Posted 8 March 2019 By Sophie Austin, Partner, HR
In Human Resources
International Women’s Day celebrates women – their social, economic, cultural, and political achievements. Gender parity in the workplace has improved over recent years, but there is evidence that there is a lot more to do.
The key obstacle is confidence – women will only apply for/accept a job that they feel 100% confident they can do, whereas men will do so with 60% confidence. This is contributing to the disparity of women in senior managerial roles.
We asked our HR Partner, Sophie Austin, for her thoughts on how confidence has played a part in her career:
Q1. How do you define confidence, particularly in the workplace?
A1. I see it as recognising your skills and strengths and making sure you use them appropriately. Focus on your strengths rather than on development areas – how can you leverage what you’re great at? It's important to have belief and trust in yourself and your actions, and to know you're doing the right thing.
Q2. How do you think the confidence gap affects women?
A2. In many ways:–
- By only going for opportunities they believe they are 100% qualified or experienced to do, rather than reflecting on their skills, experience, past performance and self belief to take more of a chance.
- In assuming that what they have to say won’t be as important or have a good impact, so stay silent as they are unwilling to challenge the louder voices in the room.
- Being reluctant to publicly acknowledge their achievements.
Q3. Do you think women’s workplace confidence has improved over the past few decades? Please explain why.
A3. Definitely! More women are now working, and cementing their place as equals (or better!) in the workplace. Legislation has also helped to drive change, enabling women to gain a voice and grow in significant numbers in senior roles. All of which is busting the myths about the traditional “man’s world” or gender specific roles.
Q4. How important have confidence and self-belief been in achieving your career goals? Please explain why.
A4. Interestingly not consciously – I have always suffered with the opposite – the “Imposter Syndrome” (where you doubt your achievements and have an internalised fear of being exposed as a “fraud”) and have not driven my career actively because of it. Only latterly, with feedback and some brilliant bosses and mentors, have I become more aware of my own ability, and been able to work proactively through any self doubt. Experience and age are also great teachers!
Q5. How did you overcome imposter syndrome?
A5. I’m not sure I have overcome it – the most successful women have also struggled with it and as a coach, I see this all the time in my clients. It’s about acknowledging the feeling, and putting in place strategies to work with it (rather than against it):
- reflecting on your successes
- accepting feedback – good and bad
- seeking out new “testing” experiences or risks, and
- learning to listen to a different inner voice to silence that inner critic.
Q6. How much has risk-taking contributed to your career development?
A6. Very little until recently – I was very risk-averse, and probably could have pushed myself to do more, sooner.
Q7. Can you give an example of a risk you’ve taken that has paid dividend?
A7. I left a senior role in a large corporate environment to start my own business, working with organisations where I felt I could make a greater impact and add real value. It was the best move! I certainly don’t regret my corporate career – it provided me with the skills and experience and great network; all of which are so useful to me now as I support smaller, growing businesses. I also have a better balance of work and home life.
Q8. How important is mentoring, coaching and sponsorship in helping women to grow their confidence at work?
A8. I think these things are essential for anyone developing their career. For women, it’s important to have strong role models who will mentor them to build confidence and shape their careers and pathways through life, and help them understand how they can influence change and build their networks. In organisations which are still heavily dominated by men, this support is critical to ensure that talent is nurtured and developed – and not silenced, either directly or indirectly. It is vital to have a champion to support your development in the work place, to ensure you get visibility and sponsorship from senior management.
Q9. How can confidence-building be built into career development strategies?
A9. I think it starts before the workplace and within the workplace:
- it needs to start in schools; not just by discussing a broader range of career opportunities but also in its own right; by acknowledging confidence as an area for focus, and helping girls realise their capability, presence, and empowerment. We need a better understanding of where confidence may start to erode in girls and young women - and work on strategies to counter this. Those strategies should include education on some of the conscious and unconscious biases applied in every day life, such as:
i. the differences in language applied to each gender e.g. “bossy, aggressive, strident” being used to describe a senior female figure; against using “strong, assertive, dynamic” for a male figure of the same level/status;
ii. dispelling media stereotypes.
- Within the workplace, we need to acknowledge and remedy what we know already – that women tend not to apply for roles they are not 100% confident of fulfilling; that returning to work after maternity leave can impact confidence hugely; and that women do not always feel comfortable speaking up to challenge things. We need to coach women to speak with impact – “find their voice”. From my experience there is a reluctance to do so, as they think they would have to talk like one of their male peers, and in many cases, they don’t want to!
Q10. What can be done to ensure a woman being assertive in the workplace doesn’t negatively impact on colleagues’ perceptions of her?
A10. It’s about general education – continuing to challenge the stereotypes and bust the myths. We also need to encourage women to speak up and drive change. A Senior Leader I worked with had a favourite saying, in support of encouraging people to give feedback and share opinion: “the world deserves to hear your thoughts, and to deprive it is selfish!”
For women, this International Day gives an opportunity to reflect on their careers, and what they need to do to boost their confidence to take on new challenges. Yes, there may be some risk involved, but consider this – if someone in twenty years’ time were to ask you “What’s the best job you’ve done in your career?” – how would you like to answer?
For managers of female employees, ask yourself if you and your business are supporting and developing those employees to enable them to reach their full potential. If not, it’s a good time to start putting those strategies in place!
To discuss this or anything else, please contact Sophie on 01793 818300 or send her an email