Qualified but Afraid: What is it With Women Who Fear Success?

Business Woman
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The Ripe for Change: Why Sidelining Women Hurts the Bottom Line magazine story shared a pro-female perspective with an all-caps declaration that “DATA SHOW THAT CORPORATIONS SEE GREATER GAINS WHEN THEY INVEST IN THE WOMEN IN THEIR RANKS BY ENSURING THEY ARE REPRESENTED AMONG LEADERSHIP ROLES AND SET UP FOR PROFESSIONAL SUCCESS.” But it didn’t answer the question, “What is it with Women Who Fear Success?”

Other studies indicate the success-achieving women have gender-specific concerns such as Will their husbands or boyfriends become jealous? and Will they lose friends who are uncomfortable that they no longer share the same goals now that new and professional concerns are on the successful but worried friends’ mind? There’s more to consider, such as Are they less feminine? Less popular now as achievers? To put it succinctly, achievement-oriented women tend to wonder What can I lose if I succeed?

Research on the “Women fear success” topic addresses gender equality plus smashing glass ceilings –  contrived efforts to financially and authoritatively end the repression of women. It also broaches the topic of women who decline to be promoted despite having the requisite skills for specific employment advances. Let’s consider why some women reject further success with their endeavors as they nervously consider the negative, unwanted consequences of their efforts.

Decades ago, experimental psychologist Matina Horner alerted western society  to several issues regarding women and success. In a People magazine interview, she remarked that women most likely to fear success “… come from middle- and upper-middle-class, educated families who develop high achievement motivation. At the same time, parents want their daughters to fulfill traditional functions, so a contradictory message emerges. One study found high fear of success in girls whose mothers had careers of their own. They felt distant from their mothers. Fear of success is not neurotic. It’s a realistic appraisal of what society has taught us and how society has responded to women.” Asked “How should women resolve the conflict between career and family?” Horner indicated that “There’s no simple answer. Success lies in implementing self-determined goals. The balance between them can be different for every individual.”

Horner and other researchers have varying points of view about the importance of marriage and children to the fulfillment of women. It’s not unrealistic to consider that a researcher’s predilections added to the sometimes contradictory results of their research affects the conclusions of their studies. Those predilections and confusing research statistics complicate efforts to sort out whether or not society, aka men, makes women pay penalties for business success. A sense of guilt on the part of successful women regretting their sacrifices and unintended outcomes complicates matters. Defining boundaries leaves much ambiguity in the look at this part of life. We need to sort out which women define boundaries one way or another, and if those or other boundaries are imposed by the work environment. A bewildering “Nature or Nurture,” even a “Nature versus Nurture” debate can ensue.

Consider the gossip on broadcast and print media plus the Internet as females take charge of various business concerns. What if they meet and marry future spouses, only to be accused of favoritism? What if they’re high-profile figures such as Nikki Haley at the UN, the White House’s Ivanka Trump, or skin-crawling, “Blame anybody but me” Hillary Clinton? Women who make their mark in the business, let alone political worlds, are barraged with gossip that not only holds them back with emotional distress, it mixes up their employment efforts with significant damage that they didn’t intend to cause but must henceforth control.

As qualified women advance in their employment skills on technical, intellectual and emotional levels, yet decline to be promoted to more powerful and financially rewarding promotions, answers to “What is it with Women Who Fear Success?” will become clearer over time. For now, feminists and plain vanilla women who simply want to fulfill their potential have to blaze their own paths to success, however they define it.