I was recently one of the panelists at a fantastic event run by Marie Claire and Salesforce looking at how investing in yourself and knowing your worth can ensure you have a career you love.
The event was born from a piece of research commissioned by Marie Claire and conducted by Salesforce asking 1,000 women about their hopes and fears for the future. It made for fascinating and at times upsetting reading.
I talked more about this research in a previous blog post but I wanted to also share my contribution to the panel and my answers to some brilliant questions put to me by chair, Deputy Editor of Marie Claire, Andrea Thompson which I thought you’d find useful.
Much of your work focuses on the specific challenges women in leadership face. What do you think these are and how do they differ from those of men?
The challenges women face don’t only occur in leadership positions but also when they’re on the road to that leadership position in the first place. A woman’s career trajectory is rarely linear, unlike men’s; it’s usually a bit more bumpy and sometimes women fall off the ladder altogether.
In my new book, Power Up, I talk about the various career roadblocks women face. Knowledge is power, and it makes sense to be aware of the barriers that could get in the way so that you’re ready to do something when they come up.
The first challenge can start when being recruited as there can still be both a conscious and unconscious bias against women, especially in what’s perceived as traditionally male roles. Women are still reluctant to put themselves forward for projects unless they are 100% ready and informed, unlike men who are more prepared to take risks.
And, as I talk about a lot, there is still a lot of bias against women, as employers may see them as less committed, because they’re often the ones who take the career breaks. I’ve been shocked to hear that women don’t wear their wedding or engagement rings for interviews in case this leads to unconscious bias and assumption from their potential employers.
But there are also barriers that as women we put in our own way because of our conditioning. There is a great fear of the unknown and an association that a new role or career move will be scary, when in fact it could be exhilarating. It is not the done thing to raise our head above the parapet and take risks – but why should that be the case?
And there’s the old classic: good girls should be seen and not heard. So many of us have been conditioned not to use our voice, call out challenges, say ‘no’ or ask for what we deserve. Our confidence can be knocked as we hold on to challenges and criticism longer than men and even the language we use needs to be addressed. I mean, what sounds stronger and more powerful to you – ‘good team player’ or ‘driver’, or ‘great organisational skills’ or ‘visionary communication’?
You talk a lot in your book about the confidence issues many women face in their careers – they are more reluctant to take risk or change direction and can find themselves stuck in a career rut. Tell us about this is played out with the women you’ve met and how you’ve helped them get over these challenges?
Confidence issues often rear their head at those times of transition. When your identity is in a state of flux your confidence can suffer as you are possibly having to learn new skills, re-establish or establish relationships, define your status and face new challenges which can trigger insecurity and doubt.
Confidence is the number one thing that people who come on my Gravitas programmes want to work on and it affects most of us and our careers at one point or another. A big issue that goes hand in hand with lack of confidence is imposter syndrome which is a 21st century disease. It plays out like this: “OMG I’m going to get found out. I don’t have the right to be here. I’m not good enough…”.
People talk about it like it’s a terrible thing, but it’s actually a sign that you’re progressing and challenging yourself. So, you have got to treat it as your friend because it’s an indication that you’re continuing to move forward. It’s like chicken pox; you have to get it as early as possible to make yourself immune. The virus will still attack but it won’t be itchy. Parents organise chicken pox parties. Events like this are like a chicken pox party. When you feel the symptoms of imposter syndrome, get the calamine lotion out, don’t scratch too much and know that everyone will have it some point.
To power up your confidence, you need to take control of your thinking and programme your mind to be in the best possible state.
- To be confident you need to get 100% clear on what you want and who you are. Because you can’t ‘own it’ until you know what ‘it’ is.
- To get clear on what you want and get yourself out of that rut you need to inform yourself as much as possible about what career options are out there.
- Having inner confidence isn’t about faking it ‘til you make it, it’s about getting your mind, body and voice in the most powerful state to do yourself justice. So don’t think ‘I can’t do it!’ think ‘what can I do?’. Don’t shuffle in, head held low, arms folded protectively around you, in a drab beige cardigan. Instead, stand and walk talk, use open, welcoming body language. And don’t waffle, overexplain, use verbal fillers like ums and ahhs. Instead, be clear, strong, assertive, brief and definitive.
No one will respect you if you don’t respect yourself. We’re often our own biggest critic. So, lose the negative self-talk. Be your own biggest cheerleader. Be kind to yourself. Look after yourself. Respect other people and treat them as you would expect to be treated yourself.
You talk a lot about goal setting and going out and taking opportunities rather than just waiting for them happen, but what can you advise for women in the audience who know they want a change but don’t quite know what that change looks like?
You are not alone. And it can be scary to leave something familiar and comfortable.
To start afresh, reflect on what you would really want if you didn’t get in your own way or edit your dreams. It really helps to talk it through with someone who will just listen without judgement and push you to think bigger.
Monika came on my programme four years ago. She was stuck doing the ‘right’ thing. The next step wasn’t revealing itself to her, so she had to go out and find it. So we spent some time working out exactly what she wanted, not what she thought she deserved, because we so often hold back when we just focus on that.
So, if you’re sitting there thinking ‘dare I?’, ‘can I?’, ‘should I?’, the answer to that question is ‘yes’. But you need to have a plan. Don’t just jump into the abyss blindly. Lots of people give up day job and think ‘I want to be a yoga instructor’ / ‘I want to be a coach’ – they set up shop and then wonder why people aren’t banging the door down. Gain clarity and then get a plan.
What skills can women hone to future proof their careers?
- Embrace change, don’t moan about it or scaremonger about it; be the person who’s leading the way.
- Stay current: keep learning, share what you know, stay one step ahead.
- Build relationships: whether your job is under risk or not, it pays to make networking part of your day to day. Always look for how you can help other people rather than what they can do for you.
- Raise your profile – on and offline – you could be the best in the business but if people don’t know who you are, and you never leave your desk, you will be an irrelevance.
- Have a plan B in mind – you never know, plan B might end up evolving into your plan A.
To pre-order your copy of Power Up: The Smart Woman’s Guide to Unleashing Her Potential or for more information about Antoinette’s programmes, go to www.gravitasprogramme.com