My father passed away last May at 92, and his passing has spurred me to think even more deeply about our relationship and his impact on me. As one of two daughters and the youngest, I know that my relationship with him, and his expectations of me (along with his views of his own life and career) have shaped me tremendously.
A 30-year General Electric manager and scientist with 7 patents under his belt, my dad believed many things that influenced my career path, including the idea that the best career is one with a corporate giant that can provide security and stability. I internalized those beliefs without knowing it. But after my 18 unhappy years in corporate life, I finally carved out my own independent path. While that flew in the face of what my father believed was a safe bet, I’m very grateful that he expressed pride and happiness over my successes on this path.
In wanting to understand more about a father’s impact on a daughter career trajectory and success, I recently spoke with Behavioral Management specialist James Bond, Founder of the Father-Daughter Project™ and author of the groundbreaking relationship book, The Secret Life of Fathers, based on intimate interviews he conducted with 101 fathers of daughters.
James shared his perspectives and insights on the impact of fathers on their daughters’ careers and explained that if you are a woman whose father was present during your childhood, your father’s influence on the career decisions you’ve made throughout your life may surprise you.
Based on James’s research and findings, below are seven areas where a father’s influence on a woman’s career can be significant.
1. Who You Associate With
Is it possible your father’s early involvement with you may have affected who your friends are, by shifting your hormonal development?
Surprisingly, yes. Studies have shown that girls with uninvolved dads tend to go through puberty at least five months earlier than other girls. This leads to a premature interest in boys, often robbing a woman of critical early socialization with peers.
2. Speaking Your Opinion
Are you confident expressing your opinion, particularly when it’s different from those of your boss or peers? That may depend on whether your father encouraged you to express yourself growing up.
A landmark study of college women found that when a father encouraged his daughter to express her opinions growing up, she would generally become more confident at expressing her opinions in school and throughout her life, even when they diverge from the norm.
3. The Career You Choose
Do you see yourself in executive management or as part of the secretarial pool?
Product engineer Debbie Sterling was frustrated because so few women pursue careers in engineering. She believes the expectations set during early childhood are much to blame. Her founding of toy-maker GoldieBlox is her attempt to get more girls excited about careers in engineering.
How has your father’s early expectation of the types of careers a woman should pursue affected you?/>/>
4. Your Ambition and Competitiveness
It has been said (by Sheryl Sandberg and many others) that women lack the ambition and competitiveness that men have. If there’s any truth to it, are their fathers at least partially responsible as key influencers?
The answer is complicated, because women tend to handle risk differently than men.
In a landmark lawsuit against retailer Sears, the EEOC claimed that Sears had discriminated against women by offering a compensation structure that women would be unlikely to accept. The EEOC charges were based on statistics – that women were not represented in this higher-pay commission compensation structure as frequently as men. Sears, on the other hand, claimed that the paucity of women in these higher-paying commission jobs was not due to discrimination but rather to women’s choice and preference for less risky jobs.
Although the EEOC ultimately lost, the issue of women being less interested in the seemingly riskier commission-based pay was never challenged.
When Sheryl Sandberg was offered the job of Chief Operating Officer at Facebook, her husband was floored that, like many women, she was willing to take their initial pay offer without making a counter-offer. She ultimately made a higher counter-offer on the advice of her husband, which was readily accepted by Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder.
In each case, it may appear that women are more risk-averse than men and therefore, less competitive and “ambitious.”
These women are fierce competitors, easily as competitive as the most successful males.
Still, even these top-tier athletes attest to their father’s influence being a factor in their competitive success.
Was your father competitive or passive, and how much has that inflated or deflated your ambition towards your career?
5. How You Interact With Men
Are you confident and comfortable interacting with men?
If you grew up with older brothers, or with an interactive father, the answer is more likely to be, yes.
Without an involved father, the challenge of interacting with men, particularly in the workplace, can be challenging at best (and debilitating at worst) for some women.
For one thing, most men have greater difficulty conveying sensitive emotions. Women who’ve grown up interacting with fathers with limited communication could have a cultural advantage in the workplace, understanding how to navigate these defensive quirks more effectively./>/>
How has your childhood interaction with your father prepared you for interacting with men in the workplace?
6. How You Are Mentored by Men
Is it easier for a father to mentor a daughter than a son? Generally, yes.
Donald Trump’s heir apparent is daughter Ivanka. News Corp’s Rupert Murdoch’s heir apparent is daughter Elisabeth . Despite public feuding a few years ago, Viacom’s Sumner Redstone’s heir apparent is still his daughter Sheri. Every one of these business titans has sons capable of being in the line of succession. Yet the frontrunner is clearly the daughter.
The reason? In many cases the testosterone that triggers competitiveness between fathers and sons is absent in the father-daughter relationship, making nurturing by dad a much easier and more natural situation.
Was your father open to brainstorming with you or providing periodic advice to help you navigate through your challenges? If not, this may affect your comfort in reaching out and being mentored, particularly by men.
7. Your Leadership Style
There’s no mistaking the fact that for each of us, our early model of leadership came from our experience at home.
How has your father made it easy or difficult for you to be a leader?
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Happily, your destiny is not completely anchored to your father (or mother or anyone else for that matter), despite these seven impact areas.
If your father helped you build a sense of inner confidence, you already have powerful tools planted deep within you. But even if he didn’t, all is not lost, not by a long shot./>
Like so many women who have boldly stepped up to their highest career visions and potential, addressing your own beliefs and mindsets and revising those that no longer support your growth is the first step to getting on the path to making the professional contribution you dream of.
With or without a father’s positive influence, you can build a successful, rewarding career you love. Through understanding and addressing these seven impact areas and engaging in the development tools and resources available (including public speaking training, finding sponsors and mentors at work, volunteerism, leadership development, providing mentoring to others, etc.), women can step up to their fullest potential, contribute and lead powerfully, and achieve their highest professional goals.
(For more about women’s career growth, communications skill and leadership development, visit Ellia Communications, The Amazing Career Project, Kathy’s monthly Career Success Training, and her book Breakdown Breakthrough).