This is how I lost (and recovered) my confidence working with my sexist boss

Andrea couldn’t believe it. It had just been announced at a regional level that her boss was retiring from the company very soon and that the position would be left open. She quickly went from surprise to confusion: How had she just found out? Wasn’t she hired to fill that position as soon as her boss retired?

Immediately came a feeling of failure, frustration, and embarrassment. Her regional manager was as surprised as her. He didn’t expect Andrea to be unaware that she might not take the position. Other managers in the company didn’t even know her.

A few years ago, Andrea already had a promising career in the public sector. Although she was proud of her influence in public policy and foreign policy negotiations, she felt she was stuck and needed a new professional challenge.

Stars aligned. And she was recruited by headhunters to take on an important position. The interview process was exhaustive and stressful; she had endless and numerous interviews with global, regional, and country managers; and finally, her to-be direct boss.

He expressed his concern about finding the right candidate, a well-prepared leadership figure to replace him after his retirement. Although she was intimidated by such a challenge, she was confident in her abilities; her enthusiasm was stronger than her fear.

Finally, the job was hers. For Andrea, it was a new beginning, just like being back to school, with that new supplies smell and shiny shoes.

“And that glow didn’t last. Not even two weeks had passed, and it became clear that my new boss had not selected me. His managers had decided, and he wasn’t willing to teach me, listen to me, or mentor me.”

Over time Andrea gained experience and covered more functions of the position. However, her boss didn’t recognize her achievements, and he even signed some under his name.

Aside from her duties, Andrea had the opportunity to lead a project to promote women within the organization. Her boss thought that “If women need a talent attraction and development program, it’s because they lack something.

Perhaps they don’t lack but have too many prejudices. According to a McKinsey report, opportunities for promotion or hiring vary by gender. For men, these opportunities appear based on their potential, while for women, they are based more on their experience and track record.

In every performance review, she always received the same comments. “I can’t work with someone like you”, “you lack leadership and innovation”. She was not getting constructive feedback, and the Imposter Syndrome became more present. Little by little, Andrea was losing trust and self-confidence.

“This process was in well-administered daily toxic doses. This is frequent in close relationships(…) It is not open aggression. It’s an invasive, progressive process, like a fungus.”

Andrea was suffering some sort of gaslighting. A phenomenon where the victim doubts their reality thanks to the aggressor who questions their perception. A situation at work recognized by the UK National Bully Helpline.

That’s how Andrea found out, as the whole regional team, about his manager’s long-awaited retirement and the news that it didn’t guarantee her promotion.

A promotion she had worked for and waited for four years

Some of the decision-makers for that promotion didn’t even know her. Andrea never had the support of his manager, who was also always very vocal in expressing skepticism about her capabilities.

“I am absolutely certain that such doubt would not have occurred if a man had been in my place and perhaps older than me.”

Andrea was at the gates of that career advancement funnel that women find themselves in. A global phenomenon where promotions to senior positions drop to 26% and then to 14% to executive committee positions. Explaining the 2% and 3% of women CEOs in the most relevant companies according to Fortune 500.

At that point, Andrea, already convinced that she was not made for the position, decided to pretend she was confident about deserving the promotion and leaned to her support network. She then decided to undertake one of the most important investigations of her life: to find out whether or not she was an imposter.

He realized that feedback from his boss wasn’t the only feedback she needed. Andrea had a round of difficult conversations. She scheduled meetings with directors, executives, and people on the same level as her boss; outlined her interest in taking on the role, and asked them to tell her what they felt was necessary to make that happen. 

“I stopped worrying about what was impossible for me to change, like my age and being a woman. And with all the information I gathered I put together an action plan to change the perceptions, something that I could change.”

She increased her public speaking appearances, wrote academic articles, and became involved in other projects that required leadership skills. Not knowing she had begun her campaign to assume the position.

An attitude that made her visible to managers who were unaware of her existence. That earned her the final decision to be the one to replace her boss. 

“The decision-maker told me that he had heard excellent things about me and that since he had been given many opportunities throughout his professional career, he was glad to give one to me.”

Andrea shared this story with us during a talk at a private Fuckup Nights event. You can hear her story from her here and learn how to bring stories like this to your company here.

Edited by Santiago da Silva Évora & Paula Perez Ghiglia



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Content & typos creator. Rich runs Fuckup Nights blog, newsletter & social media. He probably posted this blog by himself, and thinks it’s awkward to write his own bio. Fuckuppin’s mom.