Women in business:  go ahead, be confident

Women in business: go ahead, be confident

A Hewlett-Packard internal report observed, “Men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them.” Why the big difference? A confidence gap.

Confidence is the best accessory a woman can have, but all too often they leave home without it. A 2011 study by the Institute of Leadership & Management reported “half of women managers admit to feelings of self-doubt, but only 31% of men do.” The good news in changing this:  confidence is an acquired skill that can be developed. Where do we start? By having greater levels of self-esteem and self-efficacy.

Self-esteem + Self-efficacy = Confidence

Building Self-esteem

Self-esteem is the level of respect and value we have for ourselves. We’re usually harder on ourselves than we need to be. There are a few things women can do to have greater control in our lives, and thus break out of the rut of putting ourselves down.

  1. Trade in being perfect for excellence. Excellence is within our grasp, perfection isn’t. Having a perfect-or-nothing mindset is a recipe for frustration and disappointment.
  2. Learn to like yourself; don’t wait for others to do it for you.
  3. Don’t think like a victim and give up. “In the short term, avoiding challenging and difficult situations makes you feel a lot safer,” says Chris Williams, Professor of Psychosocial Psychiatry at the University of Glasgow. “In the longer term, this avoidance can actually backfire because it reinforces your underlying doubts and fears. It teaches you the unhelpful rule that the only way to cope is by avoiding things.”
  4. Replace negative self-talk with self-compassion. Most of us are quick to give others the benefit of the doubt, but slow to do the same for ourselves. Using self-compassion is a way to end “the discomfort that we unwittingly inflict on ourselves through self-criticism, self-isolation, and self-rumination when things go wrong,” says professor and author Kristen Neff.

Developing Self-efficacy

Self-efficacy is our belief in our ability to succeed. In short, it is our default position for learning and doing, that I can do that or I can’t do that. Just as muscles become stronger with exercise, self-efficacy can be strengthened. There are four ways to do so: having a positive frame of mind, seeking out and accepting social support and feedback, looking to role models for inspiration and pursuing success.

Having a positive frame of mind

Have a positive frame of mind

Bad news may catch our attention, but it rarely spurs us to take action. What does spur action is reframing our thinking from negative to positive, making that shift in viewpoint is a catalyst for action. Thinking negatively, Andrea Jung, who was the CEO of Avon in 2005, tells how she “fired” herself one Friday. She said she was responsible for Avon’s severe downturn in performance. After shifting her frame of reference from negative to positive, she “rehired” herself on Monday morning as the company’s “new turnaround CEO.” Her mental reframing set the stage for Avon’s return to profitability.

Seeking out and accepting social support and feedback

Too many women deflect praise when it is offered by saying “Oh, it was nothing” or “I just got lucky.” Acknowledging the validity of the compliment or recognition builds positive energy which fuels confidence.

Looking to role models for inspiration

Look for a role model

A role model is an individual who behaves as we want to behave or who is successful in areas where we want success. Seeing other individuals attain results like the ones we want supports our belief that our goal is achievable.

Pursuing success

Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx, is a great example of someone who never let go of her dream of success. She hated how the feet of her pantyhose showed in her sandals and was dismayed to discover there was no product on the market that would help. So she fought for years to find the right fabric, manufacturer and retail outlet. Everything finally came together and her product, Spanx, was a hit. At age 41, she became the youngest self-made woman named to Forbes billionaire list.

Putting it all together

Be confident in business

“Confidence equals security equals positive emotion equals better performance,” asserts Tony Schwartz, President/CEO of The Energy Project.

The formula is simple: we have to feel good about ourselves and we have to believe we have the power and ability to make things happen. When women think and feel that way, they’re leaving home every day with their two best accessories: confidence and success.

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