Written by: Caroline Brewin, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
Gender Equality – one of the most important targets for organisations. But as they work toward this, something is missing… despite starting to have the right blend of diversity around the table. What if after all that focus, hard work, recruitment, policy, and advocation, we are still missing a key piece of the jigsaw? Confidence.
Unfortunately, even when we have got to a point of having the right proportion of males and females in an organisation, there is still a lot of work to be done to get the best from those minds (1). Through years of experience as both a leader and a coach, I’ve seen countless highly qualified women underestimated, undervalued, and not contributing what they could as they lacked confidence. Whilst this is absolutely not exclusive to women, the research does show it is more prevalent in women than men. In fact, research from Princeton found that women speak 75% less than men when they are in the minority and 50% of women vs. less than 30% of men have self-doubt about their performance and careers.
So, whilst the numbers on the spreadsheet add up, the work still has to be done in the organisation to ensure women feel empowered and confident enough to bring their brainpower to the table.
But what happens if the brain is in a state of fear? It doesn’t contribute in the same way as it’s frightened of the consequences – perhaps anticipating social rejection, lack of control, or basic lack of safety. Contributions will be muted - if they come at all - and instead you only hear the voices of the dominant (mostly men) with their associated way of thinking. It’s not bad, it’s just not as powerful as it could be.
This is why focusing on confidence is so critical.
To be clear, this isn’t about ‘fixing the women’. This is a misconception which masks the problem at hand (whilst I focus here on confidence for women, not all men are confident and plenty of senior men lack confidence in different areas). This is not addressing a weakness, but doubling down on and releasing their strengths. Enabling confidence here is about bringing out the deepest level of potential from the female brains in the organisation. It’s lifting the lid on your company’s performance. It’s about giving them permission to be themselves and to flourish in that form, not squashed and moulded into an alternate which limits its contribution.
When you give women the confidence to be themselves, with all their power, logic, calmness, and wisdom, you harness a current; a deep ocean of talent which can both bring people together and enhance how they can rise up collectively.
They naturally look for opportunities to collaborate not compete; to put aside the ‘best solution for me’ and find the ‘right solution for us’. Once you give them the permission to be authentically themselves, to see that high performance can be quiet and unassuming not just brash and loud; you will see contributions you never saw before.
Where do you start in the organisation?
There is no doubt that the most senior women will already have considerable confidence to have reached where they are - they will have the battle scars to prove it. Are there areas they doubt themselves? Absolutely, as there will be with the men too. Is there value in giving them more self-awareness, self-confidence; boosting their existing talents even further? Definitely. McKinsey research from earlier this year sighted how critical investment in “immersive and engaging development programmes” is for senior leadership, to increase their adaptability to facilitate an environment based on psychological safety. Confidence starts with this self-awareness, whatever gender you are:
“It’s critical that learning programs prompt leaders to engage with and shift their underlying beliefs, assumptions, and emotions to bring about lasting mindset changes” (McKinsey, 2021)
A big ‘bang for your buck’ also exists in investing in the upcoming female leaders. This is the talent not yet at the Board, but the mid-emerging level leaders. This is often the group who are weighing up their priorities of family and work – they want to progress but if they don’t feel the compromise is really worth it, then why bother?
If they can truly grow into their potential and see its worth the effort - they aren’t minimised, taken for granted or their skills undervalued; they will continue to invest their precious time and talent towards the more senior roles. They will have the confidence to apply for new opportunities, stretch roles; areas they would have otherwise seen outside of their capabilities. This is your talent pipeline to feed the precious upper echelons of leadership and inspire those below.
The more the junior women look up to see and hear their senior female colleagues step into their confident selves, they themselves will feel empowered to do so. They will see safety in authenticity; see value recognition for what only they can bring and so be inspired to push further, give more and perform to the best of their unique ability. Then the jigsaw will be complete.
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(1) Please note, whilst I focus on the traditional definition of gender in this article, I fully acknowledge and celebrate all gender identifications that people associate with. Ultimately, we need diversity of thought and absolutely everyone has gifts to give on that agenda.
Caroline Brewin, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Caroline Brewin is a professionally trained Executive and Confidence Coach, complemented by over 18 years of Global Investment Banking experience. From Chief of Staff to complex Regional & Global roles, she’s seen it first-hand: the long-term success and profitability of organizations are inextricably linked to the trust, motivation & diversity of their people. She is the founder of Brain Powered Coaching, which uses a neuroscience-based approach to improving Confidence and Leadership; enabling lasting, exceptional results. Through Executive Coaching and her unique Authentic Confidence program, she is committed to empowering Individuals and Corporates to achieve their personal and professional potential.
Institute of Leadership and Management 2011
Women’s Agenda Ambition Report 2019
Brigham Young University & Princeton research 2012