Growing Forward

Posted: September 14, 2015

"What would you do if you weren't afraid?" A very powerful question posed to women in Sheryl Sandberg's book Lean In.

A question I feel many women are still not yet comfortable to answer.

The biggest threat to women’s success in their careers is a lack of self-confidence. This may explain, despite progress, why women are still woefully underrepresented at the senior executive level in the ad world, with only 3% of creative directors being women. There are a few exciting initiatives like See It Be it at Cannes this year and the Ipsos Girls Lounge who are attempting to address the imbalance in the industry. However, despite these initiatives, we, as women need to help ourselves and nudge forward.

According to a study done by The Harvard Business Review, generated from people working for some of the most successful and progressive organisations in the world, women rated ¬higher overall as better leaders than men. Hard work and natural talents are no longer the only neccessities required to make it to the top nowadays. Success correlates just as closely to confidence as it does to competence. We need to work on closing the self-assurance gender gap if we really want to make it.

Women feel most confident when they are over-qualified, have overtrained for a marathon or have edited a document over a hundred times. They will only do something once they are certain they are perfectly equipped. Studies have shown that this is largely a female issue. This flawless attitude has become a hurdle we can’t get past. Perfectionism therefore is the enemy of great, and it’s not doing anything to build our confidence. We end up sitting on the sidelines while our male colleagues step forward, and take risks. The natural outcome of confidence is action. It has been proven that when women are made to act, even when insecure, they perform just as well as men do. I recall a time when I had to step forward. It felt like I was thrown into the spotlight and forced to play the lead in a movie without seeing the script. I was hesitant but noticed that as soon as I accepted the role and took on the challenge, I felt invigorated, capable and grateful for the experience. This proved to me that actions and confidence are interrelated - like a virtuous circle. With confidence, our belief in our ability to succeed increases and this belief stimulates action. Taking action, then, strengthens our belief in our ability to succeed.

The amygdalae, the brain’s centre for processing memory and emotional reactions, is far more easily activated in women according to an MRI study. We are far more likely to form strong emotional memories of negative events than men, focusing our attention on what’s gone wrong. Men tune out criticism and let in praise while women tend to do the opposite. We make one small mistake and dwell on it for hours and hours. An assured confidence killer.

I have been in a personal battle with self-confidence most of my life. I am truly grateful to be part of a team who’s core purpose is growth. Through personal growth I have developed a deeper awareness of my self belief and I am now able to focus on turning it into my greatest asset. It empowers me to step into situations I would never normally have, growing me into the leader I dream of being as well as the person I have always wanted to be. Thankfully, because of scientific studies of neuroplasticity, our brains have the proven ability to change from experience over time. So, by focusing on shifting negative behaviour and thought patterns into self-affirming ones regularly, we adjust our daily mindset, changing our future leadership role into a very positive one.

So I would like to leave you with one question: “What would you do if you were confident?”