- A new book offers a fresh perspective on why women’s career growth may have stalled and provides solutions for how women in business can overcome internal barriers to success.
- Considering approximately 47% of female executives experience self-doubt, the concept of women confined behind a “Mirrored Door” is highly pertinent.
- Female business leaders need to be empowered to break through entrenched cultural biases and overcome structural and systemic workplace obstacles, to pave the way for other women who remain trapped by these barriers.
Most people are already familiar with the concept of the Glass Ceiling — an invisible societal or organizational barrier that blocks the progress of individuals (especially women and underrepresented groups). However, have you ever come across the term “Mirrored Door?”
Author Ellen Taaffe uses the phrase to represent another hidden barrier that can impede the career progress of female executives. What sets this phenomenon apart is that, unlike the Glass Ceiling, most aspects of the Mirrored Door have been constructed by women, making it possible for them to dismantle the barriers themselves.
What is the Mirrored Door?
The Mirrored Door concept originates from Taaffe’s book, “The Mirrored Door: Break Through the Hidden Barrier that Locks Successful Women in Place.” Taaffe, a former Fortune Future 50 Senior Executive and current Clinical Associate Professor at Kellogg School of Management, draws upon her research, professional insights, and personal experiences to offer comprehensive insight into workplace self-doubt.
The concept addresses internal barriers that hinder professional growth, emphasizing the impact of insecurities and societal expectations on women’s potential.
“The Mirrored Door” marks a crucial point in a woman’s career when a woman’s self-doubt and hesitation can prevent her from seizing opportunities. Factors such as imposter syndrome (a growing phenomenon among business leaders characterized by thoughts of inadequacy), societal gender norms and ingrained beliefs can contribute to this hesitation.
As Taaffe writes in her book, The Mirrored Door: Break Through the Hidden Barrier that Locks Successful Women in Place, “Too many smart women carry the belief that problems in their careers lie within.”
Recognizing negative internal beliefs can facilitate our understanding of why so many women fail to reach their full potential within the workplace. According to a recent KPMG study, approximately 47% of female executives experience self-doubt, a significant internal barrier the Mirrored Door urges women to identify and dismantle.
Imposter Syndrome, although not a clinical disorder, is studied by psychologists for its strong links to burnout. For similar reasons, perfectionism is another focus of psychological research. According to Taaffe, women are particularly susceptible to perfectionist tendencies. While perfectionism may seem commendable at first, it can become a hindrance when it restricts women from pursuing new opportunities and confines them to one place in their careers.
According to Taaffe, the pursuit of perfection can become deeply ingrained in many female executives, potentially overshadowing their other talents and enabling colleagues to shine at their expense. Moreover, perfectionism can become a source of stress. It is unsurprising, therefore, that the latest research indicates a significant connection between Imposter Syndrome, perfectionism, and stress.
5 Strategies to Help Women Walk Through the Door
Taaffe offers women five broad and relatable strategies to help them pivot away from self-doubt and perfectionism toward a more positive relationship with their roles and workplaces. Female executives are encouraged to adapt these strategies to their own experiences and workplace situations. The five techniques are:
- Reflect on success: Recognize and celebrate your accomplishments at work. This fosters a more positive approach towards personal growth and progress. Redirecting attention away from unachieved goals also encourages more self-reflection on the behaviors and thought patterns that have led to success.
- Reframe your roles and responsibilities: Identify areas where you invest significant time and energy. Consider delegating or reallocating resources from projects where you are striving for perfection to multiple projects that can be completed in the same timeframe with less emphasis on perfectionism.
- Take action: Once you know what is hindering progress, it is time to transition from contemplation to planning for action. Re-evaluate your priorities, negotiate and collaborate with others and refrain from taking on all tasks independently.
- Optimal efficiency: Identify your most efficient work areas and delegate other tasks to your colleagues. Match your effort level to the specific requirements of each task to achieve optimal results.
- Be realistic: Choose progress over perfection. Constantly attempting to attain the highest standards can be exhausting. Being less of a perfectionist and setting boundaries in the workplace will free up time and energy to devote to advancing your career.
Although women play the most vital role in breaking down the Mirrored Door, employers must also recognize the efforts of these women and actively support them to dismantle their internal barriers by listening and offering practical solutions such as flexible work arrangements and reskilling programs.
How does the Mirrored Door Impact the Future of Work?
The most recent McKinsey & Company study on women in the workplace revealed that female leaders in America are quitting corporate positions in unprecedented numbers. Some leave due to burnout, but for many women, a lack of support and promotion opportunities force them to leave their positions. Progress in breaking down barriers for female executives (such as gender pay parity) remains slow, and these structural inequalities and systemic biases are compounded by the internal obstacles that women place in front of themselves. The Mirrored Door concept highlights many of these internal barriers and breaking down those obstacles could help stem the number of female executives who are quitting.
The Mirrored Door approach acknowledges the complex challenges encountered by female executives and offers accessible pathways for them to overcome many of these obstacles. This approach also recognizes the need for more female senior executive role models and the importance of seeing these women breaking through both structural and internal barriers. Above all, the focus of the Mirrored Door is on empowering women to thrive in their professional careers, upon which the future of work depends.