Being a woman in an office and freelance setting has its own set of challenges. It’s my goal to move past my fear of how others react and perceive me and proactively move forward. After all, would Buffy from “Buffy: The Vampire Slayer” back down from a challenge or a chance to improve? While she might recognize challenges as fearsome, she’d tackle them. It helps me to reflect on what a strong female character might advise in these situations.

Here are the five areas of leadership I need to improve, and many of them relate to the cultural identity of being female. And here’s what Buffy would say, too.

I Rarely Say NO. Like many women, I feel most rewarded at my job when I am being the most useful. This means I don’t say “no” very often when I am asked to do a task. In the corporate world, this can lead to an overwhelming workload. As a freelancer, this usually means doing more work for less money.

More than that, it’s always expected that I’ll say yes when asked to do any favor. When I hold this reputation in every role – employee, friend, wife, writer – it stacks up. The stress that accumulates from saying yes to everything far outweighs the benefits of being seen as constantly dependable. Plus, it’s an easy way for others to too often take advantage of my willingness to be helpful.

What Buffy would say: Taking on too much work may be in your nature. If people really care about you, they’ll realize that you can’t be everywhere all the time – especially if you’re like me and have multiple jobs and responsibilities.

I Fear Negotiating. When it comes to business, I find it difficult to negotiate. I’m uncomfortable in situations that leave room for bargaining, even if I’m the one making a small purchase at a flea market. Unfortunately, I miss out on a lot of deals this way – and I sell myself short when it comes to negotiating freelance project pricing and salary points.

What Buffy would say: If you don’t stand up for yourself, people are going to walk all over you. Surprise them when it comes to negotiating. Make the first move and don’t be afraid to either rumble or walk away if the ‘stakes’ get high.

Sorry, But…I Constantly Apologize. Regardless of my role at any company or organization, I always end up taking on more of a customer service role than I’d like. Why? Because I come across as a professional apologist. In a business setting, I have to consciously police myself. There is no reason for me to apologize before disagreeing with someone else’s opinion or statement, but I feel like it’s very much expected.

Instead, I have put my customer service expertise to good use. It’s more beneficial to say, “I understand you feel frustrated and I’m sorry that you feel that way” than it is to take blame for something that isn’t my fault.

Have you ever noticed people interact when they accidentally bump into each other? Women usually rush to apologize – even if someone else actually steps on them or shoves them. There’s often even an awkward silence if the woman doesn’t offer up an apology.

What Buffy would say: Find your power move and use it, even if it’s just to remind yourself that you’re powerful enough to handle yourself. The best place to stop apologizing is in your area of expertise. There aren’t too many people who know what it’s like to be a slayer – as far as I’m concerned, that makes me the authority on it and the emotions that come with the territory.

When I’m Assertive, It Confuses Others. I get it – I’m short and I’m agreeable, and that leads to people talking over me – a lot. However, I’m fairly comfortable asserting my own opinion or taking charge of a situation when I am a topic expert or leader. Unfortunately, this is not often accepted by others. I especially prefer to clearly communicate assertions when I am defending my colleagues or serving as an advocate for clients. 

Have you ever calmly made an assertion only to be described as one of the following?

  • Unprofessional
  • Overstepping
  • Emotional
  • Inappropriate
  • Lacking confidence

I have. And while I appreciate constructive criticism in my leadership journey, I realize that I’m not the one usually being sensitive or defensive – it’s the person making the judgment.

What Buffy would say: They’re afraid. When you get powerful, sometimes even the ones who love you the most don’t know how to handle it. No one’s perfect – and yeah, sometimes you will get emotional or lack confidence, but that doesn’t mean you should let that criticism hold you back.

I’m “Emotional.” This one irks me for many reasons. It’s a favorite criticism of women in the workplace because it’s perceived as such a gendered word. In a creative work environment, being passionate and feeling enthusiastic to your work is a real asset – but there’s a flip side. If you do show attachment to the quality of your work, you may also become identified as emotional.

Leaders who remain calm during crises are usually ideal – however, to sail through situations without displaying your own feelings is the easiest way to lose the loyalty of your team. Showing that you care is the most organic way to earn it.

What Buffy would say: I agree. Sometimes it feels like a woman can never win. I’ve been accused of being too emotional to focus on the plan and too detached to make a difference. Your life isn’t just about what you mean or represent to other people, it’s about how you feel about yourself and your own situation. At the end of the day, even your lover, best friend, or sister won’t know exactly what it’s like to be you. It’ s on them to find a better way to express their concern. You have a job to do and you need to do it.

How do you deal with these issues in your career? What would your favorite female hero say? Please leave your comments below.

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