Recently, I looked at how the confidence gap for women in the workplace could be closed. Then, in a recent discussion with Saren Stiegel, Founder and CEO of the Glow Effect, we discussed how to empower rising female leaders with the skills they would need to achieve the best they can.
The discussion sparked many thoughts. While the topic is complex and many-faceted, Saren also felt it was clear that the confidence gap coincides with an empowerment gap for many groups of people where bias may be experienced. With regard to women, while deeply important strides and undeniable progress are being made in some areas, such as entrepreneurship, technology, and education, unfortunately, the statistics demonstrate a lower rate of change than desired. Studies show it could take as long as 117 years until gender parity is reached with women still earning $0.77 to the dollar compared to men in some industries.
Given that change is evolving slowly, we wondered if there was indeed a way to revolutionize existing empowerment approaches in support of rising female leaders, to close the confidence gap and to enable women to make the impact they seek. After several years working with hundreds of women around the globe, Saren joins me today to explore what's working, where strategies could be elevated, and what we can all do to empower each other.
LEARNING FROM THE CURRENT APPROACH TO EVENTS
These days, it is wonderful to see such focus on the development and support of women.
Q: What are some of the takeaway's we can learn from the many events and workshops that are currently happening?
A: After speaking with several female leaders, including female professionals, creative entrepreneurs, and stay-at-home-moms, the vast majority have similar stories. The events and programs themselves are incredibly uplifting. They are high energy, inspirational, and always provide nuggets of wisdom. They also drive a real sense of support, which is clearly imperative to continued success. However, the real challenge appears once participants leave the program or event and go back to the swing of normal life - how do they keep that buzz and continue the momentum to deepen progress?
Q: What do you see as the necessary shift to empower rising female leaders and close the confidence gap?
A: The difference in an empowered human being is in our language and perception. It's being able to leverage our deficits, weaknesses, and perceived problems as opportunities.
Rising female leaders are doing their best, and often trying to do better. Yet, I speak with at least three over-achieving women per day that feel like they're not "enough": good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, working hard enough, and so on. When we feel deficient in any area, we compensate in another. Thus, there is a continual feeling that they need to do more - more work, more exercise, more time with x, y, and z. Yes, this "empowerment" term is a favorite buzzword, but when you look a little deeper at the women succeeding, they're still often struggling with confidence and understanding how to leverage the strengths that they already possess.
We think that we need more "to-dos" for after empowerment programming. I tend to disagree. The last thing we need is more to do. Yes, committed action steps are needed to ensure growth and development, but "to-dos" that are seen as only that -- more to do -- are a part of the problem.
Sometimes we can easily confuse "doing" with "being." Many programs and events give us actions, which are useful and certainly serve a role, but they are limited in impact if they do not address the subtle ways of thinking that are deeply buried in our belief systems.
We're not human doings, we're human beings. I believe that being an empowered woman requires a revolution in thinking. Thinking that our feelings, wants and needs are acceptable. Thinking that our approach to living, even when it doesn't look exactly like someone else's, is not only okay, but is also going to give someone else permission to live authentically.
Simply, when we're struggling with confidence and capability, we're not actually making the impact we're striving to affect. This begs the question, "Is this the way of being that we want to perpetuate through our teams and families?"
ELEVATING THE APPROACH
After talking to several female managers, leaders, and employees, the stories matched. When done well, company programs certainly can address the "action and inspiration" side of the equation. However, it is clear that if we don't ensure we're also working on the necessary shift of self-perception and the perception of our role within the communities we lead, the pace of change can be glacial. Moreover, the change itself risks occurring only on the surface level.
Having been an attendee and speaker at such events and having spent over a year and a half researching the attributes of confidence, I started to wonder how our event and programming experiences could be built upon to equip women with the foundation of their confidence roadmap. How can deeper connections be fostered so that women's strengths can be utilized to help fellow women reach their true potential and be their best version of themselves? And, perhaps most importantly, is there a way to use the many great building blocks already in existence to speed up the rate of change?
Q: After working with so many women, how do you think these workshop or event experiences can be elevated to catalyze deeper rooted growth?
A: One thing we know is that passive learning will not bring about the deeply rooted shifts we need to close the confidence gap and empower women. Rising female leaders are not empty vessels. We cannot show up, sit back and wait for the transformation to happen. The key is to challenge how we perceive our past, present, and future experiences, to restructure the information we already have, and to learn how to reapply it.
Inspiration is certainly important, but we need to be shocked out of our past ways of seeing and thinking - we must get uncomfortable enough to see ourselves anew. From that place of vulnerability and transformed communication we could connect from a place of humanness instead of surface-level commonalities. We can engage in a conversation from a place of openness and really pull the information into our own lives.
CREATING THE EXPERIENCE
From our investigations we found some crucial elements to bring together in crafting such an experience; one in which women can learn, build, support, and importantly, create the roadmap of continued growth that will work beyond the surface level. These elements include:
Experiential: The combination of active learning exercises and activities that enable the group to learn through emotions and experience, driving deeper connections.
Personal: Using a thorough understanding of the specific audience to tailor events based on individual opportunities that encourage a sense of vulnerability, and enable each woman's strengths to help develop her fellow woman.
Developmental: A practical element that focuses on skills and capability transfer, providing a personal understanding of one's own individual roadmap for improvement to help close the overall confidence gap.
Inspirational: Motivating the women that attend through leadership and providing a source of inspiration and energy.
CLOSING THE CONFIDENCE GAP
Through our work on our Confidence Index, we found that the great thing about the skills needed for confidence is that they can be understood, grown, and developed. The good news, therefore, is that the gap can be closed.
Q: What do you think is needed to help close the confidence gap?
A: There must be a cultural shift around how we view leaders, women, and female leaders. We know that a culture is comprised of individual people holding common values and ideals. This means that in order to shift culture we must start with individuals taking a stand for something different.
No one takes a stand for anything unless they feel moved to. In order to create that, we have to see how we relate to the problem and how we can solve it. Us women can play a crucial role in this by understanding where we might be perpetuating the problem with our own beliefs and behaviors. We must take a stand for empowering ourselves first.
There are so many ways we, as individuals, can work collectively on closing the confidence gap, but, four things to ask yourself in this important journey are:
- Where are your personal opportunities to raise your confidence level and what is currently limiting your confidence?
- What are your strengths and how can you apply them to help other's grow their confidence?
- What does your personal roadmap for learning and development look like?
- Are you ensuring frequent exposure to inspiration and your support network?
Together, we as women can help each other to raise the overall level of confidence in every woman. Together, we can make sure that confidence is no longer the thing that holds women back from reaching their full potential.