Am I the Only One who Lacks Confidence at Work? By Joy Burnford
Joy Burnford is a leading authority on women’s leadership development and the founder of My Confidence Matters. She is an experienced business leader, entrepreneur and mentor and is a regular contributor to Forbes.com on the subject of women and confidence at work. Her leadership development company, My Confidence Matters, supports organisations to inspire and motivate women to speak up, thereby allowing their careers to flourish. She wants to bring the tipping point of gender equality in the workplace forward and is on a mission to get 2020 actions in 2020 to bring us one step closer. Take your pledge here: www.2020actions.com
Do you ever wake up in the morning and feel you haven’t got the confidence to face another day in the office? Maybe you have a client presentation to deliver and are wondering how on earth you are going to get the kids up and ready for school and still have the headspace to prepare. Or perhaps you work for yourself and you had a rubbish night’s sleep and yet still have to get up and motivate yourself to sit in your home office and meet a client deadline. Whatever you do to earn a living, you’re not alone in experiencing times where you simply lack confidence.
Here at My Confidence Matters, our aim is to inspire and support women to reach leadership roles in business, and as part of this we have recently undertaken a survey of 2,500 people. Seventy-nine per cent of the women we surveyed admitted that they lack confidence on a regular basis (compared to 62% of men). This was reported to be either daily, weekly or once or twice a month. When you consider that we spend so much of our lives in the workplace, this doesn’t bode well for wellbeing.
We also asked people how they felt after a career break (such as maternity leave) and how this impacted their confidence. Of those that we surveyed that had actually had a career break, 60% said they felt less confident after that break, 20% said they felt the same as before and only 16% said they felt more confident (4% were still on a break). This begs the question how can we better support these people when they return to work and help grow confidence they need in order to progress in their careers?
Despite the number of women that lack confidence, 85% of them, said they wanted to reach a more senior role in their organisation but there were notable obstacles and barriers.
The top three barriers that were given by respondents included:
Lack of visible opportunities – this can mean many things from a word of encouragement/ a culture that is closed and lacks encouragement, the perception of work being a ‘closed shop’, or financial cutbacks.
Juggling everything in your life – flexible working is definitely on the rise within respondents’ organisations with 74% offering this but there are still pockets of organisations that are stuck in their ways or perhaps don’t have the technology to enable this to happen.
Don’t have the confidence and belief in my own ability – 65% of those we surveyed said their organisations offered coaching and mentoring but mostly at senior level. We believe these services should be made available to middle management too. This is especially important when women are returning to work after maternity leave. It was a shock to hear that nearly 50% of the women we surveyed felt that they would either get no support or not enough support from their manager if they were lacking in confidence.
The top reason given by women when asked what made them nervous at work was the topic of asking for a pay rise. In fact, 54% of women were the most scared of asking for a rise vs 37% of men. A female director that we interviewed for the research explained, “One area where I’m not confident is salary conversations – having the conversation about your true value. Even though I am confident, I undersell myself and even underestimate myself.” This is a serious concern and something that needs tackling head-on.
The second reason that made them nervous was, ‘standing up in front of an audience giving a speech or presentation’. This has always been a big fear of mine. I’ve personally been on a rollercoaster of confidence throughout my 20+ year career. It would have pained me to speak to an audience 10 years ago and I would have put colleagues before myself, assuming everyone was better than I was. I have since changed. I came up with 5 Ps to help myself and others overcome nerves and feel more confident. And the most ironic thing of all – I now get paid to do this as part of my business. It just goes to show how overcoming a fear can change everything.
So, here are my five Ps:
PUSH – if you want to overcome a fear or make strides to reach a more senior role in business, it’s important to push yourself (gently!) out of your comfort zone. Take baby steps and try to practise in a safe environment, out of the workplace, first.
PLAN – think about what your intentions are. For example, if you are giving a presentation what do you want your audience to think, feel and do as a result?
PREPARE – take time to prepare – everyone does this in different ways, so experiment with what works for you. If I am doing a presentation, I usually write out a script long-hand, then condense it to shorter notes, eventually ending up with 2 or 3 bullet points in my mind that I can recall when looking at slides. If you are using slides, remember to keep these to a minimum and putting them together should be the last thing you do to simply illustrate the points you are making.
PRACTISE– no sports person or musician would ever show up without practising and the same is true in business. If you’re nervous, make sure you practise – either in front of a mirror, a colleague or on your computer!
PERFORM – turn your fear into excitement – it is the same feeling! Say to yourself, ‘I belong here’ and if you have followed the first four Ps then you should be feeling ready to perform. And if you’re not, you can always remember to ‘fake it ‘til you make it’.
So, if you’re having a bad day and lacking in confidence, take comfort that you’re not alone. Most people feel like this but don’t always show it and there are steps you can take to overcome it. As Robert Kiyosaki says, ‘Confidence comes from discipline and training’ so rest assured you can overcome your concerns and feel strong and bursting with self-worth.