration, but a call to action for the future.

How Implicit Bias Affects Your Communication Skills

Do you truly understand your biases?  Are you aware of their existence, how they affect your communication, and consequently, how you are perceived?

Defined by the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University, “implicit bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner” (Kirwan, 2015). The NeuroLeadership Institute’s David Rock has been heard to proclaim at sessions that, “if you have a brain, you’re biased.” The implication is not that every person is prejudiced.  This only means that our attitudes are shaped by our experiences through cognitive, social, and behavioral formation.  Put simply, our biases are shaped by our experiences, and can conflict with our explicit beliefs.  This is most prevalent is our everyday favoring of our own in-group (the “like me” bias) that is created by gravitating towards those that best represent the qualities we find in ourselves.  We give greater credibility to those that represent our own likeness, values, ideals, and social norms. 

Awareness of a bias is certainly helpful, but only scratches the surface.  Our brains can be retrained through many techniques to unlearn biases, and research is ongoing in that area.  To illustrate the value in uncovering bias, let’s address the ways implicit bias can affect your communication skills and how that is perceived by others.

Your communication is carried forward not only verbally, but also non-verbally.  Your reaction to a subject or speaker may easily be conveyed through your tone, body language, facial expression, whether you are actually listening, and even your posture.  Your partner in the conversation may be unsure of your reaction and make negative assumptions about your attitude towards the topic, or even themselves.  All the while, you are unaware that you have conveyed this communication because you are unconscious of your response and possibly unaware that there is a bias.

This takes us back to the questions in the opening paragraph.  Are you aware of, and do you understand your biases?  If you have answered no, the first step is that education.  Project Implicit is one place in which to first uncover those biases in which you may not be aware.  Begun as a coordinated project between University of Washington, Harvard University, and University of Virginia in 1998, Project Implicit has grown to address a myriad of social attitudes.  By utilizing their online tool (https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/) you can take the first steps. Let’s be honest, even if you answered yes, this is still a good exercise, even if it’s a repeat.

Your brain can be retrained to adapt to new perceptions regarding implicit bias according to the American Psychology Association with the following three steps as an overarching method:

  • Becoming aware of one’s implicit bias;
  • Being concerned about the consequences of the bias; and
  • Learning to replace the biased response with non-prejudiced responses—ones that more closely match the values people consciously believe that they hold (Devine, 2011).

Working towards a more inclusive communication style is not only beneficial to your personal growth, but also to your career trajectory. 

Divergent Teams and Decision Making

In the workplace, “divergent” can often have a negative meaning.  Divergent is different, and different can be perceived as dangerous. One interpretation may be that “problem” employee that always goes against the group.  Another is the inability to create a group consensus in teams.  That differentness is seen as challenging to a larger entity, group, project, or organization. 

A divergent thinker is a creative mix in the organizational stock pot. 

Repeat after me, “Divergence is good.” 

As leaders and those interested in organizational development, we want opinions that differ.  Groupthink is often the product of those that are like minded, or give too much power to those that are more comfortable speaking in front of others. The articulate are able to express themselves on a scale that implies confidence in their ideas.  Those dominant personalities can rule the room and easily shut down divergent thinker, who may be just as articulate, but is pointing at the sign to the road less traveled. 

Mr/s. Groupthink is confidently smiling and leading you to a well-traveled, paved, landscaped, and previously milestoned path.  It has signs for the lottery and car dealerships; it’s so well used.  Groupthink promises that at the end is a large predictable metropolis that appears comfortable and stable.

Mr/s. Divergent is directing you towards a road that is mostly uphill.  It is uncharted, but there lingers a possibility for rewards, recognition, and even songs written in your honor. 

The choosing process can be equally traumatic.  Groupthink has a little more support, but Divergent is gaining ground.  The team is troubled and having difficulty coming to a decision.  Many leaders would assume that the group is now dysfunctional.  However, this can simply be the phase where good ideas are flushed out of the shrubbery.  Without sounding too dramatic, this is where the magic happens.  Allowing your team the time to get to this point is integral to a creative decision. 

Janis (1972, p. 9) described Groupthink as a “mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when the members’ strivings for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action.”  Divergent thinkers are often shut down simply because their ideas oppose the majority.

Supporting divergent thinking is the necessity behind the diverse workforce.  Diverse and divergent thinkers provide a perspective that is not representative of a quick decision.  It is important that your organization create a foundation of teambuilding and a culture of inclusivity which promotes a respectful and encouraging environment.

To better support your divergent thinkers, leaders may provide the following:

  1. An inclusive atmosphere where all perspectives are heard openly and regarded with respect.
  2. Time to review and rehash all ideas so that no quick decisions are made.  Avoid the easy choice. 
  3. Create a diverse workforce comprised of different backgrounds and perspectives to encourage creativity.
  4. Provide resources and training for team building, collaboration, civility, and communication. 


