Expanded Research May Help Business Women Identify Real Sabotage

5 Ways Business Women Self Sabotage
5 Ways Business Women Self Sabotage

Recently, I read an article in the American Express Open Forum by Melinda Emerson entitled 5-Ways Women Sabotage Themselves in Business.While the article itself was good, I felt like the scope was limited. I found myself wondering if men, those inferred to be in power, agreed with the points listed.

If the obstacles and challenges that women perceive themselves having are different from the ones their male co-workers, bosses, and employees see them as having, it seems like a significant disconnect in the office.   This facet is also likely to come up increasingly, since the article states that women over 50 are starting businesses at a ratio of 2-to-1 over men. 




The table below lists the reasons and the prescribed remedies provided by the author. 

Method  of Sabotage


1.      Charging Too Little

Be confident, price yourself competitively

2.      Emotional Decision Making

Make data driven decisions, hire people you can fire

3.      A Non-Competitive Attitude

Keep score via profit, go after business competitively and don’t self finance customers

4.      Not Asking For The Business

Build relationships via meetings to ask clarifying questions and ask for the  business

5.      Superwoman Syndrome

Understand your limitations, build a team of supporters and ask for help as needed

These answers all seem on point to me, but with the exception of the fifth they also don’t seem particularly specific to women.  They are applicable to almost anyone starting a new business and reads like a list of “Don’ts” from a Sales 101 course.  The reasons listed in the article tend to take for granted that the business will get off to a successful start, overcome some of the usual challenges affiliated with startups, and plague all businesses including those owned by men.

Does this mean that women do not have unique challenges in the workplace?  I doubt it, and I also suspect, based upon many years of professional experience, that if men had been surveyed, they would have listed some of the traditional (and sometimes very wrong) stereotypes as reasons for women being disruptive, interfered with or damaged within business arena.  Typically, those reasons include:

  • Women as the primary care provider for children prevents the widespread availability needed to be successful in business,
  • Inflexibility based upon lack of availability and
  • Ambiguous things like the traditional attitudes of women about other women

The question then is; are these really the challenges women face, or just the challenges women are perceived to face, in the workplace?  Do they represent legitimate hurdles that must be overcome, or are these attitudes, in fact, the hurdles? 

Unfortunately, that’s the kind of information we don’t yet have.  More inclusive studies are needed.

Respectfully Submitted by

Mark Hatcher / mhatcher@lios.saybrook.edu / hatch1_2000@yahoo.com


Posted at 11:28 AM

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Mark, I appreciate your question regarding the challenges women face in the workplace. I believe there is a huge cultural lag between old "male and female" assumptions and current workplace trends. As a young, newly-married woman in the sixties, I actually remember introducing myself as Mrs. (husband's name). I meet women today who still think they are defined by men, I expect that cultural experience and personalities have a lot to do with it. Good for you for shining a light on the question. Margie

Posted by Margie (not verified) | 05/23/2012 @ 01:35 PM

Thanks for sharing Margie!  Your comments are really personal and insightful. 

Posted by mhatcher | 05/29/2012 @ 09:35 AM

Emerson's sabbatoge points are interesting, but I agree with you that they may be too generic in terms of relating to both men and women, although I do think there is research supporting the idea that women accept salaries offers more frequently, while men tend to negotiate upward more often than women in business. Several colleagues have recommended the publications of Sally Helgesen as worthwhile. Thus far, I’ve scanned some of her summaries and reviews online---which are thought provoking.

Another way I think women may sabotage themselves in the work environment, especially in large meetings and in presentations, involves not using full voice when speaking; for example, speaking too softly, finishing a statement with a lift as though questioning their own statements, minimizing their comments with light laughter, and letting men talk over them until the women drop out in silence.

A strength I choose to encourage in meetings involves taking a positive position of collaboration---rather than subjugation--- to foster open dialog, creative thinking, and system shifts with mutual buy-in.

Posted by Cyndy FitzGerald (not verified) | 05/30/2012 @ 01:54 PM

As a woman who has been in the workforce for three decades as a leader and now as a consultant, I believe women have made great progress and still face many challenges. In reflection, there are some real basics to performing in a way that is aligned with your own core values.

First, know your values and pay attention to discord that indicates you have strayed from what you value in the workplace, the family, the community.

Second, continuously seek to understand your and your teammates innate gifts and strengths and building upon them. Gone are the days of watering down what you are truly good at trying to bring weaknesses up to a strength..surround yourself with a network of people that brings talent in the areas you are not strong in (for me that is detailed finances/accounting, for example). That way, you stay aligned to who you really are and define your success through influence, honed, natural talent and results.

Third, be kind, fair and honest to yourself and all colleagues around you at all levels. Humility (not subserviance or invisibility) and kindness go along way in positively contributing to the culture and morale of the workplace. Basically, your behavior must match your values...your values need to be in harmony with your companies values. If they are not, seek to influence changes to the companies values (much harder the larger the company) or find a new company!

A great reference is "Fierce Conversations, Achieving Success at Work & in Life, One Conversation at a Time" by Susan Scott.

Posted by Christy Hartigan (not verified) | 03/02/2013 @ 05:17 AM