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3 Reasons You’re Being Overlooked At Work

A common reason mid-career women seek out my help is because they’re stuck in the same role, or at the same level, they have been at for far too long. Despite Herculean efforts – and I’m talking endless 12-hour days, putting their hand up to carry the load or put out all the fires, and keeping their door open to guide anyone who asks – these women simply don’t see the rewards that should come their way.

This was exactly the case for a client I met a couple of years ago. Let’s call her Ainsley. By the time we met, Ainsley was angry. She had been working long days for as long as she could remember and wasn’t being rewarded with the professional recognition she deserved. In fact, she was beginning to feel totally overlooked and taken for granted. And to make matters worse, she was angry with herself because the sacrifices she had made to create life-changing career opportunities for herself and her family just weren’t paying dividends.

If you find yourself here too, it might be easy to complain about what’s ‘out there’ and getting in your way… that man who got the promotion because he’s mates with the director… your team who can’t figure anything out without your input… having unrealistic deadlines imposed on you. None of that is your fault, and it’s keeping you stuck, dissatisfied, and on the edge of burnout. 

And yes, all of those things have a part to play. But there’s one other very important factor that needs to be considered. You! Your decisions, your actions, and your ways of working.

Let’s dive into the top 3 reasons why you’re being overlooked at work, and what you can do about it.

1. You’re focused on the wrong things

This is by far the most common problem that stops women from stepping into the leadership spotlight at work, and it manifests in two ways. 

The first is what you define  as ‘good work’. You’re caught in the mindset that hard work is what counts. Putting in the hours, taking everything on, and carrying the team. Which is completely understandable, given that for the first quarter of our lives (if not longer) that was exactly the model we were taught – be good, work hard, put others first. 

But if hard work was all it took… women everywhere would be at the top of the tree. And that’s simply not the case. Instead, it is the innovative, strategic and quality outcomes that get rewarded. You know – all those ideas and projects you would get to, if only you had a little more time…

Which brings me to the second issue: are you focused on the work that actually matters? (Do you even know what that is?!) If you’re stuck in the weeds of busywork, I’m willing to bet that a lot of what you do each day is maintaining the status quo and being in reactive mode as issues arise. You are handling a lot – but that’s building your reputation as “Good old you, taking care of things”. 

What if, instead, you identified a key strategic objective for your team, department, or company, and dedicated a minimum of 90 minutes per week to moving that forward? It might take some time, but I’m willing to bet that before too long, you’ll begin to attract notice from the executive team as the woman who implemented an innovative solution for that long-standing issue.

2. You’re not speaking up

At this level of your career, putting in the hours and waiting to be noticed is simply not enough. Yes, it absolutely should be – but we have to deal with realities here. It’s time to look for opportunities to showcase what you do and the important contribution you make at work. This is especially important if you’re usually praised for just quietly getting things done. 

This might look like providing a bit more detail about what went into creating a particular outcome, talking about what your team is working on, or sharing with your network the projects and initiatives you’re currently working on. Don’t just rely on people seeing or knowing what you’ve done – make it clear!

3. You’re busy – not effective

Something I’ve noticed about women who are known as the reliable ‘Jill of all trades’ is that people will often come to them for a lot of different things – but they’re so stretched that they’re not actually being very effective at any of them! I’m sure you recognise how this feels… like you’re constantly chasing your tail, and you’re not able to get beyond scratching the surface of any of the bigger pieces of work. It comes back to focusing on what matters most – and you need to reclaim time in your calendar to do that. 

It’s about establishing, communicating, and upholding clear boundaries around your time, energy, and mental space. This will be especially challenging in the beginning, as you undo the reputation you’ve built for yourself as a ‘go to’ resource who will say yes to everything. But it doesn’t mean you have to start slamming the door and turning everyone away! 

Instead, ease into your new normal. Rather than saying yes (and panicking later), practise saying “I can, but I won’t be able to get to it until XXX. Does that work for you?” Or, “right now my focus is YYY. Is this a higher priority?” 

At the end of the day, we teach people how to treat us through the behaviour we accept. If you’re feeling taken for granted, and that what you get done isn’t even seen, let alone valued, it’s time to change tactics and make different choices. When you shift your focus to align with strategic objectives, create space to be more impactful and effective, and harness opportunities to speak up about your contribution, you will shift your reputation and get noticed – for all the right things.

And when you’re getting noticed for all the right reasons… it won’t take long to transition from being overlooked to being on everyone’s radar!

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