Thursday, 26 May 2016

Aspire to Lead: Why Confidence is Necessary for Women’s Leadership

Startup Stock Photos
On March 8th, International Women’s Day opened up a multitude of conversations about the value and role of women in society today. But while it is one thing to sit back and congratulate ourselves on having come so far, it is quite another to realize just how much better we can be, and furthermore, take action in order to make that change happen.
It is time consider how to empower and create leaders to drive the gender equality debate further. There is a gap in regards to women in leadership. According to UN Women, in the corporate world, only a measly 5 per cent of the CEOs leading the Fortune 500 companies are women. Likewise, in parliament, only 22 per cent of those participating are women.
These are intimidating numbers. And yet, studies and quotes have continually shown that breaking down the barriers of gender equality and allowing for the inclusion of women are not merely altruistic for the company, the society, and the nation, but also highly beneficial.
Women and men, alike, need to take the stand—to be bold, speak up, and take action for change. Ask yourselves, what would you do if you were not afraid?
Last month, PwC hosted their second global “Aspire to Lead” webcast centred around this very question, in the efforts of giving women the confidence to lead. The webcast featured Mike Fenlon, PwC’s Global and US Talent Leader, Eileen Naughton, Managing Director of Google UK and Ireland, and Claire Shipman and Kathy Kay, authors of The Confidence Code.
It’s a double-sided issue. Women are fighting against stereotypes on both fronts, that from society, and that from themselves. We are all familiar with how society views women and how that needs to change. But here, we confront a different side of the coin: how the way women view and portray themselves have tremendous impact on their role and potential to be leaders.
It is becoming increasingly clear that people—women and men alike—need to move past their fears and embrace confidence. This is the first step to take in embodying the traits of a leader, and also the first step towards breaking down gender barriers.
As Nora Wu, PwC Vice Chairwoman and Global Human Capital Leader, so candidly asks, “If you do not have confidence in yourself, how can you expect other people to have confidence in you?” Here are some valuable lessons from the webcast and various leaders in PwC.


 Confidence is taking ownership of yourself and your skills. It is being willing to step forward despite a self-perceived lack of confidence. It is knowing what you can do to make a difference and not being afraid to be different. Confidence is purpose, and it is motivation. Such confidence is what makes leadership possible.

Taking risks

This is the only way in order to grow in leaps and bounds. If complacency is the mark of a wasted life, then taking risks is the mark of a productive one. Having the confidence to take risks means taking purposeful action, and thereby informing your sense of self and others’ perception thereof. Creating yourself as a leader is a risk in and of itself. By pushing yourself to contribute, grow, and evolve in today’s fast-paced society, you are cultivating your potential.
The typical trend with women has been that they tend to be more passive. A speaker mentioned in the talk how women are only willing to apply for a position if they feel they have 100% of the qualifications, whereas men would be willing if they felt just 60%. Women should take initiative for themselves as well.

Know yourself

The advice “be yourself” might be a bit cliché but clichés have their root in truth. According to the Harvard Business Review, people become leaderships by internalizing a leadership identity, and thereby developing a sense of purpose. This sort of self-awareness is invaluable for any individual—when you know what you want, what you don’t, and what is important to you, you become much more effective and productive as a person.

Speak Up, Step Up, Be Resilient

Fear should be nothing but motivation to overcome it. Leaders are not scared to make impressions, to ask questions, or to learn. Confidence comes from building up resilience over time, being able to bounce back from problems and challenges over time. After all, we can have a lot more to learn from our failures than our successes.
Leaders should not be afraid of going out of the comfort zone, doing things differently, innovation. If one has the passion and ambition, one simply has to step forward and look for the opportunities, the people, the resources, and make it happen.

Share successes

This is arguably one of the prevalent strengths of the gender equality movement—that individuals are given a voice and a presence where they didn’t have one previously. It gives them a story, and what’s more, a story worth sharing. This is the backbone of solidarity movements like HeforShe, organizations such as Lean In, and campaigns such as #NotThere(by the No Ceilings initiative).
The point here is to let others know what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and why it matters. Only then, can the impact be unleashed, through telling the full story.
The world has begun to realize that this is not so much a gender problem as it is a human problem. Now, more than ever, it is all about the equal value of every individual, and resulting equal opportunity. Indeed, today’s quickly evolving society fosters a culture of growth, in which opportunities abound.
For the gender debate, it is hugely important to discuss how the unbalanced proportion of opportunity is slanted towards the male population, yes, but it is also equally important to empower women towards taking action for themselves.
“Aspire to Lead” focuses on this very issue—raising awareness has been done, many times. There has been a plethora of different discussions and exchanges of ideas. Now it is all about confidence and the resulting proactivity. By collectively taking ownership and taking action, we become leaders who can propel people forward into a more inclusive, accepting society.