How Chiropractic Wins When We Have More Women Speakers and Leaders Part 2

PART TWO: Why won’t women just step up?

Part of the problem is women.

Women are not asserting themselves. Women are much less likely to ask to speak. Women are far less likely to ask for a leadership role. Women won’t step into the open spaces.

Why won’t women speak up and step up?

It boils down to a few basic ideas that have been deeply ingrained into being female.

1. Fear of being penalized for asserting ourselves.

2. The need to be perfect.

3. Persistent self-doubt.

4. Confusion. What is MY voice?

The cultural experience of being a woman IS different than being a man.

CULTURAL ISSUE ONE: We live in a culture that shames women who assert themselves.

Asserting yourself as a woman is scary. The consequence can be nasty.

  • Women pay a social penalty for asserting themselves. What does that mean? It means that we are shunned, shamed and dismissed for the act of assertion. IE — assertive women are less likeable.
  • Women pay a financial penalty for asserting themselves. Really? Yes. Studies show that when women assert themselves in the workplace they statistically get paid LESS. Yes. That’s bad.
  • Assertive women lose influence. We are seen as too pushy, too needy and then we are held in contempt with those who hold power. It’s a lose — lose situation.

You might think this idea is out of proportion or paranoid, but I am telling you right now, that this DOES happen ALL THE TIME. To me. To my female friends and colleagues. This stuff really happens.

There ARE negative consequences of being assertive as a woman that men do not experience.

Negative consequences can happen to assertive men too. That is true. But it is less aggressive, less personal and less deeply ingrained in how we have been taught to view male assertiveness.

CULTURAL ISSUE TWO: Women have impossible standards for taking on leadership or a major task.

Women feel that they must be completely capable, flawless, before they should risk taking on a particular project or role. If they don’t feel very capable, they will look for someone more capable to do it.

Why does this happen?

Elizabeth Gilbert describes this brilliantly in her book Big Magic (pg 167):

Perfectionism is a particularly evil lure for women, who, I believe, hold themselves to an even higher standard of performance than do men. There are many reasons women’s voices and visions are not more widely represented today in creative fields…Holding back their ideas, holding back their contributions, holding back their leadership and their talents. Too many women still seem to believe that they are not allowed to put themselves forward at all, until both they and their work are perfect and beyond criticism.
Meanwhile, putting forth work that is far from perfect rarely stops men…
“I am 41 percent qualified for this task, so give me the job.” Yes, sometimes the results are ridiculous and disastrous, but sometimes, strangely enough, it works — a man who seems not ready for the task, not good enough for the task, somehow grows immediately into his potential through the wild leap of faith itself.
I wish more women would risk these same kinds of wild leaps.
But I’ve watched too many women do the opposite. I’ve watched far too many gifted and brilliant female creators say, “I am 99.8 percent qualified for this task, but until I master that last smidgen of ability, I will hold myself back, to be on the safe side.”
Now, I cannot imagine where women ever got the idea that they must be perfect in order to be loved or successful. (Ha ha ha! Just kidding! I can totally imagine: We got it from every single message society has ever sent us! Thanks, all of human history!) But we women must break this habit in ourselves. We must understand that the drive for perfectionism is a corrosive waste of time, because nothing is ever beyond criticism.

Our culture teaches little girls and teaches women that we need to do it right or be publicly devalued. Women believe that we need to get it perfect every time, and that holds us back.


Despite the fact that women have made many strides in education and business, we frequently see that women are still unwilling to raise their hands in class or speak up when they find themselves among men.

For example, I am learning to sail. I recently went on a keel boat cruise with three much more experienced sailors. I have never sailed a keel boat — only a dingy (small and simple sailboat). I’m still learning the dingy, so going on this keel boat cruise as a crew member was already an act of courage.

While we were out in the bay, a part of the rigging broke and all three experienced sailors went forward to collaborate on the repair under sail. They asked me to man the rudder (steer and captain the boat). If it had not been a special, semi-urgent situation I would NEVER have agreed to drive this expensive giant sail boat. They believed in me, but I was flooded with doubt. I only did it under duress. And guess what? I handled it. I made a few mistakes but they were not catastrophic.

Many women express feeling the same way. We underestimate our own abilities and dwell in every mistake. We doubt ourselves even as we are doing the thing that needs to be done.


When your life is built around being helpful, being nice, being pretty and being “good” — it takes a lot of hard work (and time) to figure out who the hell you are.

Women struggle to find their voice and know their true passions. Because who you are deep down has nothing to do with all that good girl stuff.

Women with and without children are frequently cast in the role of the caregiver. We care for our families, our friends, our co-workers. We even take care of people we don’t particularly like, because it is the “right” thing to do.

Women persist well past adolescence in struggling to find their own voice. It is hard to stand up as a leader and a speaker when you have never had enough time and space to discover your authentic voice and passion.

I was talking about this with another female chiropractor who coaches women in chiropractic. She said “The women I work with are often distracted by being who others want them to be. I think we accommodate others and take care of others so much that we do not KNOW ourselves like men know themselves.”

What happens next?

Some say that women just need to show up.

I have to call bullshit on that. I see women show up over and over and get ignored. More than the men do. More than anyone should be.

Women not showing up is not the crux of the problem. So many women show up over and over and are given a seat at the back of the room, asked to take a pay break compared to the man who demands more, asked to volunteer, asked to work without acknowledgment and without thanks. This is not just paying our dues. Unless women somehow owe more dues.

We do need to show up, but that is not enough.

Some say women need to “lean in.”

Should women push harder, grow thicker skin, persist despite the extra challenges?

Hell yes.

But we need to recognize that women are climbing a steeper hill than their male counterparts.

When women don’t seem to be “leaning in” enough it is because our culture makes is insanely fucking hard to continually do so. It is not because we lack courage and persistence. It is because we get tired sometimes.

Women are simply exhausted from fighting the many many layers of pressure and extra skills needed for a woman to thrive in leadership. Every woman you see “leaning in” and taking a leadership role, has most likely persisted past more cultural push back, and incredibly hard emotional work than you might ever imagine.

Do we deserve a parade? No. We are not asking for an “atta girl.” We are asking for everyone, men and women to stop oversimplifying this vital conversation to “Just try harder.”

If we don’t only show up and lean in — then what else is there?

Step one: Recognition of the reality of the landscape.

When we recognize the cultural barriers we can begin to deconstruct and deflate them. This is a task for men and women alike. Men and women built the barriers together and we need to tear them down together.

Step two: Consciously rebuild and retrain.

I believe that we need to co-create a cultural shift where we (women and men) stop shaming women who assert themselves. We need to help each other see that we have set impossible standards for women. We need to take a chance on a woman who is feeling self doubt. We need to help each other find our voice and have patience with ourselves as we get there.

But that is not where the conversation ends. There is more.

It is my turn to step up and speak my truth by writing these words. I speak my truth not to make other wrong or bad or ashamed. I am interested in this conversation. I am very interested in making a new path, a third path, that men and women can walk down together.

Don’t miss reading :

Part 1: How Chiropractic Wins When We Have More Women Speaking and Leading: How it is right now.

Part 3: Deconstructing the Myths That Shape Us

Part 4: Simple steps to make change possible

Hi! I’m Mary — a chiropractor, a writer, a marketer, and a teacher.

I am the founder of The Art of Story Project, an online business which coaches speakers and content creators to use story to become more powerful influencers.

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