International Women’s Day: Q&A with Rebecca Stevens

March 23, 2019

Frazer Jones is proud to be supporting International Women’s Day 2019. International Women’s Day celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. Whilst we all know that gender parity within the workplace has improved over the past decades, we all also know that there is still a long way to go.

We would like to join the discussion and be part of International Women’s Day 2019 #BalanceforBetter campaign on the 8th March by interviewing inspiring women we work with and, in particular, understanding the role confidence has played in their career.

Frazer Jones interviewed Rebecca Stevens, Global Head of Leadership & Learning, Clarks

How do you define confidence, particularly in the workplace?

A belief in your own ability to succeed and that you have something of value to offer.

How do you think the confidence gap affects women?

It affects women in many ways, but ultimately it can prevent them from achieving what they are capable of within the workplace.  It can stop women from putting themselves forward for opportunities, projects and roles; it can hold them back from making decisions, voicing their views and getting themselves heard, and taking action; it can lead to them becoming demoralised.  This can manifest itself in many ways, such as remaining in roles that are well within their comfort zone and where they are less visible, or in leaving an organisation or the workforce altogether. 

Do you think women’s workplace confidence has improved over the past few decades? Please explain why.

I think there has been growing awareness of the issue over the past few decades, which has resulted in more debate and focus on trying to solve the issue.  I think this has helped women realise that it is ‘normal’ to struggle with confidence in the workplace and feel less isolated.  Having said that, I still find it is the number one issue I see when I am coaching women.

How important have confidence and self-belief been in achieving your career goals? Please explain why.

I have worked with people at all levels of an organisation during most of my career.  If I didn’t believe in myself, I would not be able to credibly and effectively partner with people, particularly those more senior.  I am often very visible too, such as when I am facilitating a group or team or having conversations with members of the C-Suite.  Confidence and self-belief are a key enabler to ensure I have the presence, impact or authority to operate at this level and to be perceived as a true business partner.

Have you ever experienced imposter syndrome (where you doubt your achievements and have an internalised fear of being exposed as a “fraud”)? If so, how did you overcome it?

I wonder whether anyone can honestly respond no to this question.  I struggled with this more, earlier on in my career when I felt that I was too young for some of the positions I held and there are times when I still have self-doubt today.  What I find has helped/helps me is firstly to remember that most people experience this at some point and it is a natural feeling, to remind myself about the contribution that I can make based on bringing my uniqueness (we all are unique as no one else has had the same experiences, knows the same people and has the same personality as we each have) and to remind myself that ‘I am good enough’.   I have found the ‘fake it until you become it’ concept (based on your body language having an impact on how you feel) useful too. I’ve also used the Amy Cuddy power pose to help get me into the ‘right’ frame of mind ahead of an important meeting, presentation, etc.

How much has risk-taking contributed to your career development?

It depends on how you define risk-taking.  I guess you could say I have taken a few risks in my career (although others might view it as grabbing exciting opportunities, or even say it was being foolish!).  Examples include being headhunted during my first maternity leave and going to work for a new organisation on my return to work; giving up good roles to relocate to a new city/country without a role to go to, but having faith that something good would come of it (and it did several times); and more recently giving up my own business which took two years to build to return to an in-house role that I felt would provide me an interesting career opportunity.

Can you give an example of a risk you’ve taken that has paid dividend?

I believe that all the roles I have held have provided me with different experiences and learnings that have helped me get to where I am today.  One example where taking a risk paid off is when I left consultancy to go and work for one of my clients at the time.  It presented a significant change in how I had been working, providing me with the opportunity to work on longer term projects and more closely with the business, rather than working to less depth and on more short-term assignments across multiple organisations and industries.  I was able to use this to develop my skills, knowledge and experience across different areas of the business, from facilitating corporate and people strategy planning, developing leadership capability, working closely with the executive team to develop and implement the business’s talent strategy and helping to build capability within the retail sales team.  This helped me to establish myself at a senior level, both in terms of organisational development and building business development capability, which is a combination that I was later recruited for once I relocated back to the UK.

How important is mentoring, coaching and sponsorship in helping women to grow their confidence at work?

I believe that mentoring, coaching and sponsorship can play a key role in helping women to grow their confidence at work. Having a sponsor/mentor at a more senior level can be a useful way for women to become more visible and provide them with an advocate, as well as help them to navigate the organisation and find career opportunities.  Coaching can enable women to become more aware of their own assumptions, beliefs and narrative that, often at an unconscious level, may be counterproductive.  It can then help women to challenge and change their beliefs and the stories they tell themselves to enable their confidence to grow.  

How can confidence-building be built into career development strategies?

The first part is to help women become more aware of their own challenges and the impact this has on their careers. Having regular career development conversations helps to surface these issues, to normalise them and to help identify how to overcome them. Specific interventions can also help, including the role that mentoring, coaching and sponsorship can play as already discussed.  In addition, Women in Leadership forums and programmes can provide a safe space to discuss issues and learn from each other. 

What can be done to ensure a woman being assertive in the workplace doesn’t negatively impact on colleagues’ perceptions of her?

This is a tough issue, as it is well documented how men are described as assertive when women displaying the same behaviour will be categorised as being pushy and/or aggressive.  Implementing initiatives on unconscious bias may help people to challenge their own views, as well as those of others (and this bias in how assertion vs aggression shows up between the sexes can be held as equally by women as men).  Coaching women to be more assertive whilst at the same time doing it in a way that feels genuine to how they see themselves can also help. When challenging women as to how they might assert themselves more in the workplace, the first response is often that they don’t want to be perceived as being pushy or self-serving.  It is therefore important for them to find ways of being assertive that they are comfortable with.