Janis, I. L. (1972). Victims of groupthink: A psychological study of foreign-policy decisions and fiascoes. Oxford, England: Houghton Mifflin.

Leading with Authenticity: Being Everything you are Expected to Be

Individuals who identify as women are given a lot of advice about presence, attitudes, and leadership styles in the workplace. With all the other hats worn, often it feels like women are donning a mask for the office, one that will be better accepted by those they work with. As women gain more leadership presence, the trending advice is to lead authentically. Usually, the first follow up question to that advice is “what does that mean?”

An explosion in authenticity training for leadership occurred in 2012 when Gallup recorded a huge drop in trust in business leadership (coinciding with engagement). According to the Edelman Trust Barometer in 2013, only 18% of people reported they trusted business leaders to tell the truth, and fewer than half trusted businesses to do the right thing. The answer was to encourage leaders to be their “true” selves, implying a return to morality and values.

Forbes defined authentic leadership, in-part, as leading from the heart, being genuine, and self-aware. HBR further explained that authenticity is when behavior matches intentions. In the last few years, researchers in organizational development have found that authentic leadership has been linked to increased engagement, higher job satisfaction, reduced turnover intention, and increased performance.

Leading with authenticity is accepted as a preferred style, but there are different expectations of presence and behavior placed on women.

It’s true that both men and women have different roles as they direct their careers, personal lives, and the lives of their children. However, the familial norm still leans towards women as the primary caregivers, and single mothers are more prevalent than single fathers. It is important to note that the expectations of women in the workplace are socialized, meaning that both men and women will carry those expectations and apply them, often in an unconscious way.

Authentic leadership is viewed as the gold standard of leadership, but women live in a multi-faceted world. How can women be their authentic selves when there are so many competing notions of how women are expected to behave? First impressions are one of those instances where presence will be categorized and judged by others. Research has shown that women are more likely to be judged negatively by their professional appearance than men. This judgement means there is an expectation for women to be dressed a certain way or have a certain look—to create a certain impression. This can vary by industry or profession, but overall, the standard holds.

The reality of women in leadership often becomes a paradox between authenticity and the consequences of nonconformity.

The truth of the work wardrobe is that professional presentation will always be integral to how women are perceived as an employee and especially as a leader. With that in mind, it’s important to remember that women’s business wardrobes were modeled after men’s professional attire. Styles have evolved, but the standard look still involves a suit or blazer. For women of color, the professional uniform goes much further. The expectation becomes more than adopting a masculine look—there’s the conformity to the implicit ideal of whiteness, which means straighter hair, specific speech patterns, dress styles, and more. Authenticity is also associated with a happy, upbeat work environment.

We invite the authentic self, if you’re having a great day, feeling open minded, and aligning with our pre-disposed notions of workplace, gender-normed behavior.

This directly conflicts with the ability to express emotion, especially anger, especially as women, in the workplace. If we’re truly being authentic, feelings are dynamic and changing, and not always full of rainbows and puppies. Women are more likely to experience significant backlash when expressing anger in the workplace, as women are more often expected to be the caretakers, the emotional touch stones, and the emotional problem solvers. When women are angry, it is easy to be stigmatized and dismissed. Even women who are passionate can be labeled as being over emotional and then discounted professionally.

For many, the definition of being your authentic self really means being your “best” self, or the “best version” of yourself. This definition is truly oppressive. The social norms of good/bad or ideal are created and maintained by the dominant culture, which means that bringing your “best” self isn’t really your authentic self. It means you should bring the ideal version of yourself that more closely aligns with the version that is most acceptable. The notion of the “best” self also discounts the truth of the multi-faceted, multi-cultural individual.

Authenticity can also create a hurdle when leaders are told to be “true to yourself”. This is great advice when “yourself” fulfills the expectations, values, and ideals of others, but not so much when “yourself” is in conflict—even when the conflict is needed to progress.

What’s the answer? Humorously, it is to lead as your authentic self. Truly be a leader as an individual. Be self-aware, open-minded, genuine, and lead from the heart. Push yourself, challenge your perceptions, and allow yourself to address conformity with a critical eye. Don’t fall into the trap of playing to the expectations, especially if you have the privilege to confront them.

The Authenticity Paradox | Professor Herminia Ibarra | TEDxLondonBusinessSchool


Our Biases Undermine Our Colleagues’ Attempts to Be Authentic” by Tina R. Opie and R. Edward Freeman

How to Fake It When You’re Not Feeling Confident” by Rebecca Knight

You Don’t Just Need One Leadership Voice — You Need Many” by Amy Jen Su

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