Dr. Wall Says

Speak up, listen up, bridge the gap

Working Harder Isn’t Working for Women

Work hard. Now work just a little bit harder. Push the limit. Give more. Do more. Show them how much you care. Let them see how dedicated, driven, and talented you are.

Multitasking. Overworked Afro Businesswoman Sitting Touching Head Ignoring Colleagues Tired Of Multiple Tasks At Work In Modern Office.

For many women, this is the recipe for success – or so they think. Because every woman knows that if you work hard enough you’ll be rewarded. Every woman knows she has to do just a little more to prove she’s up to the task.

[…]working harder isn’t paying off. If anything it’s costing [women] and their organizations more than they think

I too was raised to work harder. I had no choice; I had undiagnosed ADD and great ambitions. I struggled to concentrate, to read a sentence and remember what it said, to retain and process complex information. It took me five hours to do what my classmates did in two. I had to work harder to do just as well as everyone else, and harder still to excel.

When I finally outgrew the ADD (or learned enough compensatory skills to make it a non-issue), I continued using the same principles to succeed. Over the long haul, it didn’t work for me and it doesn’t work for most women either.

The Myth: Hard Work = Success

  • “Women have up to one-and-a-half year’s extra education, and nearly a full year’s extra workforce experience, than what is required for their job,” says Leonora Risse in a November 2018 CNN article on women, work, and promotions.
  • 28% of women say they always deliver over and above to impress, compared to just 19% of men.
  • 15% of women and only 9% of men say they have attended a course or obtained a qualification to increase their credentials.

Sometimes, as a woman, it feels like working harder and doing more is the key to success. But if that were the case, then every woman I coach would be thriving in her career.

If working harder were the key to success, these women would be the CEOs, CFOs, and presidents of their companies.

The Reality of Hard(er) Working Women

My clients come in early, skip lunch, and leave late.

They expand their responsibilities without salary increases or schedule adjustments. They give up time with family, friends, partners, and children. They get more degrees and certifications and become even more qualified.

They say “yes!” to everything that’s put in front of them, even when they want to say no. They’re the first to step up when someone needs help and the last to step out at the end of the day. They prove themselves every opportunity they get.

If working harder were the key to success, these women would be the CEOs, CFOs, and presidents of their companies. They’d have seven-figure businesses and a seat on the board. Instead, they’re exhausted. They feel stuck. Their careers are stagnant or advancing at a glacial pace, and they’re out of ideas for what to do next.

No Rewards For Harder Work…

Maybe it’s true that women still have to do more to succeed in the workplace. Not because we have anything to prove, but because old ways die hard and the system is still weighed against us. But working harder is not the answer.

Hard work is necessary but not sufficient.[…] Doing more of the bare minimum is not what makes you stand out.

Hard work, follow-through, basic accountability, these are the bare minimum for any decent professional.

Doing more of the bare minimum is not what makes you stand out; it’s not what gets you promoted, and unfortunately, it’s not really valued.

The women I coach are some of the hardest working people I’ve encountered. They do their jobs and more. They pride themselves on being that person; the one who can do anything, for anyone, at all times.

What’s their reward? According to them, not much. The extra degrees and certifications, the after-hours spent on the job, the successful juggling of three projects… after a certain point, all they have to show for it is a pat on the back and commendations for being so damn reliable.

The promotions aren’t forthcoming, and who would blame their managers? Would you give up someone who does two people’s job for the price one and never complains? Would you let go of your most dependable, hardworking and conscientious team member? Few would.

Business people working in modern office during conference. Businessmen and businesswomen at meeting in executive room with manager speaking and doing corporate presentation for team building


If Working Harder Isn’t The Solution, What Is?

Women who want to rise to the top, sit at the leader’s table, and make their mark need to rethink their strategy. Clearly, working harder isn’t paying off. If anything it’s costing them and their organizations more than they think.

  • Exhaustion
  • Disengagement
  • Drop-out
  • Recruiting/onboarding costs
  • Absenteeism
  • Presenteeism (showing up in person but not mentally)
  • Reactive/ineffective decision making

The cost of asking so much from a single individual without rewarding her are financially staggering and detrimental to the mission and health of any organization.

What Works

  • What works is gaining absolute clarity about what you need, where your value lies and what you expect from your career. Understand those things and you can create goals that are not just right, but right for you. You can come up with a strategic plan for your career – something that you can easily communicate with your current or your next boss – so your focus is aligned.
  • What works is learning to speak up and ask for the opportunities you want, while declining the jobs you don’t thrive in. Doing this will help you avoid burnout. It will ensure that you focus your energy on tasks and projects that reflect your strengths and your passions. It’s what you need to do if you want to stop being seen as the girl who can do anything, and start being regarded as the right woman for the right job.

  • What works is showing up differently – truer to who you are. Not trying to be productive, but striving to be effective. Not aiming for perfection, but setting your sights on excellence. It’s taking a risk and trying something new because your current strategies aren’t working for you. Showing up differently is scary, but it’s essential if you’re feeling stuck.

  • What works is getting support from a coach, a mentor, and a community that will hold you accountable to yourself, keep you committed to your “right-for-you” goals, and remind you to show up even – and especially – when it’s most uncomfortable.

What doesn’t work

…is doing more of the same. Trying to me more, do more, give more in hopes of being noticed, appreciated, promoted or unstuck.

What doesn’t work is believing that working harder = success.

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Hi! I'm Dr. Alessandra Wall

I help smart driven women and forward-thinking companies bridge the gap & build real conversations.

Here on the ‘Dr. Wall Says’, I share tools, tips, and insights about speaking up, getting heard and how women can take up space and thrive in the 21st century.



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