4 ways for women, and all humans, to navigate bias and insecurity at work

Feb 4, 2019, 10:12 AM
legacy id :
Summary : AACRAO leaders discuss strategies to keep imposter syndrome, glass ceilings, and cultural conditioning from holding you back.
Url :

All the credentials in the world won’t protect you from a biased colleague, structural inequity, or self-doubt. Systemic -- and internalized -- oppression is slow to change. While we wait, and agitate, for humans to inch closer to justice, we can also learn strategies to navigate the professional obstacles bred by bias and exclusivity.

Common challenges: Imposter syndrome and cultural conditioning

Imposter syndrome is a familiar feeling among women and minority populations. Some have received explicit and implicit messages that they aren’t welcome and/or aren’t good enough.

“No matter what minority group you belong to -- women, people of color, trans or nonbinary people -- when you don’t see people who look like you in positions of power, you can feel like you don’t belong [in a leadership role],” said Ewa Nowicki, Chair of AACRAO’s recently formed Women’s Caucus. “You may not feel like you have a right to hold space when you’re surrounded by images of folks who don’t look like you.”

In addition, women are typically socialized to lead in ways that may make their leadership less visible in institutions used to rewarding masculine leadership styles.

“Often, women share or defer accolades, or don’t speak up in big meetings,”  said Bianca Thompson, Vice Chair of the caucus. “Then when it’s time to ask for a raise, you may not be drawing attention to yourself, but eager to share the glory. It’s important to acknowledge your own contribution and accomplishments.”

That silencing or disempowering of women and the feminine may also contribute to the actual silencing of women’s voices.

“I frequently see women making points in meetings, and the leadership glosses over those points until another person echos it,” said Erin Mason, caucus Secretary.

Leadership -- both men and women in power -- need to listen for those voices and help to amplify them.

Tools for navigating these challenges

Over time, disempowered people have developed a variety of tools for working and thriving in disadvantageous environments. In an AACRAO 2019 Annual Meeting session (details below), the caucus leadership team will explore common career hindrances women face and discuss strategies for coping with them. A few are mentioned below.

  1. Prepare and publicize. “Be prepared with a clear snapshot of your professional accomplishments,” recommended Thompson. “If you ever feel put on the spot or facing a golden opportunity, you’ll have your 30-second pitch ready. And remember that it’s O.K. to acknowledge and celebrate your personal and professional accomplishments.”

  2. Shift your narrative. An executive presence is something that can be cultivated and developed over time. Your inner voice is the first place to start. “Daily affirmations can be incredibly powerful,” Thompson said. “I am good enough. I am enough. I am well prepared. I’ve done this before.”

    “Research supports that power of narrative and storytelling,” Mason said. “Don’t believe everything you think. Separate that self-doubt from the self-knowing of all that you’ve done and achieved to get here.” [Here's a great resource on the power of personal narratives.]
  3. Self-care. It’s a cliche because it’s true. Self-care is so important, especially for people who have been socialized to put others’ needs first. Take a walk, meditate, crochet. First, learn to listen to that inner voice that tells you what you really need right now. Then do what you need to do to get yourself right.

    “I take a ‘vacation’ every day,” Mason said. For her, it may be a 15 minute walk to clear her head. Whenever possible, she recommended, take at least 15 minutes a day to cultivate that vacation feeling -- let go of responsibilities, be in your body, and relax.
  4. Community. “Connect with other women in similar situations,” Thompson said. “For example, if you’re pursuing an advanced degree, connect with a mentor, connect with women in study groups or writing sessions to uplift and support each other.”

    In addition, build up other women and others who are disempowered. “Realize that we all have privilege and bias that comes into our personality and workplace,” Nowicki said. “We should be aware and lifting up others while we advocate for ourselves.” And, when you’re at a loss with whom to connect to, visualize a powerful woman in the audience, educated and poised, cheering you on. Nowicki’s choice is Michelle Obama. 

To broaden your community, consider joining the Women’s Caucus. 

More resources
Learn more at the Feb. 20 webinar "Introducing the Women's Caucus." Join this live, free webinar to discuss the objectives for the caucus as well as ways to get involved with AACRAO at the national and stage/regional level. The webinar is led by Thompson, Meridith Braz (Dartmouth College), and Susan Hamilton (Rutgers).

Discover AACRAO 2019 sessions. 
Join Nowicki, Thompson, Mason, Laura Remillard (Stanford University), and Margo Landy (University of the Pacific) at these focused Annual Meeting sessions "Breaking Down the Bias Barrier: Developing Leadership Skills for Women and "Women Leaders: Navigating the challenges of impostor syndrome, bias, and other career pitfalls."

