The Confidence Factor for Women: When You Feel Like An “Outsider”

Career and business advice for women leaders

[Partial letter]

Dear Carol,

I relocated to Toronto from Munich approximately 6 years ago to pursue my dream of becoming a finance executive in a global bank. I have dreamed of becoming a powerhouse on Wall Street since I can remember, and when I received this opportunity to move up the ladder, I decided to take the leap.

However it has been challenging, which I expected. The world of finance is demanding and male dominated. I recently went with my leadership team to a meeting with other high level executives from other institutions around the world and thought it would be a moment where I could highlight my value. After a few hours, one of the attendees said to me in a humorous manner “You will make a great addition to any leadership division, but your accent will hold you back.”

I was hurt by the comment and spent most of the evening uttering simple words such as “hello” and “have a great day.” There are other men in my division who are from Europe with heavy Slavic accents, who are regularly promoted and given opportunities for advancement. I speak and write great English, but I cannot prevent the accent.

Should I give up my hope of advancing any further or stop seeking advancement until I find a way to fix my accent?

Sincerely,

Discouraged by Dialect

_________________________________

Dear Discouraged by Dialect,

I completely understand your story and feelings, as I am an immigrant woman as well. Recently, someone made an insensitive remark to me during a conversation that I should “go back” to my country since I still can’t say certain words the proper English way.

It is a larger discussion around corporate culture and the tolerance of ignorance. More importantly, if they can continue to attribute the lack of advancement in your career to your regionalism, they will. As you mentioned, there are other male colleagues with a stronger accent, who are advancing.

If you allow the intimidation of such an ignorant individual to stop you from moving forward, it will become the factor they use to explain your lack of advancement. There will always be cultural intolerance and insensitivity in the market.

Here is what you need to consider:

  • You need to continue to ask questions of your superiors about your performance and professional contributions.
  • Continue to document any and all experiences where you believe you are not fairly considered and use your professional experience as the base of your argument.
  • If you personally believe your accent is hindering your growth, you should consider ESL and tonality training.
  • Do not allow anyone use the “accent” excuse over performance. We live in a global world.
  • Lastly, use the benefit of your native language as a professional benefit of brokering bigger projects with European investors. You must pitch the idea that your knowledge of the language and culture makes you a valuable asset to growing the company. Multilingualism is an asset, not liability.

Do not live in discouragement due to the ignorance of others. You have the academic and professional experience to be an effective global leader. Negativity should not stop you.

I will see you at the top!

— Carol

Carol Sankar is a high level business consultant and the founder of The Confidence Factor for Women in Leadership, which is a global executive leadership firm focused on diversity and inclusion initiatives for high level women. Carol has been featured at TEDx, The Steve Harvey Show, Bounce TV, Inroads, The Society for Diversity, SHRM, Huffington Post, Entrepreneur Magazine, Forbes and more. For more details, visit www.carolsankar.com

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