Women in Leadership: Confidence

At GRG Executive Search, equality, diversity, and inclusion is at the top of our agenda. We’re committed to increasing the boardroom presence not only of female senior leaders, but across all historically underrepresented groups.

Our annual Women in Leadership event brings together inspiring female leaders. This year’s event in March, in partnership with NOVA, featured a discussion around confidence. 

When it comes to women in leadership, confidence plays a crucial role. However, the dynamics around confidence can be complex and sometimes even counterproductive. With an esteemed panel of female leaders and allies, the event was a great opportunity for executives to come together and discuss this huge topic, including how leaders can embrace feelings of discomfort in order to succeed.

Claire Dunn, Co-Founder of angel investment platform Obu, shared her insights, revealing why confidence can sometimes be more difficult for women to convey.

“Research suggests there is a confidence gap between men and women, and this is impacted the longer you are in an organisation. But the confidence gap actually starts from as young as age six. If we look at children and society, and what we tell and teach girls versus boys, it can have a huge impact.

“That, teamed with societal expectations for women, and the fact that our brains are hardwired to keep us safe – for example, if we attempt to try something new, a strong signal is sent to our brain to tell us it’s not a good idea – means confidence can be more difficult to embody for women.”

Channelling confidence is something many leaders will struggle with during their career. So how can they overcome this and learn to present confidently?  Board Advisor and former Managing Director of retail brand Jaeger Fiona Lambert believes that spending more time out of your comfort zone is the key.

“I truly believe in pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I do it every day. You’re always going to feel slightly uncomfortable but the more you survive, the more you’ll believe in yourself and believe you can do it.”

Helen Miles, Chief Financial Officer of Severn Trent, echoes this sentiment: “I mentor people in my team, and I often tell them ‘Act it till you feel it.’ The more you do the things you feel uncomfortable doing, the more confident you’ll get. If you’re not feeling uncomfortable then you’re probably not pushing yourself.

“Those uncomfortable moments are the moments you are developing and gaining confidence and new skills. Knowing you can cope in these moments and knowing the world isn’t going to end if something goes wrong – these moments build confidence.”

When it comes to developing confidence, the resounding message from the panel was “Feel the fear and do it anyway.” But what can female leaders do if they are struggling to take that first step outside of their comfort zone?

Ian McKechnie, facilitator and coach at The Coaching Solution, believes coaching could be a worthwhile option for female leaders who want to embrace discomfort and build their confidence.

“Coaching and mentoring is a really good way of reminding yourself of your strengths, and reclaiming strengths you didn’t know you had.

“Personal development, such as coaching and mentoring, can refresh your perspective of yourself.”

Global Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion Consultant Sheryl Miller, who chaired the panel, agreed that the support of others could help build women’s confidence. She encouraged women to empower each other to express their authentic selves.

“We all hold the same gendered stereotypes of what leadership looks like. It’s not just men who judge women, it’s other women, too.

“Women can be harsh on each other for displaying traits associated with male leaders, and we then internalise this criticism, which makes it difficult for us to lead with confidence. We should empower women to be their authentic selves and lean into whatever traits come naturally. This will have a huge benefit to the workplace and leadership more broadly.”

While confidence is clearly a challenge faced by most leaders, the panel discussion revealed many ways executives can build and develop confidence. From coaching and mentorship, to embracing discomfort and spending time outside of your comfort zone, women are continuing to push the boundaries and come out on top, with the number of women in key leadership roles continuing to rise.

At GRG Executive Search, we’re committed to promoting equal opportunities and inclusion. As recruiters, we know we have an important role in supporting an agenda where diversity and acceptance are a minimum expectation of businesses and their leaders. The Women in Leadership event is one of our networking events, celebrating and recognising the power of bringing people with diverse perspectives together. 

If you are interested in hearing more insights from our Women in Leadership panellists, be sure to follow us on LinkedIn where we will share further details on topics such as personal branding and unlocking leadership potential over the coming weeks.

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