Nowicki, Thompson, and Mason also shared the following resources which have inspired them:
- The Women at Work podcast from Harvard Business Review. 
- An article regarding why women stay out of the spotlight.
- The American Association of University Women is a good resource for research on gender equity and scholarships for further education. They also have a free e-course on salary negotiations.
- The Harvard Graduate School of Education Women in Education Leadership workshop. 
- NASPA's Center for Women and women’s leadership conference.
- Climb: Taking Every Step with Conviction, Courage, and Calculated Risk to Achieve a Thriving Career and a Successful Life, a book by Michelle Gadsden Williams

AACRAO Women's Caucus
AACRAO Annual Meeting
March 31-April 3, 2019
Los Angeles, CA
Introducing the Women's Caucus
Join us Feb. 20 for a live webinar
Categories :
  • AACRAO Annual Meeting
  • AACRAO Leadership and Governance
  • AACRAO News
  • Competencies
  • Diversity and Inclusion
  • Gender
  • Meetings, Workshops, and Trainings
  • Webinars
Tags :
  • volunteer
  • women
  • women's caucus
Related people
  • Meet the Members

    Steven E. Smith, University Registrar, Adelphi University

    Steven Smith CCAACRAO's LGBTQIA Caucus holds a very special place in my heart. I spent my early years in the closet and at my first Annual Meeting, I walked past the Caucus meeting three times but couldn't gather the courage to walk in. I timidly took that step at my second conference and my life changed forever; attending that Caucus meeting was the first public thing I ever did as a gay person. The people I met that day are now some of the best friends I have, in fact, years later one of them flew half-way across the country to attend my wedding!  

    Joining the Caucus gave me the courage to come out at home and work. It has connected me with some fabulous colleagues whom I contact regularly by phone, email, and social media. It has informed me about many issues that I thought I knew well, but realized I had more to learn. The three-year stint that I served as chair is one of my fondest memories. The LGBTQIA Caucus has been an important part of my life and I encourage those who identify with any of those letters (including the "A" allies!) to be a part of this important group. 


    Carrie Cuy, Assistant Registrar, Harvard University Division of Continuing Education

    Carrie Cuy CCDiscovering the LGBTQIA caucus was a highlight for me during AACRAO’s 2019 Annual Meeting in Los Angeles.


    As a new member, I found the caucus to be a welcoming and friendly group of higher education colleagues. I look forward to participating in future AACRAO and caucus events and fostering a supportive environment for knowledge sharing and professional development in our field.

    Michael N. Robertson, Director of Admissions & Enrollment Services, Southern College of Optometry

    Mike Robertson CC
    When a small group of us helped found the LGBTQ Caucus many years ago, one of our main goals was to simply give “folks like us” a place where we could be ourselves  and share common goals, issues and concerns.  Now, we’ve evolved into a strong group whose added goal of educating our constituency about LGBTQ issues on campuses has made differences at colleges around the world.  The caucus has made me proud of AACRAO and has helped make me a better administrator.  For that, I will always be grateful.

    Stephen Arod Shirreffs, Ph.D., Associate Registrar, Stanford University

    Stephen Arod Shirreffs CC
    I'm in the LGBTQIA caucus because I think visibility is a core value as an engaged gay man and as an engaged AACRAO member. I've been involved in the gay movement since the early 70s, the heady days of gay liberation. Now, as our profession as well as our campuses are more diverse than ever, being "out there" says it loud and proud that we all belong and everyone is welcome. As AACRAO advocates for the issues that are critical to our jobs, having the public backing of our caucus is important work, and I want to be part of it.

    Allen Corben, Assistant Registrar/Graduation Services, Fuller Theological Seminary 

    Allen Corben CCI'm in the LGBTQIA caucus because because none of us are free unless all of us are free.




Mission Statement

AACRAO's LGBTQIA Caucus strives to work for LGBTQIA rights, and educate other higher education professionals so they are able to serve their students with an understanding of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.

The Caucus welcomes any AACRAO member willing to advance LGBTQIA rights, regardless of sexual identity or orientation. 


LGBTQIA Caucus Chairs

Paul McCarty CC

Paul C. McCarty, Registrar | Washington College

Holly Halmo CC

Holly Halmo, Director of Student Success Initiatives | New York University
Please fill out the form below to join the LGTBQIA Caucus. After submission, a Caucus member will contact you with next steps. 

Student Identity Report

The guidance and recommendations are presented as good, better, and best to accommodate the varying student population needs, political environments, systems/technology use, and educational missions of U.S. colleges and universities while still arming practitioners in admissions and registrars offices who have a duty to serve and advocate for students in a manner that is inclusive and welcoming.

Download the Report