Last week, I had a performance review at work. It went just fine. My boss was encouraging and helpful. We discussed what I'd done, and how I could improve my skills. But then came the part that made me wince: discussing my future. I quietly blushed and looked at my fingernails while my boss made suggestions about how I could get ahead in my career.
I find it really hard to talk about personal advancement in the workforce, and the idea of putting myself forward for promotion makes me deeply uncomfortable. It's not just because thinking of myself at a time when people are being made redundant in droves seems crass. And it's not just that, as a feminist, I'm only too aware of the feminisation of poverty - that a great many women don't have the basics, let alone the luxury of worrying about career plans. And it's not that I can't be assertive in the workforce, or that I lack self-confidence - I happily take on leadership roles quite often.
Buried deep inside my psyche, there's a part of me that feels very uneasy about putting myself first, and competing with workmates to do so. The stereotype of the cold, ambitious career woman must be lurking somewhere in my subconscious. Some research I did on female academics suggests they feel the same. Women are more likely to wait quietly until someone suggests they apply for promotion, whereas guys will generally just go for it, whether or not they believe they'll succeed. I don't think that competitive behaviour is particularly desirable at work - but if women don't engage, we end up with little or no female representation in our decision-making bodies.
Is this a gender thing, a 'me' thing, or a bit of both? Are there any other shrinking violets out there?