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Are you biased — against yourself?

Group of office workers

More than 15 years ago, I came up with the idea to start the Network of Executive Women because I wanted to bring women together to support one another. It worked!

Today the organization has grown to more than 10,000 members and we are supporting each other every day. NEW’s success is due to the many women and men who have come together and worked hard to bring its mission — to advance women, grow business and transform our industry’s workplace through the power of community — to life.

That said, women are still not advancing in our organizations at the rate they should be. Research from McKinsey and shows it will take more than 100 years for men and women to be represented equally in the C-suite.

There are plenty of programs in place to address the opportunity of gender diversity. Many of our organizations recognize it as a strategic initiative because gender equality provides a larger talent pool and leads to better results. So why is gender diversity lagging?

McKinsey found unconscious bias — social stereotypes we hold outside our own conscious awareness — are holding women back.

Typically, a blog like this would focus on how others’ unconscious bias affects women’s careers. But I’d like you to take a look at the unconscious biases that you might have that are creating an ambition gap and may be limiting your success.

McKinsey found that when men and women consider senior-level jobs, work/family balance is a primary concern. But women associate a higher level of stress with those roles — and perceive them as more unattractive based on an unconscious bias about how people perform those jobs.

Do you have an unconscious bias toward your own potential and your ability to handle line-level positions? Here are steps to begin to uncover your biases and unleash your potential:

1. Honestly list your concerns about taking a senior-level role. Consider how you could handle each of those concerns, if you had no limitations. Write out your responses.

2. Meet with the senior-level person holding a role you’re considering. Try to meet with several individuals at this level or in similar roles. You’ll need to recognize if they have biases or may be limiting themselves in how they operate in their position. Ask them specific questions relating to your concerns and your ideas on how you’d handle each of those concerns.

3. Find a high-level mentor and executive coach. Remember, you are deserving of a coach — no matter what level you are at — who will help you uncover your unconscious biases. They can help you build a plan to move beyond your limiting beliefs and prepare you to achieve your senior level goals.

4. Learn more about unconscious bias. Most career development training available offers ways to uncover your biases are toward other people. Take that training a step further and assess where those biases may be impacting your beliefs on what you can do.

Visualizing success can help you to achieve that success. Visualize yourself in the senior-level role of your dreams. See yourself operating in that position with low levels of stress because you are operating in a way that meets your needs.

NEW’s vision is “a workplace without limits.” If women can overcome our unconscious biases toward senior-level positions, we can achieve this vision. While we know there is much to do in our organizations to achieve gender equality, the work starts with each one of us evaluating what is really holding us back.

Michele Hanson was the founding Board president of the Network of Executive Women. She is CEO of ExecuInsight LLC, a resource for executive-level coaching.

Views expressed in blogs, posts and user comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and corporate partners.