By Melanie H. Axman (Boston)
Out of all the potential hurdles women face in the workplace, surprisingly the biggest challenge can sometimes be a lack of self-confidence. According to a survey titled, “Ambition and Gender at Work” [PDF] published by the European Institute of Leadership and Management, “There is a strong link between managers’ confidence levels and ambition.” The study further cites that “individuals with high levels of personal confidence are more likely to have a very clear idea of their career path as well as greater expectations to ‘take on a management or leadership role,’ and have these expectations met.”
Given the direct correlation between confidence, ambition, and subsequent achievements for women in the workplace, how do we push through our uncertainty and begin to focus on our abilities and talents? Here are 5 tips to consider.
1. Understand your Brand
Women bring unique and distinctly different skills to the work place. The best way to recognize your strengths and capabilities is to pay attention to what you are doing well. What are the assets you bring to your team and the company at large? Make a habit of tracking your strategies, efforts, and achievements on a regular basis. In time, patterns will emerge that speak to your strengths and talent. In addition, pay attention to the feedback you are receiving from colleagues, peers and your supervisor. By keeping a record of accomplishments, your progress will begin to craft the story of your hard work and resulting successes.
2. Self Promote
Once you understand your personal brand and the positive attributes you are consistently contributing to your workplace, take advantage of opportunities to make these skills visible. During her recent address to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, Stephanie Sonnabend, President of Sonesta Hotels, explained, “Women don’t do as good of a job as men at promoting ourselves.”
While no one likes a competitive and spotlight-stealing colleague, it is important acknowledge your strengths while finding occasions to demonstrate them. The survey cites, “Women are more cautious than men in applying for jobs or promotions. Men are more willing to put themselves forward for roles where they don’t fully meet the criteria – 20% of men will apply if they only partially meet a job description, compared to 14% of women. This reluctance to put themselves forward for stretching roles, and thereby miss out on opportunities, is likely to prove career limiting.” Before expecting anyone else to recognize how good you are, you must become an advocate of your personal brand, and continue working to get the message out.
3. Create a Strategic Plan
After taking stock of your competencies, and seeking opportunities for visibility, try setting your direction. According to the survey, “At the outset of their career women have less clarity of career direction than men, and lower career ambitions and expectations. Over half (52%) of male manager had a ‘fair idea’ or clear ambition’ to work in a particular role, compared with 45% of women managers. Fewer women than men (50% vs. 62%) expected to become managers.”
Where to you want to be in the next 5 years? How about the next 10 years? What are the steps you will take to achieve this vision? Obviously, you cannot always control the end result of your professional efforts, but rather than letting fate decide how you will move ahead in your career, be purposeful in your actions and focus on a goal.
4. Find a Mentor
Connecting with a mentor has long-standing value when it comes to raising confidence levels. The survey explains, “Mentoring [programs] have an important role to play in raising women managers’ aspirations and self-confidence, and driving their leadership development.”
A mentor guides the implementation of a strategic plan, and can teach mentees how to navigate unfamiliar professional terrain. In addition, when tricky office dynamics become distractions and possibly hinder your confidence, an objective opinion offered by an experienced colleague can help refocus your efforts. The study further explains, “Coaching and mentoring, in particular, offer highly effective ways of addressing women’s lower confidence and ambition, and encouraging them to realize their leadership potential.” Seek out and connect with successful business people who you want to emulate on your way to the top.
5. Strengthen Your Weaknesses
Become comfortable with things that you don’t know, and turn your fear into an eagerness to learn new skills. Rather than being relegated to particular areas of the company, explore tasks and departments that are typically male dominated and foreign to you. The research cited in the survey shows, “Women are more hesitating than men when applying for new positions. While men are willing to take greater risks when applying for stretching jobs, women are more risk averse, preferring to apply for roles where they are satisfied they meet the job description.” Not only will venturing out make you more visible in the workplace, but by delving into tasks and subject areas that make you uncomfortable, you begin to stretch yourself into new arenas of potential success.