Rebecca Holman | Editor | Thursday, 15 June 2017

I Spent A Decade Worrying That I Was Too ‘Beta’ To Be An Effective Editor - But I Was Wrong 

Think You Can't Be Good At Your Job If You're A Beta Woman? You're Wrong

The Debrief: Success is about what you do, not who you are - so why do we still believe that the Alpha, shouting the loudest, makes the best boss? 

It’s seven years ago. I’m in the pub on a Friday night with my new team. Two weeks before this, I became their boss when I landed a job editing a women’s website that was once very successful and was now in sharp decline. It would have taken a herculean effort to turn the website around, and as a relatively inexperienced, very timid editor, no-one was sure if I was up to the job. Least of all me. 

Apparently this is the first thing we’d all agreed on. ‘They don't think you’ll last, they think you’ll be out in six months,’ one of my new team conspiratorially told me, in an ill-judged, booze-fuelled attempt at bonding, while I started back at him aghast, my mouth hanging open. ‘But I think they’re wrong I think there’s a lot more going on there,’ he quickly added, when he realised his attempt to get named employee of the month had backfired. ‘Still waters run deep, and all of that.’ As he rambled on, my face went hot and I flushed pink – what if they were right? If they all thought that, then surely they must be right? 

If it hadn’t been Friday night I would have resigned immediately. Instead I got annihilated and did some pretty horrific snot crying on the night bus home, accompanied by a dark cloud self-doubt that lasted far beyond my hangover.

Two years later, it’s about 11AM on a Tuesday morning in November. I'm in the back of a taxi and I’m struggling to breathe. 20 minutes earlier, I was in the office, having just taken some new medication for the migraines that had been plaguing me for months. Almost instantly my chest and the back of my throat tightened up in an allergic reaction. 

In the taxi my colleague bundled me in to, I’m attempting to call my doctor on the phone while trying to work out whether to get the driver to take me home or to the hospital. But my overriding thought was ‘I’ve got to get back to my desk or to my laptop before anyone notices I’ve gone.’ Any anxiety I felt over the allergy, or any concern I may have had over the fact that I’d had three migraines a week, every week for the last eight weeks was overridden by the fear that I’d be found out for what I was: not passionate enough, not committed enough, not anything enough for my job. That I didn't deserve it. 

A migraine wasn’t a good enough reason not to reply immediately to an email, and a trip to A&E was no good reason to miss a deadline, therefore I was failing.  

We live in a world where there are a million routes to success - you could work for yourself, or someone else, from an office, or from anywhere else you like. You could set up a business from your sofa or launch a media brand from a beach. But although there are many more paths to success, being successful only looks one way. It’s the Alpha. The dogmatic, take no prisoners, shout-the-loudest leader who always gets their own way. Its the hardcore, 6AM spin class, always on, constantly connected, scary boss.  

But where does that leave the rest of us? Those who enjoy their jobs (as it happens I love mine) but also want a life outside of it? Who are willing to compromise and be pragmatic to move things forward and would never dream of shouting in the office, or kicking off if we didn’t get our own way, but still get things done? Are we not passionate enough? Not creative enough? Are we bad leaders, bad bosses, bad employees?  

Of course not. And rationally, I’ve always known that. Yet I still spent most of my twenties marinading in my own unique brand of imposter syndrome, never believing I was the right fit for the job I was in, when, most of the time I was doing absolutely fine. 

And not believing that you’re the right ‘type’ of person to be successful, or in charge, or good at your job? It’s totally crippling. It was the reason I used to feel sick with Sunday night fear every single week, get sweaty palms before every meeting and never once put myself forward for promotions or new jobs I was more than capable of doing.  

In fact, it was only when I looked back on my 20s that I realised what the issue was. I’m a self-proclaimed, massive Beta. And all the woman I enviously viewed as ‘successful’ in any workplace I’d ever been in have been unashamedly, totally Alpha. They were all fantastic at their jobs and amazing mentors, but they had a completely different way of working to me. I wasn’t better or worse than them, just different. 

 

And that’s why I decided to write my new book, BETA - to find out if you can be a Beta woman and still rule the world. To try and unpick why we characterise certain types of people as ‘good leaders’ and ‘successful’ and not others. And to see if ‘just be yourself’ and ‘fake it till you make it’ can ever be mutually inclusive. 

And one thing I learnt? We need good Beta leaders more than ever. The world is changing, and we’re going to need a whole skill set to cope. Being ‘really good at shouting’ (once a prerequisite to bagging that corner office) is great, but to survive the 21st Century workplace you need to be flexible and you need to be able to face change head on. Which is why the so-called ‘soft skills’ found in women (and specifically Beta women): emotional intelligence, the ability to work with people, pragmatism, are becoming increasingly prized.  

In fact, the World Economic Forum’s 2016 job report highlighted emotional intelligence as one of the top ten skills required in the workplace by 2020 - alongside persuasion and teaching others – all strong ‘Beta’ skills.  

And maybe, just maybe, the balance is beginning to tip the other way. Look at the General Election and how Theresa May’s Strong And Stable routine fared against Jeremy Corbyn’s relaxed, non-confrontational style of campaigning. Authenticity and a desire for collaboration are increasingly favoured over appearing strong at all costs. 

Just found out that you’ve got to run a team and been told that the only management style that works is The Shouting And Fear Method™? Been told you’re too passive in that shouty weekly meeting where nothing ever gets decided? Can’t be arsed to hang around in the office till 8pm just because that’s what everyone else does, or Instagram your Sunday afternoon ‘mini brainstorm for next week!’ session (because you’re in the pub on a Sunday afternoon, where you belong, and you got all of your work finished on Friday anyway?) Then, my friend, you might just be a non-Alpha. And your time is now. 

Welcome to the club.

Liked this? You might also be interested in: 

Ask An Adult: What's Imposter Syndrome And Why Do I Get It

How To Learn From Your Mistakes At Work, Not Be Crushed By Them

What To Do If You Hate Your Boss

BETA: QUIET GIRLS CAN RUN THE WORLD: THERE IS MORE THAN ONE WAY TO BE THE BOSS by Rebecca Holman is available for pre-order now (Coronet Books, Hardback, Release date 24 August 2017)

Follow Rebecca on Twitter @rebecca_hol