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A Missing Factor in Women's Leadership: Confidence


Confidence building starts with not being afraid to put yourself out there.

This article originally appeared in Forbes.

“I’ve got imposter syndrome.” “You have to fake it until you make it.” "Work hard and your work will speak for itself.” These are just a few of the numerous catch phrases that women tell themselves or they have heard during their careers. And likely part of the reason we suffer from a lack of confidence. The constant second guessing and self-reflection on what we can or cannot do and our fear of self-promotion has a significant impact on our ability to advance our careers.  Although there are various factors missing in women’s leadership, I would argue that confidence is one of the most pressing.

A 2014 Hewlett Packard report stated “men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them.” We’ve heard this statistic or some version of it over and over again. Experts attribute this phenomenon to women’s lack of confidence in their abilities and I agree. This report came out over five years ago and it’s still relevant today. Why? For many women, the fear of failure, of raising her hand for the job or project, interviewing and putting herself out there, and not getting it eliminates the desire to go for the job in the first place. We will never upset this statistic if we don’t address our confidence issues because we are still not asking for the jobs we want or the raises and promotions we deserve.

As women we are often promoted on performance while men are promoted on potential. We need to start taking the opportunity to self-promote, self-advocate and be assertive to build visibility and credibility. Our ability to communicate our value to our company or in our industries is critical. Instead of defaulting to your elevator pitch about what you do, find ways to demonstrate your value. Accomplishments do not speak for themselves. As women, we are quick to promote others and their efforts but not ourselves. It’s important to realize that advocating for yourself is not a negative thing and can be done effectively and authentically. Self-advocacy should not only be for job interviews or promotions; it needs to be ingrained in us and leveraged each day as we ask for more business opportunities, introductions, connections, investor capital and more.

I remember when I first heard that I was a ‘self-promoter’. I organized and co-sponsored a networking reception for a senior executive women’s forum in one of my previous banking roles. We had the opportunity to have two of our female Board members join us. I gave the opening remarks and turned it over to the audience to ask the board questions. One participant asked a great question about getting more visibility in such a large firm. One Board member immediately responded while looking obviously in my direction, “well, you are looking at one of the biggest self-promoters right here, you should be taking notes.”

My jaw fell open in disbelief and I felt my face get hot. I prepared to deflect when she continued “what is wrong with self-promotion if it’s with the right intentions? Cate and her co-sponsor have organized this forum, continue to raise issues about women in the workplace including gender parity, pay equality, etc. and at the same time she is backing it up with her strong performance in her role.” My first reaction was defensive because I worried that I was being called out for grandstanding but realized she was highlighting my ability to create visibility and credibility based  on my work performance and contributions to positive outcomes. She was demonstrating my value and urging me to acknowledge this with confidence, not discomfort.

In an article written by Anne Libby for The Muse, she shares the secrets of self-promotion. She points out the need to talk about your results, get noticed at work, be an industry expert and build a custom network. Libby says “hard work is the foundation of success – but it’s not enough. If you’re going to get the opportunities you want, you need to make those stellar results visible to others.”

In 2015, #IamRemarkable was founded by Google employees Anna Vainer and Anna Zapesochini. It was initially an internal Google initiative aimed just at women but quickly evolved as the team realized it applied to any underrepresented groups; now it is available to everyone. To date, over 50,000 participants across 62 countries have attended an #IamRemarkable workshop. The workshop encourages you to practice the art of self-promotion, teaches you how to celebrate your success, and navigate the social perception around self-promotion. Luminary’s Head of Program Development and Learning, Surabhi Lal, recently went through the #IamRemarkable workshop and then led one for our staff. Everyone on the team has prior work experience and some with over twenty years. Listing out why they felt they were remarkable (part of the exercise) was a challenge. Many felt great writing down what makes them unique but then when prompted to share these points out loud they became uncomfortable. This is understandable, because we are trained not to self-promote and that leads to discomfort verbalizing our greatness. We must get over this because it’s our inability to talk about ourselves and our value that impacts our ability to take our rightful seats at the table. Take a page from this workshop and outline not just what you’ve accomplished but your value proposition, what makes you remarkable.

When Katty Kay and Claire Shipman wrote The Confidence Gap a few year ago they reiterated that women are much more self-critical and let their doubts take over. Further Kay and Shipman state, “A growing body of evidence shows just how devastating this lack of confidence can be. Success, it turns out, correlates just as closely with confidence as it does with competence. No wonder that despite all our progress, women are still woefully underrepresented at the highest levels. The good news is that with work, confidence can be acquired and the confidence gap, can be closed." I absolutely agree with these findings and argue that it’s time we get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Let’s start by writing down your accomplishments and keeping a diligent record of your accomplishments over time. This is the foundation of your story and personal brand, and it’s built on facts. It's not an elevator pitch but it will help you reframe your own value proposition. It’s important that your story outlines not just a laundry list of wins but communicates your value both professionally and personally.  Once grounded in your narrative you can practice sharing your story and advocating for yourself and what you want. Be bold! We must use our voices for ourselves and as a first step towards boosting confidence. It’s time we embrace that self-promote isn’t a taboo topic and take our collective confidence to the next level. You are remarkable and should be proud to promote who you are and what you do.


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