The conference saw a mix of panel discussions, key note speakers and interactive workshops. Some impressive women (and men) spoke about the case for attracting, retaining and developing more women in the heavily male dominated energy sector. Ultimately many of the discussions held over the day returned to an old but ever lasting theme: the importance of self-confidence in a professional environment and the lack of self confidence often hindering women's progress.
The interesting thing is that never mind the sector or seniority of the woman in question, self-confidence is something most women seem to always need a bit more of:
- When they have reached senior position, women may suffer from 'impostor syndrome', feeling that they are 'a fraud', that they should not be where they are and that soon somebody will found them out.
- When they are in junior position, lack of confidence may show through their choice of vocabulary, they way women shy away from possible spotlight.
- When they are in middle management position, women often remain within their comfort zone, they may not push boundaries, nor put themselves forward for greater, challenging roles.
To me, the reasons behind it are almost ancestral and very hard to uproot. In most cases, they go back to our upbringing, our education, society's expectations and culture to mention but a few. They are the product of hundreds of years of women's role in society being shaped by others on the outside rather than by women for themselves.
Perhaps more helpful is to ask ourselves how do we actually cure this 'malaise' that inhibits women's ability to achieve their full potential. For this I have a couple of suggestions:
#1 Developing knowledge
Knowledge is still power and power still boosts self-confidence. When we can say that we are expert in any one area, we can go ' 6 questions deeper' (to say it with Sylvia Hewlett of 'Baby Hunger's' fame) on any particular subject matter, then we can rightly feel in charge and confident. Mastering a topic however requires time and dedication, as we need to keep up with the subject by reading around it, attending conferences, doing research. When we do, we become the go to person, the one that gets asked to coach others on that topics, the one who is being put forward for interviews, articles and the likes. Let's therefore ride the knowledge wave and enjoy the opportunities that come with being the expert! It will ignite a cycle of positive thinking and positive image that can only spell more confidence and success.
#2 Finding a mentor and/or sponsor
Of course I would say that. The fact is, you may hear it from me and from others many times, but how many of us can say to have a mentor they see regularly, taking full advantage of the opportunities that come with such relationship? For a mentoring relationship to work to its full potential, it has to be nurtured, worked on, thought through. Even when we have the chance of a mentoring relationship, we often do not spend enough time thinking about what we want and need from it, what the mentor could offer us. A mentor is not always an outright sponsor, but there is no doubt that the mentor responds to our input. To get a lot out of it, we need to put a lot in. Is this - hands on heart - what you do?
#3 Proactively opening doors for other women
If you are a woman or a man in a senior position, are you actively leading the way and opening doors for other women? Opening doors could mean a number of things: actively spotting female talent and ensuring it is retained, for example. Redirecting opportunities towards other up-and-coming women, is another example (e.g. I was asked to speak at this conference but I am too busy, would you like to do it instead?). Or indeed making easier to reconcile work and other aspects of life by introducing a culture of outputs focussed performance management and greater flexibility.
Although none of these suggestions is too new or revolutionary per se, nor can in isolation work as a panacea, I am convinced that if we tried a little harder to apply them women's self-confidence and self-esteem would grow as a result. Women have a huge role to play in all of this, first and foremost by not letting those little nagging voices in their heads kidnap available opportunities.
What have you found that works to raise your self confidence? Any experience you can share?
Alessandra is an experienced mentor, business coach, consultant and strategist. She supports individuals - especially women - and organisations in achieving their potential through customised, outcome driven interventions . You can find out more about Alessandra here and contact her by email here.