Almost 50% of women believe they would be further in their career if they had more self-belief. So, how can you bust your work-related hang ups?
Almost 50% of women believe they would be further in their career if they had more self-belief, according to a new survey.
In a survey of 2,000 British women – carried out by Head & Shoulders – 92% of respondents admitted to having hang ups, with the most frequent obstacle being anxiety about their appearance.
These inhibitions are having a severe impact on women in the workplace; 24% of women said they’d be at a more senior level in their careers if they were freed of their self-doubt.
So what can be done to help women overcome a lack of confidence?
Jo Swinson, minister for women and equalities, said that although the government is providing more opportunities for women to flourish, employers must also do more.
“Confidence can be a real barrier to women achieving their full potential, that’s why we are looking at ways to broaden the ambition and aspiration of girls, support women at all stages of their careers and help them set up their own businesses.
“But action cannot be driven by government alone. Employers that work hard to create a workplace where talent is nurtured and staff can flourish will reap the benefits of more productive and effective employees.”
Amanda Bolt, managing director of BoardroomMum, urged companies to run more women’s coaching sessions, training and parent groups – and to encourage more interaction between staff.
Company culture is also a significant factor, according to Sarah Graham from The Feminist Times: “Companies need to decide whether they are going to foster an environment which is dog-eat-dog or where they nurture the skills of individuals to proactively help their staff gain confidence and achieve their potential,” she says. “From my perspective, a big part of the problem is that because so many businesses are male-dominated, women often have to work twice as hard and be twice as confident to make an impact.”
But the survey also found that 24% of women lack confidence to highlight things they’ve done well and 17% aren’t sure enough of themselves to seek promotion. For Bolt, it’s ultimately down to the individual to conquer their inhibitions. “We’re notoriously bad at holding ourselves back,” she says. “We don’t push ourselves for that promotion or put ourselves forward for it. We don’t ask for that pay rise — men are much better at that. More men are applying for jobs; we perhaps look at the job description and then only focus on the one or two that we can’t do.
“Women have to stand up and be counted,” she adds. “We have to just have a go, be confident and not shy away from asking for those pay increases, appraisals and be prepared to have awkward conversations.”
Corinne Mills, managing director of Personal Career Management, says that even if you don’t feel confident inside, you can learn to present an image of confidence.
She says: “Internally, all sorts of things might be going on, you might be chairing a meeting for the first time and you might feel extremely unconfident. But people can acquire those skills, it’s all doable and achievable so people who aren’t feeling confident can acquire those.”
The lack of self-confidence among women is largely down to their appearance. More than half of those surveyed said that they lacked confidence in what they looked like. While this may appear irrelevant when it comes to applying for jobs, research by Debenhams revealed the surprising extent to which employers take appearances into account during job interviews.
The research found that interviewers often judge candidates according to their grooming. Chipped nail polish was the worst offender, signalling to the employer that the candidate is nervous or unprepared – split ends apparently suggest they’re lazy.
According to Rhiannon Cosslett, editor of online feminist magazine The Vagenda, this latest research points to a familiar story. “We need be encouraging young women’s ambitions, not pointing out how they could be quashed by the wrong outfit. Unfortunately confidence is not something that we are currently instilling in our young women – instead they are being taught to be absurdly self-critical of their appearance, which is still touted as the main thing we should be worrying about, despite the gains that our gender has been making professionally.”
Girls continue to outscore boys academically, but Bolt says it’s a different story as soon as they enter the workplace.
“Girls are very good at passing exams, getting their grades and going onto university,” she says. “But the minute they go into work situations, there always seems to be something a bit wrong. So we’ve got to look at this back at school.
“We’ve got to help transform girls in further education, whether at college or university, through workshops which will get them into more of a work mindset – how to operate in the workplace in regard to putting yourself forward by being in the application process.”
Today’s survey results show how far into childhood the problem goes: more than half of women have been burdened by their hang ups since school with 25% of those saying it began with playground teasing. Only one in 10 said their hang ups started in the workplace.