I recently read a fascinating article by Gloria Feldt, author, cofounder and president of Take The Lead, in which she states "I've been an advocate for women for four decades, but it had never occurred to me that once new doors opened, women wouldn't rush through them. I was shocked. One reason for that disparity is the ambivalence toward power and the intention to lead that women in our culture learn."
She is exactly right. Even when women are presented with new opportunities they often lack the confidence to seize them. I've written about the confidence gap before and I am on a personal mission to empower more women so that they have a strong sense of competency and readiness for the challenges and rewards of leadership. In fact, that's the mission of the Pepperdine Center for Women in Leadership that I recently started in Los Angeles. Regardless of where you are in your career or what your ambitions are there are several things you can do to build your confidence.
1. Don't undervalue your time or thoughts. We all have valuable contributions and in order for others to respect us we need to respect ourselves and value our own thoughts and time. I love the new Just Not Sorry app that "underlines self-demeaning phrases like "I'm no expert" and qualifying words like "actually" in red in Gmail like they're spelling errors. An article in Slate explains that you can" hover your mouse over the red words, and you'll see explanatory quotes from women like Tara Mohr - "'Just' demeans what you have to say. 'Just' shrinks your power" and Sylvia Ann Hewlett - using sorry frequently undermines your gravitas and makes you appear unfit for leadership." These are tips that we should use not only when writing emails, but when presenting ideas or talking in a meeting!
2. Be mindful. Research shows that people who are mindful - more focused and aware - often respond better to stereotypes. For example, when individuals fall into categories that are stereotypically linked to poor performance - such as women being poor at math - they often respond to that stereotype and perform accordingly. However, a five-minute mindfulness induction was shown to eliminate this math performance effect. Mindfulness has many benefits - one of which is helping to build confidence by avoiding falling into negative stereotypes.
3. Always enter a room with confidence. Body language is an important part of making a first impression and maintaining a sense of trust and authority. You should pay attention to not only what you are saying, but how you are saying it. Speak loudly and clearly and you will be heard.
4. Be resilient. Advice you received as a child applies to adults: pick yourself up and keep moving. Don't wallow in despair if things don't turn out as you planned. Rejoice in life's triumphs and teach yourself to embrace obstacles and learn from any hurdles that come your way.
5. Think big picture and long-term. Depending on where you are in your career there may be many opportunities up ahead to jump to the next level of responsibility. With more responsibility typically comes more pay. Visualizing the future - and what you need to do to get there - is an important step in making it happen.
Gloria Feldt said it perfectly "women's biggest challenge in the 20th century was to change laws and open doors. Our challenge in the 21st century is to walk through those doors with big intentions. And we must each bring other women along on that journey. If women embrace the power we already possess, we can take full advantage of this rare moment of strategic inflection. We can turn a potential tipping point into the long-overdue reality."
Dr. Bernice Ledbetter is Practitioner Faculty of Organizational Theory and Management at Pepperdine University Graziadio School of Business and Management. Her research and teaching interests focus on leadership and values, especially gender differences, as well as on moral developmental and non-western approaches to leadership. Dr. Ledbetter recently started the Pepperdine Center for Women in Leadership to empower and advance women in the workplace.