Confidence is one of the single largest issues that stops women from starting their own business, climbing the corporate ladder and working in a way that suits them.
In May 2016, Facebook conducted an insightful piece of research called 'SheMeansBusiness'. It revealed that 2.7 million women in the UK (one in 10) would love to start their own enterprise but don’t. The research pointed to poor self-belief being a critical barrier, with 37 per cent claiming to feel unready, 25 per cent citing a lack of confidence and 24 per cent concerned that they were missing the right business skills.
All of these areas scream one thing: a confidence gap.
Where does this come from? There is a clear disparity of confidence, not competence, between many of the men and women that I meet in business. Women’s self-perception levels are different to our male counterparts. Men tend to overestimate their professional abilities and performance, while women underestimate their capabilities.
Fact: confidence can be improved and developed, it's not something that you must be born with
Think of an interview scenario. So many times, a man will put themselves forward for a role and confidently promote his skills and qualities. Conversely, a woman will present her skills but will highlight the areas where she thinks she will need to develop, improve or build her expertise. They both have the same expertise on paper - but the confidence in presenting them can suggest otherwise.
It's backed up by new research, which suggests that a major contributing factor to the gender pay gap could be the pessimism coming from women themselves. Academics from the University of Bath have found that women underestimate their earning potential, while men inflate theirs. The findings, published in the Journal of Economic Behaviour And Organisation conclude that women have lower expectations in the workplace.
Gender stereotypes impact our confidence and they begin at a really young age. Ask a child aged six to draw a picture of a brain surgeon, pilot or firefighter and I guarantee you that the result will be male. A study earlier this year by US researchers found that girls see themselves as less "innately talented" as boys by the age of six.
A lack of female role models as business leaders and in many areas of life is unhelpful, and my own experience has been that when you show a young child a great female role model in a traditionally male dominated career, they quickly and easily adapt to draw women in these roles, too.
Confidence is never more impacted than in your middle years, post children and especially when returning to work full or part-time. Motherhood is too seldom celebrated as an extraordinary accomplishment and new skill set (babies do not come with instruction manuals but we dive in and confidently give it our best shot).
Fact: confidence can be improved and developed, it's not something that you must be born with. Here are my tips - hard won over years in the workplace and starting my own businesses - for improving yours.
How to boost your confidence
1. Prepare to be confident
Life is fast-paced and speaking as a multi-tasking entrepreneur/mum /non-executive director, I know what it feels like to fly by the seat of one's pants . It's possible, sometimes rather exhilarating (when things go well) and incredibly confidence-depleting when things don't.
Taking the time to make a plan and be prepared for any situation that requires you at your most confident is really worthwhile and impactful. So, plan it! Arrive on time, wear the outfit that makes you feel great, prepare your material. Whatever it is that best triggers your personal confidence - recognise it and make it a priority to plan and prepare on that basis.
2. Know your stuff
Planning is an important confidence booster, but nothing substitutes for that feeling of confidence that comes from really knowing your stuff and being expert in your subject matter.
I'm a data nerd at heart and knowledge really is power when it comes to building rational confidence, so seize every chance to boost your domain expertise so that you can confidently share your insights, experience and know-how.
3. Don't let fear stop you
So much has been written on the "culture of positive failure" in the US - the ability to try, fail and not be branded a loser. Here in Europe, I'm optimistic that we have gained ground on this front in recent years. Of course, no one sets out to fail, but it's important to recognise failure for what it is - a momentary set back, experience to learn from (that's the critical part) and adapt around.
I'm not encouraging you to take outrageous risks and be blissfully happy to let it all fall apart, but keep in mind that some of the best entrepreneurs and corporate leaders have had serious failures and setbacks along the way. Think of Oprah Winfrey, fired as a reporter from a Baltimore news station in her early career - the Queen of US daytime TV is now valued at an estimated $2.7bn.
Only you can adjust your mindset to boost your personal confidence and have a go. Once you are over that hurdle, the experience itself becomes a critical confidence boost. Nothing screams confidence more than the knowledge that you have done it once - so you can surely do it again.
4. Adopt a positive attitude
It sounds supremely cheesy, but so much of my experience shows me that positive things happen to and for positive people. I often think of the adage "if you want something done, ask a busy woman."
Personally, I don't believe this has much to do with the gender stereotype of women being decent multi-taskers. I think it relates to a busy woman with the right attitude, confidently focused on successfully achieving her goals and tasks. This woman is virtually unstoppable no matter which work/life/family task she turns her attention to.
Positivity is magnetic and can have a profound impact on ourselves and others, so it's equally important to allow yourself to be drawn to other positive people and wherever possible, identify a female role model that inspires you and encourages you to confront and bridge your confidence gap.
5. Be assertive
About what you believe in, want to achieve and are prepared to work hard for. I think this naturally gets easier as your confidence develops but the more you step forward and raise your hand, the bolder you will feel about that next promotion, startup or career adventure.
Meet Nancy at our exclusive event...
Nancy Cruickshank is a serial entrepreneur and Founder of personal beauty shopping service, MyShowcase, which empowers women across the UK to become home-based beauty bosses.
You can see Nancy at the next Telegraph Women event on March 14, 2017 in partnership with The Women's Chapter. The evening will celebrate women in business and also feature Vanessa Vallely, founder of WeAreTheCity. The conversation will be led by Claire Cohen of Telegraph Women.
The Devonshire Club will provide the perfect setting for an evening of inspiration, networking and cocktails.
Date: Tuesday, March 14, 2017
Time: 6.00 - 8.30pm
Venue: 4+5 Devonshire Square London EC2M 4YD