While women make up half of our population, they occupy less than 5% of top leadership roles in companies worldwide. From corporate boardrooms to our highest institutions of education and government, there is now a growing global movement to help women rise to the next level of leadership. Despite the interest of multiple organisations, society as a whole, and various male and female champions attempting to open doors and smooth the way for more women to join the top ranks of leadership, something is seemingly holding back our most educated, talented and capable women.
Lack of Women in Top Leadership Roles Directly Tied to Lack of Confidence
According to the latest research in The KPMG Women’s Leadership Study, a lack of confidence is one of the primary reasons why there are so few women in the c-suite. Data from the study indicate that from an early age women are discouraged from developing leadership skills. According to the study, “Eighty-six percent of the women surveyed were taught to be ‘nice to others’ growing up and to do well in school. Less than 50% were taught leadership lessons, and less than 34% were encouraged to share their point of view. ”
The Need for Greater Confidence Lasts a Lifetime
The study also indicates that this lack of confidence and encouragement follows women into adulthood and affects everything from the choices that they make to their performance in their careers. “Sixty-seven percent of the women surveyed report that they need more support to gain the confidence necessary to lead, yet seventy-nine percent lacks the courage to seek out mentors. The study also found that a majority of professional women lack the confidence to ask for new opportunities and responsibilities at work, and are too fearful to ask for a promotion or increase in salary.
These findings suggest that it isn’t enough for organisations and their current leaders to confront gender stereotypes and set goals to achieve gender balance, greater inclusion and diversity. Somehow, we must find a way to teach women how to believe in themselves and be confident leaders.
3 Ways to Help Women Gain and Build Confidence
- Somewhat paradoxically, while most women are reluctant to seek out mentors to help guide them, the study found that over two-thirds of women reported that they learned the most about leadership from other women. Since women can be reluctant to seek out champions to help them by sharing their experiences and contacts, organisations can contribute to build women’s confidence by proactively recruiting successful leaders to act as mentors and pairing them with strong, qualified female candidates.
- Because they lack confidence, many women are tempted to “play it safe,” and avoid taking risks. They maintain the status quo rather than trying new ways of thinking and doing things that could bring great rewards if they succeed. This fear of failure can prevent women from taking the initiative and experiencing the success that would build their confidence and self-esteem while helping to increase their performance and stand out from their peers. Letting women know that it is okay to take chances and run the risk of failure by shaking up the existing corporate culture and creating an open environment where leaders are rewarded for trying new things and given permission to take risks helps women build their confidence and learn how to take the initiative rather than remaining passive.
- In addition to helping women build their confidence by pairing women with mentors, and encouraging them to take risks, organisations can assist women in increasing their confidence by letting them know that they don’t have to sacrifice their families in order to advance in their career. Leaders can be proactive by providing more flexible working arrangements that offer realistic schedules and workload expectations rather than continuing to penalise women for having children and caring for others while they remain in the workforce.
Having a corporate culture that embraces mentoring programs, risk taking and offering flexible work arrangements are all steps that organisations can take to help women gain the confidence that they need to become effective leaders. Women should be encouraged to seek out additional opportunities to strengthen their leadership skills. Seminars and continuing education can also play an important role in increasing women’s confidence and capabilities.
Get in touch today to learn more about how we can help you improve your confidence and other leadership skills with Business Coaching and Mentoring.