I was recently coaching a woman – a senior, competent, ambitious brilliant woman of color. She had big dreams and knew how to make an impact. When she reached out, she said she wanted to work on being more confident in her role as she was navigating some challenges in her workplace.

As I got to know her better it became very clear that she didn’t have to work on being more confident, she was very confident but was in an environment where her confidence, her self-belief, her talent, and her ideas weren’t always welcome. She was doubting her abilities but as she peeled the layers she realized her self-doubt was stemming from the fact that the culture was stifling her creativity. She saw the bright light within her but also then saw how she was dimming her own light to stay safe in a system that wasn’t able to value what she had to offer.

I see this pattern over and over especially when brave and bold women and other minorities want to step into their full power. There are often (not always!) systemic challenges at play and individuals in positions of authority who can feel threatened, who want to control and operate under traditional systems of hierarchy and keep others small to feel big themselves.

I call this out because it is really important to be able to discern what is causing you to not get promoted, get that coveted project, or speak at that conference. Oftentimes, there are valid skills gaps, there is more work an individual needs to do, and leadership behaviors to demonstrate. But sometimes, the issues are systemic in nature and we don’t do anyone a service by playing to fit into the systems vs. calling out what’s wrong and taking charge of both our own agency but also holding up a mirror to what’s broken in our systems. This often comes with a huge risk and will not be worth it for all individuals at all times and I fully acknowledge that.

So, you may be curious what my client decided to do – She found a mentor, a sponsor, and an ally in a senior woman in her organization and is planning to share her ambition, and her aspirations and shed some light on some of the systemic barriers at play. While I hope the outcome is positive and this woman gets what she deserves and there are systemic changes made, I am celebrating her (and many others like her!) who are able to reclaim their own power, see their own talents and gifts and unapologetically own their ambition and create the change they want for themselves.

Story shared with permission

Photo Credit: Leohoho

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