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Looking In, Managing Out

A coach’s perspective on big things women executives face and what can help.

Guest Writer: Kelly Gorder.

As a coach, I work with some pretty compelling women in executive roles. These women are smart, driven and intuitive. They navigate a deep duality around managing complex workloads and being liked while doing so. Meanwhile, these women are the glue holding their worlds together at work and home. They maintain an unwavering ability to make stuff happen–for themselves and others around them. These women are tired.  

Wait, what? Women leaders are tired?  

Regardless of industry, role, or geography, these are the top factors I see influencing emotional and physical well-being, relationship struggles and declining self-worth among women in leadership positions:  

Having it all, and doing it all. Executive women often enter a “system” of career building early on, placing family plans on the backburner.  

This Princeton study shows after a woman has a child, her earning potential drops 20% below a male peer. Each additional child creates another 4% dip (men see their earning power rise by 6%, by the way). If she waits, there is more buffer to absorb this financial impact. Now these women are parenting small children while balancing a demanding job–often both the primary breadwinner and caretaker for their families. They make dentist appointments. They make sure soccer jerseys are clean. They arrange care for aging parents.  

As more women take on life without partners, they naturally do it all. For those with partners, even supportive, it often still weighs heavy. Commonly, a partner requests a list of “to-do’s” or that she “just asks for help.” Her frustrated internal dialog wonders:  “Why do I have to ask?”  “Why can’t they just see it needs to be done?”.

Oh, and please be nice and look good.  Not only is the female executive managing two workloads–career and home–she needs to be “liked” to succeed. The likability paradox for women leaders is real. According to Harvard Business Review, “What is really going on, as peer reviewed studies continually find, is that high-achieving women experience social backlash because their very success – and specifically the behaviors that created that success – violates our expectations about how women are supposed to behave.” 

There is less forgiveness for women, from both men AND women. They face more nuanced and complex judgment for the job and how it’s done. The implication is that women executives are competent, yet an aspirational archetype woman: nurturing, smiling, well-dressed. Younger cohorts want to see a woman at “the top” as happy, healthy and attractive. Not many strive for sensible shoes and tired eyes after being up until 1am with a sick kid. This standard is particularly challenging (and penalizing) for those who are non-binary or trans. 

Hormones: An extremely worthy topic.  Virtually every chapter of a woman’s life is materially impacted by hormones; it’s a subject so intricate we can only touch on it here. Throughout her career, a woman can face painful periods, fertility and postpartum struggles, menopause-related sleep issues and brain fog, naming just a few. Our medical system is decades behind in research, information and solutions. She has been silently managing both the physical and emotional stress of hormonal impacts, all while she is critiqued on her ability to manage her emotions as a leader.

So, now what? 

Women may not be able to wholly unburden themselves from all this, but they can release some pressure, build support, and instill a deeper sense of autonomy day to day. 

Know Your Worth. Then Add Tax. Women executives are not afraid of complex projects or long hours. Their tenacity contributes greatly to their success. However, frustration builds with feelings of inequity.

This inequity isn’t only about money–but other resources like time, ease and joy. Unresolved, this resentment can lead to physical stress, mental fatigue, and burnout. Her ability to perform and find purpose in virtually all areas of her life are often impacted. This is exacerbated based on intersectionalities of how someone identifies in their sex, gender, race, religion, and so on.   

Getting clear on what YOU want in your WHOLE life can make all the difference.  Your strengths and needs are your own, as is the time, ease and joy you require to feel complete at the end of each day. What feeds your energy and resilience now is likely different from 10, 5 or even 2 years ago.  

You’ve spent your career building teams. It’s your turn to build your own support team to help identify and negotiate what is worthy and fulfilling. Working with a coach can help reduce overwhelm, prioritize what’s important and help create what’s possible. Negotiations are complex, and experts like The Thoughtful Co. exist to support you with information, autonomy and confidence to find equity and feel valued.

You’re Not an Avatar. Women executives can be perfectionists.  It’s common to see high performing women compare themselves to the best parts of a whole community of people, leaving them feeling less than:

  • The pastry chef parent whose cupcakes are beyond Pinterest worthy

  • The Pilates instructor with the enviable abs

  • The Instagram travel influencer who plans unforgettable vacations

  • The retired neighbor with a green thumb and gorgeous garden

It’s easy to create this “avatar” of perfection, yet no one person could ever live up to all of it! Just as you do at work, how can your “network” help inspire connection instead of self-judgment?  For example, next time support the pastry chef parent by hiring them to make your cupcakes. They’ll appreciate the business while you get a couple hours back.

Where is Your Where? A favorite manager shared this question with me recently:  “where is your where?” Her point gets at what you thought your life would look like 10, 15, or 20 years ago isn’t a contract enforceable in perpetuity. You’ve changed, industries shift, the world turns. Starting out, you made a plan, determined to get there. “There” was imagined before kids, aging parents, relationships, remote working, etc. As things evolve, so do strengths and values. What was important is now filtered through decades of wisdom and experience.  

Recruiters call about the next big job while you’re groomed for your manager’s role. Society implies you “should” want these things–you’ve earned them! However, for some, it can feel pretty satisfying to enjoy where they’re at, or consider another path entirely.

Only you know “where’s your where”, and why you’re headed there. It’s not an easy question, and quite brave to consider. You’ve pushed through many obstacles and stigmas to land here. You have the smarts to garner resources, find your answer, and the tenacity and talent to take you to your where.

While an article won’t fix these issues, they deserve a voice. Many women see other strong women assuming they have it “figured out”. I assure you, most have not. Like you, they are experts at being the glue, keeping it all together. You are in incredible company, part of a community that needs as much solidarity and support as it can muster.  

On behalf of The Thoughtful Co., we are on your team! We love supporting women and giving you tools to know your worth, let go of the avatar and find your where.  


Kelly Gorder, NBC-HWC is a US based, board-certified professional coach.  As a former woman executive, she found her “where”, and now supports anyone looking to make a shift towards more purpose, regain their sense of self or figure out what’s next.  Learn more at or reach out to her at  


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