An Open Letter to Women in the Workplace About Their Fear

Women and fear workplace

Close your eyes and think of a famous CEO.

You probably thought of Mark Zuckerburg from Facebook or maybe even Jeff Bezos from Amazon. Both men. And, its not that they arent great innovators and leaders, but it does raise the question: Why didnt a woman come to mind first? The answer is that Zuckerberg and Bezos had an idea, and ran fearlessly and confidently with it until they saw success, and that women typically struggle with self-confidence and fear.

At least, I know I have, especially when it comes to the workplace.

But, if confidence in the workplace is so essential to a successful career, then why is it that we women often live behind this mask of a fear to speak up, share opinions or initiate projects? Sheryl Sandburg, in her book Lean In, addresses one of the prominent bases of workplace fear. Sandburg, while referencing psychologistsstudy of power dynamics, states that those who serve in low-power positions are less likely to share their opinions, and more likely to monitor what they say when they do. “This helps explain why for many women, speaking honestly in a professional environment carries an additional set of fears. Fear of not being considered a team player. Fear of seeming negative or nagging. Fear that constructive criticism will come across as just plain old criticism.

Fear essentially causes us to stand in the background of the workplace and justify the silence we have grown accustomed to. Fear is the validation of our imaginary, decreased value on the corporate ladder. If we remove fear, then we decrease what holds us back from professional success and find the personal validation that only confidence can provide.

 Fear essentially causes us to stand in the background of the workplace and justify the silence we have grown accustomed to.

Of course, this is easier said than done. To alter the way we think — by including a healthy portion of confidence — changes the way we look at everything, from the way we walk into a meeting to the way we approach small talk with a higher-up. But, imagine if it we eliminated unhealthy fear and identified and removed ourselves as the obstacle holding us back from limitless professional success. Have you ever met a CEO who cowers in the corner?

Rosa Parks said, I have learned over the years that when ones mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.Although she didnt go down in history for running a multi-billion dollar company, she went down in history for being fearless, for standing up for herself and for knowing her worth.

Imagine if we all did that; think of where we could be.

Has fear held you back from being the kind of woman you want to be? 

Images via Müjgan Afra Özceylan



Katy Horst works as a corporate communications manager during the day, and at night enjoys the new fad of adult coloring books. She hopes the trend never dies because she could pencil in those flower gardens forever. And ever. Katy is newly married to Nick, who has a glorious, burly beard and loves Jeep Wranglers. They live in northwest Indiana, less than an hour from Chicago.

4 COMMENTS
  • Lisa April 10, 2016

    This article really resonates with me as in the past, I have been rather fearless with my interests, ambitions, ideas in the workplace and that fearlessness/chutzpa shall we say, has not always been met with friendly smiles or offers. Sadly, it’s generally been women colleagues or bosses who have wanted to slow me down, “know my place”, sit back and fall within their comfort zones. What have I learned from this? Check myself first, remember that feedback is about the other persons, remain purpose-driven and true to myself and my strengths. If I am not thriving in an environment, it may be the wrong environment for me. And that’s ok.

  • I’ve definitely been there! It’s tough to be at the bottom, especially if you work in a field like I did that blacklisted or fired people for even suggesting the idea of negotiating pay, asking for time off, or organizing a union. I’ve worked with people who tolerate so much cruelty at work, out of fear that they’ll lose their ability to pay the rent or feed their families. The hardest thing to admit is that fear exists not only for people scraping by off a minimum wage paycheck, but for people making much, much more. Risk is tough at any level, and for women it seems to be even greater in most cases because we’re still often fighting just to be taken seriously, let alone given the opportunity to shine. It’s terrible, but unfortunately very true still.

    Fear can be a great motivation, sure, but it also keeps people from ever moving on (or up). Hopefully more businesses will start to see this, and instead of making people afraid to speak up, they’ll at least try to listen and understand.

    Thanks for writing this. It’s not easy to hear, but it’s encouraging to know other people see it, too.

  • Elisabeth April 10, 2016

    This is a sound message. Women need to know that they are smart, strong, and just as capable as men in the workplace. I have the benefit of being rather disconnected to my emotions. This allows me to speak my mind at work and speak confidently, whereas some women I know become too emotional each time they try to debate a topic, give or receive feedback, or stand up for themselves in terms of status, position, or compensation. If you can present yourself in a cool & composed manner and speak your mind with confidence, you will earn the respect you deserve. And if you don’t, you need to begin to search elsewhere for something that can be fulfilling and life-giving.

  • I think this is a great reminder to overcome fear, not only in the workplace, but in any of the many areas of a woman’s life. I’ve definitely been dominated by work-place fear, but I can see this advice working well in the home or within relationships, too. Thanks for sharing this 🙂

    http://www.thebusinessofblooming.com

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