It sounds counterintuitive that a woman’s confidence goes down as her work experience goes up, yet that is exactly what the research shows.
Compared to men, women undersell their experience and capabilities and require different networks to maintain confidence as they advance their careers.
Being a part of an empowering professional community of women provides a direct link to success at work. Women with a tight-knit circle of supportive women are 2.5 times more likely to become high performers at work, according to a recent study by researchers at Northwestern University and the University of Notre Dame. Seventy-five percent of high-ranking women maintain a female-dominated inner circle or strong ties to two or three women with whom they communicate.
But building professional networks is easier said than done. Eighty-one percent of women feel excluded at work, and socializing after work often requires sacrificing important personal and family time. For many, it’s just not possible.
When professional support communities do not exist, even the most talented and high-potential women can experience the classic symptoms of impostor syndrome. Do I belong here? Am I good enough? Can I do this?
For the past year, my colleagues and I at reacHIRE have been working with women on a new approach to building professional networks within their own companies. By opting into a virtual program offered through their employer, women have access to a platform filled with leadership development content designed just for them, an executive guide, and small teams of like-minded female colleagues who are striving for the same confidence and success.
From these groups of women, three themes are emerging that have a direct impact on confidence and advancement.
A kudos file
Too often, we forget all of the great things we do as we move from one immediate project to the next. Taking time to intentionally reflect on past achievements is important before performance reviews or when we need an extra confidence boost before a difficult conversation or meeting.
Women who create a professional Pinterest board and pin their proudest moments along with praise from managers and colleagues are impressed at what they’ve accomplished when they see it all together.
The “generation effect” concept in neuroscience reminds us that simply writing things down has a big impact on whether we’ll get them done. Personal wins can include big and small things such as taking on new projects or building a better relationship with a manager.
We also found that women within the small teams who shared their goals and gave kudos to one another for accomplishing them began to exhibit more confidence in how they carried themselves and shared within the group.
Holistic goal setting
When we ask women what they are looking for at work, they almost always say they want the tools to build their career versus get promoted or make more money. Most commonly, women want to:
- Build confidence and leadership skills
- Learn to navigate the organization effectively
- Learn how to put themselves forward and self-advocate
When women look at life holistically and weave personal aspirations into their professional goals instead of separating the two, it amplifies the impact. Recently, one woman shared a personal goal that required a huge amount of commitment, planning, and stepping way outside of her comfort zone. By proving to herself that she could do it, she had the confidence to start thinking about what else she could change professionally and took that same commitment, planning, and stepping outside her comfort zone to accomplish that goal too.
The honest truth
When women first begin to meet, there is usually an assumption that others in the group are in a much better place. They quickly see that they are not as different as they think they are. Being honest about a challenge does not make you weak, and sharing your success doesn’t make you a bragger. Once those walls come down, women begin to lift each other up.
After one woman bravely shared how she was hitting a wall with a manager who she thought was ignoring her messages, another woman in the group said, “I had that same manager” and was able to provide insight into the best way to communicate with that person (which wasn’t by email, BTW).
From interactions like these, we hear women say, “It’s good to know I’m not alone” and “If she can have the conversation, so can I.”
Confidence doesn’t come in a can or a vitamin supplement. It is organically inspired by a circle of trust. When women hear their peer stories and receive encouragement, they are inspired to act.
In today’s work world, “We know you can, we know you can” is a much more powerful mantra than “I know I can, I know I can.”