Bibiana Steinhaus is a trailblazer. She is the first woman to referee German top-flight football. The pioneering 40-year-old now takes regular charge of the top-tier men’s matches in Europe.
She is a model of pushing the boundary of what has been thought acceptable. With a family steeped in football, she took charge of her first match at the age of 16, and gradually rose through the ranks to the position she holds now.
Yet, by her own admission, she spent the previous 10 years trying to fit in with the male-dominated norms of the game. For example, keeping her hair short in an effort to be part of the culture, to hide, to be accepted. Until finally, she came to the realisation, in her words, “You must recognise that, no matter what you do, you cannot hide." She chose who she wanted to be, both on and off the pitch, growing her own hair out as a symbol of finding her own identity and valuing who she was.
Expecting outgroups to fit in
In business and society more generally, it is all too easy to place the expectation of fitting in on the outgroups. Minority groups are often taught the skills to influence, assert, persuade and speak just like the dominant group, and in doing so we may be marginalising them inadvertently. By saying to outgroups that “You need our help to succeed”, and then teaching them the skills to achieve normative behaviours, we are entrenching the view that success has a distinctive look, whether that’s white, able-bodied, heterosexual, or male etc.
What if we encouraged people who are different in some way to value and embrace themselves? What if we enabled those around us to not fit in? Metaphorically, can we help people to grow their hair out?
As psychologists, we call this process self-valuing. Our self-value isn’t our self-esteem. Building our self-esteem sometimes means we compare ourselves to others and, unfortunately, can cause us to feel a sense of entitlement or indignity, or feel that we will never be enough. Self-value, on the other hand, is much more about what you do and how you act than how you feel.
For example, when you value something you appreciate its qualities and are prepared to spend time nurturing and caring for it. So, valuing yourself allows you to appreciate your capabilities and characteristics, continue to develop other qualities and look after your psychological and physical well-being.
And there’s an even better impact of valuing yourself. When you value yourself, you tend to value other people too. Valuing someone else brings meaning purpose and vitality to them – and the good news is, it rubs off on them too!
How to build self-value
So, let’s grow our hair out and value who we, and others, truly are. Here are three top tips to self-valuing:
- Be true to your values – these are your compass in the world. Living by our values allows us to respect and appreciate ourselves, and helps to sustain purpose, conviction and compassion.
- Notice your critical thoughts – sometimes we get hooked by thoughts such as “I am not worth it” or “I don’t deserve this”, especially if we have a history of being harsh or critical of ourselves. To value ourselves we must notice and name the story “Aha, here it is again, the ‘I’m not good enough’ story” so that you can give yourself some distance. Try a little humour, “Thanks mind, I know you are trying to help!”, which can stop you from going down into a negative spiral.
- Turn to someone else and value them – if this isn’t easy, or you’ve had little experience of being on the receiving end of being valued by someone else, then put some effort into finding and building relationships with people who are compassionate and kind. You can’t value someone else if you don’t value yourself.