How do you define confidence, particularly in the workplace?
To me, confidence is being comfortable with yourself and relying on your talents both with your mind and in your heart.
How do you think the confidence gap affects women?
There is this famous quote from Sir Richard Branson: ‘if someone offers you an amazing opportunity, but you are not sure you can do it – Say Yes! and learn how to do it later”. Based on my experience in business, men seem to be more comfortable saying Yes in such situations than women. Women tend to be more critical on their own capabilities. This leads to them missing out on opportunities and promotions at times. I do observe some progress in this with the Millennials at the workplace. They seem to have a more “baked in” confidence, regardless of being male or female. So, maybe this is not only a gender related challenge, but also a generational consequence.
How important is mentoring, coaching and sponsorship in helping women to grow their confidence at work?
I believe it is critical. I am very grateful that I had a great mentor when I started my HR career, and he is still my mentor today. He believed in me, at times where I doubted myself. I have mentored some young ladies myself at the start of their career, and “gave back” some of what I got at the time.
Besides a mentor, a sponsor is key too. Someone from the business, who speaks for you when you are not in the room, and who advocates for you is so important. I have been fortunate to have had a few of those in every company I worked for, and for sure it has helped me progress, and helped me believe I could do it. I am also a strong believer in coaching. But I observe companies often are not pro-active enough in investing in coaching of their female talents. Companies: don’t wait until they hit the glass ceiling! Invest upfront.
How can confidence-building be built into career development strategies?
I see 4 things.
- One should start from the company culture: allowing people to fail, helps building confidence. It makes people realise we all make mistakes from time to time, and we should stop being so hard on ourselves. Also, working on unconscious bias around confident women is key
- Allocating a mentor to young women at the start of their career
- Give female talents more visibility in an organised way. Give them a (more or less) gentle push out of their comfort zones!
- Coaching: bring in a professional coach, before they hit the glass ceiling. When they have hit it, it’s almost too late. Be pro-active and get them the support they need to help them grow.
What can be done to ensure a woman being assertive in the workplace doesn’t negatively impact on colleagues’ perceptions of her?
There appears to be a lot of unconscious bias around women showing leadership skills. They are easily labelled as “bossy” or even “bitchy”. Companies need to work on that perception, and work on that unconscious bias. To all my female colleagues out there: Don’t let anyone make you feel small, whilst you are capable of great things! You are not only doing wrong to yourself, but also to the organisation that employs you, and the customers you serve.