How Over-Accommodation Hurts Women’s Careers

Why do women over-accommodate? What are the solutions to over-accommodation?

In How Women Rise, Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith explain that women’s desire to constantly please others often causes them to be over-accommodating. They may downplay their emotions in an attempt to seem “professional” and not overwhelm men, but this causes them to lack authenticity.

Continue reading to learn more about over-accommodation in women.


People who lack authenticity struggle to win people’s trust and inspire them, which can make it more difficult to progress in their careers.

(Shortform note: In The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni agrees that failing to express your true feelings, or be vulnerable, negatively affects your ability to connect with your coworkers. Further, lacking authenticity not only damages your personal ability to advance your career, it also damages the overall success of your team. A lack of authenticity leads to a lack of trust which creates politics. When people suppress their true thoughts and feelings, they instead tailor their behavior to match what they think will be accepted by others. This increases the likelihood of misunderstandings and disagreements that can cause tension between people.)

Women may also struggle to make practical decisions if they’re practicing over-accommodation and overly focused on making everyone happy. For instance, they may struggle to say “no,” which causes them to stretch themselves too thin and makes them susceptible to manipulation. They may also struggle to solve problems because they’re more focused on pleasing everyone involved than finding sustainable solutions. 

For example, there may be an employee on the team who repeatedly shows up late and produces unsatisfactory work despite support and warnings. The most effective solution for the company both financially and productivity-wise would be to fire the offending employee and hire someone who meets their standards. However, if the employee is popular, a female leader who’s concerned about upsetting her other employees may struggle to fire them.

(Shortform note: Psychologists offer a few more reasons why people pleasers may struggle to make effective decisions. For example, they may be so focused on others that they neglect to consider what they think and feel about the situation—causing them to ultimately suppress their feelings and dull their intuition. Further, people pleasers may look for guidance from others rather than trusting themselves to critically examine the situation and the possible solutions. This habit of trusting others more than themselves weakens their ability to make decisions on their own.)

Finally, Helgesen and Goldsmith say that women tend to hyper-focus on the job they’re currently doing out of loyalty to their coworkers, boss, and organization, rather than striving for the job they want. This prevents them from honing skills and taking steps toward their ideal future and instead keeps them trapped where they are. For example, a writer may have worked under her current editor for five years and have a close relationship with her. She knows her editor relies on her to keep the magazine afloat. As a result, she spends so much time trying to produce stories for her editor that she never dedicates time to her true goal of being a fiction writer.

(Shortform note: In Lean In, Sandberg also argues that in today’s work environment, loyalty to your current position won’t necessarily move you up the corporate ladder. To advance your career, you must prioritize opportunities and be willing to leave your current job or organization for one that better suits your goals. To ensure you’re making choices that progress your career, identify your long-term dream (what you want to accomplish with your life) and the achievements and skills you want to acquire over the next 18 months. Then, accept opportunities that will help you accomplish these goals—even if this means leaving your current organization or position.)

Over-Accommodating: The Solutions

Helgesen and Goldsmith provide a few solutions to help women stop over-accommodating.

1. Identify your emotions. The authors note that identifying your emotions when they arise will prevent them from escalating and impacting your behavior. For example, if you acknowledge that someone’s words frustrated you, you can then handle and express that emotion effectively rather than letting it grow into resentment for that person.

(Shortform note: Identifying your emotions can sometimes be confusing—emotions are experienced at varying degrees of intensity and can create a new emotion when experienced in combination. Luckily, psychologists have created a “feelings wheel” to help you navigate these complexities. For example, the emotions wheel can help you identify that if you’re feeling annoyance and boredom at the same time, you’re probably experiencing contempt.)

2. Express your emotions logically and concisely. Many women avoid expressing emotions because they don’t want to overwhelm men and seem unprofessional. However, the authors say that getting right to the point in as few words as possible will make your emotions easy to understand—and it’ll actually make you seem more professional and credible due to your authenticity. 

For example, if you’re upset because your colleagues continually talk over you, say something like “I’d like to bring to your attention that I haven’t been able to finish my last few statements before being interrupted. I understand everyone wants to share their ideas, but this is a bit frustrating at times. Let’s all try to allow each other to finish before speaking rather than cutting each other off mid-sentence—this way we get to hear everyone’s ideas.”

(Shortform note: Communications experts explain that another highly effective way to express your emotions is through “I-statements”—“I feel X when Y.” These statements are effective because they clearly and concisely they clearly explain your experience without making others feel defensive. Preventing defensiveness is key because when people get defensive, they often stop listening and react negatively. For example, “I feel undervalued and frustrated when I’m interrupted.” This expresses what you’re feeling and why in only eight words.)

3. Solidify your career goals. Understand where you want to go and determine whether your intense focus on your current position is helping you get there.

4. Learn to say no and delegate tasks. Rather than saying yes to everyone and overworking yourself to the point of burnout, understand when to say no or delegate tasks. If someone asks you to do something that you don’t have the time for, be honest and tell them you can’t accept the task. If you have tasks on your plate that others can competently complete, delegate them so you don’t overload yourself.

How To Identify and Move Towards Your Goals

In Barking Up the Wrong Tree, Eric Barker reiterates the importance of solidifying your career goals to ensure you’re spending your time where it matters. He also provides a few actionable recommendations to help you do so. First, experiment with things that interest you to see what fits. For example, if you want to be a creative writer, start sharing your short stories with others to see how it feels. If it excites you, move forward; if you find that it’s stressful and takes the joy out of the process, it might not be for you.

Once something clicks, use the WOOP method to solidify that goal: define your wish, envision the ideal outcome, identify obstacles in your way (like the amount of time you dedicate to your current job, for example), and plan how you’ll overcome them.

Further, like the authors, Barker notes that an important part of achieving your career aspirations is offloading responsibilities that don’t move you toward your goal. However, it’s not always easy to determine what you can stop doing—especially when you’re working under someone else. An effective way to handle this, Barker notes, is to speak with your boss. Ask her what she wants you to prioritize and discuss any tasks you feel aren’t necessary. Then create a schedule for your day so you can use your extra time to work toward your core goals.
How Over-Accommodation Hurts Women’s Careers

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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