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How Good Girl Conditioning hinders women in the workplace

Updated: Feb 1


Four women working outdoors around a table with laptops and notepads on it. They look like they're enjoying themselves

As you're on my website, you might have already noticed that I'm on a mission to help women overcome their Good Girl Conditioning and help them live authentically.


Good Girl Conditioning is a sneaky culprit we need to tackle directly. We're subjected to many unwritten (and annoyingly, ever-changing) rules and societal expectations that hold us back. It's time to break free from its grip.


What is Good Girl Conditioning?

Good Girl Conditioning refers to the societal expectations and norms imposed on women that dictate their behaviour, perpetuate traditional gender roles, and restrict their autonomy, self-expression, and choices. It reinforces the pressure to conform to societal ideals of femininity, obedience, and compliance.


Society uses tactics of coercive control to get us to behave.


How does this harm women?

Good Girl Conditioning:

  • Reinforces traditional gender roles and stereotypes

  • Perpetuates unequal power dynamics between genders

  • Suppresses our voices and self-expression - we feel we have to wear a mask

  • Creates pressure to conform to societal expectations and norms

  • Undermines our self-confidence and self-worth

  • Contributes to feelings of 'imposter syndrome' and self-doubt

  • Hinders career advancement and professional growth

  • Promotes a culture of perfectionism and fear of failure

  • Negatively impacts our mental and emotional well-being

  • Limits opportunities for personal and professional development

  • Leads to internalised misogyny and self-policing among women

  • Maintains gender disparities and inequities in various spheres of life

  • Contributes to a lack of representation and visibility of women in leadership roles

  • Deters women from pursuing their passions and ambitions

  • Suppresses individuality and authentic self-expression

  • Impedes the progress of gender equality and social change


The detrimental impact of Good Girl Conditioning extends well beyond personal lives and seeps into the very fabric of work environments. This conditioning adversely affects women in the workplace and there are strategies for breaking free or deprogramming, as I like to call it.


1. The pressure to conform

From a young age, we are indoctrinated with the notion that being a "good girl" equates to being polite, accommodating, and submissive. However, these traits can be detrimental in work contexts where assertiveness, confidence, and self-advocacy/promotion are highly valued. The pressure to conform to these outdated gender expectations stifles our authentic voices and undermines our professional growth.


2. Fear of being perceived as aggressive/overly ambitious/too much

Good Girl Conditioning often instils a fear of being labelled as "difficult" or "aggressive" for asserting oneself in the workplace. God help us if we're called a "bitch" or "bossy". Eyeroll. Due to the potential backlash, women are subtly discouraged from speaking up, challenging the status quo, or taking on leadership roles. Consequently, their ideas and contributions may go unnoticed, limiting their career progression and hindering organisational innovation.


3. The double-bind dilemma

We often find ourselves in a double-bind dilemma when navigating the tightrope of authority and likability. Society expects us to be nurturing and kind, but these qualities are sometimes perceived as weaknesses in professional settings. Striking the right balance between assertiveness and warmth becomes a delicate tightrope, leading many of us to navigate work environments with constant self-doubt and internal conflict. (There's more here)


4. Undermining self-confidence

Constant exposure to gender biases, microaggressions, and the subtle undermining of our achievements erodes our self-confidence. Good Girl Conditioning perpetuates a narrative that we need to work harder, prove ourselves more, and continuously seek validation, ultimately affecting our belief in our abilities. This self-doubt hampers professional advancement and can lead to missed opportunities for growth.


5. Unequal distribution of emotional labour

The burden of emotional labour disproportionately falls on women in the workplace. The expectation of being caring, empathetic, and nurturing often leads to additional responsibilities such as managing conflicts, soothing egos, and maintaining team harmony. Or non-promotable tasks (NPTs), as I've recently learned. This extra workload and the pressure to perform at the same level as our male counterparts lead to emotional exhaustion and impacts our overall well-being and job satisfaction.


All of this leads to us being flipping knackered, overworked, overwhelmed and out of love with our jobs and the organisations we're working for.


Breaking Free - Good Girl Deprogramming

Breaking free from Good Girl Conditioning is a team effort that calls for awareness, support, and some serious structural changes. We're rewriting the narrative, challenging the norms, and reclaiming our power.


Here are some strategies for dismantling this harmful conditioning in work contexts.


1. Recognising that this is a problem for you

Because our conditioning is so endemic, we often don't realise it's even there. I didn't for such a long time. So step one is working out what it is and how it's impacting you. Is your conditioning getting in your way or holding you back? Asking yourself questions and reflecting on this is the first stage to overcoming it.


2. Gathering your rebel women gang

Ok, this may sound super cheesy, but one of the main ways that society keeps us in our Good Girl states is by isolating us from the women around us. We need to combat this isolation by gathering the women around you who are working on this stuff too. Indeed - I'm writing this book to be read in a book club/gang/coven, so you have the support to do this work together.


3. Challenging stereotypes

Encourage open discussions about gender biases and challenge traditional stereotypes. Don't assume that the only woman in the room will take the notes, or fetch the coffees. Seriously - this is 2024! And watch how you talk to and about your colleagues - don't infantilise them or talk over them. Foster an inclusive work culture that values diverse perspectives and rewards authenticity.


4. Leadership development programmes

Create leadership development programmes that specifically address the unique workplace challenges that women find themselves dealing with. And involve them in creating the programmes - because the people closest to the problem will have the solution. Also, be aware, there is no need to try and 'fix' the women. Women don't need fixing. The conditions that women find themselves in do. So work with the women in your organisation to unlock what needs to change and change it! (I wrote about it here).


5. Practical skills development

Offer practical training programmes focusing on their strengths and practical tools to understand and increase assertiveness, power, negotiation, and communication. Again, ask women what they need. By equipping us with the necessary skills, we can confidently navigate workplace dynamics and break free from the limitations of our Good Girl Conditioning.


6. Addressing bias

Implement policies and practices that address unconscious bias in performance evaluations, promotions, and hiring processes. Ensure that merit and competence are the primary criteria for advancement, not who is already a member of the 'boys club'. Is it any wonder that the UK Government has launched an enquiry into sexism and misogyny in banking? Can you imagine having to read through the avalanche of evidence that is coming their way?


7. Cultivating allyship

Encourage people in positions of power to become allies in dismantling gender stereotypes and biases (I wrote about this here). Allies can amplify marginalised voices, challenge discriminatory practices, and advocate for equal opportunities. I wish someone had spoken up when a senior leader in an organisation I was working with told me to 'stop talking' when one of his colleagues asked me a question about the work I was presenting.


By recognising and addressing the impact of Good Girl Conditioning, we can foster workplaces that empower women, celebrate our unique contributions, and unleash our full potential. Breaking free from these societal constraints requires collective action, an unwavering commitment to equality, and a willingness to challenge the status quo. Together, we can create work environments that uplift and value every individual, regardless of gender, and pave the way for a more inclusive and equitable future.


Are you a Good Girl? Take the quiz and find out!


And if you want me to help with your leadership programmes, this is totally my bag - I'm a Charted Organisational Psychologist experienced in this.


Get in touch at michelle@workpirates.com

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