Julia Irvine 13 Nov 2019 03:26pm

Women need help to boost self-esteem at work

Contrary to popular belief, women are keen to progress in their careers but are hampered by the need to juggle their work/life balance, a dearth of visible internal opportunities and a lack of confidence in their own ability

Research from My Confidence Matters, a consultancy which works with women to achieve more fulfilling careers, shows that a larger proportion of women (79%) than men (62%) experience a lack of confidence in the workplace and at least half of them believe their manager would not give them the requisite support to overcome the problem.

Interestingly, very few women (19%) said they rarely lacked confidence at work, compared to nearly a third (32%) of men.

Lack of confidence seriously impacts on women’s career prospects at work. More women (85%) than men (76%) want promotion to a more senior role, but men are far more likely to achieve their ambitions. For example, 63% of men would not think twice about asking for a pay rise while 54% of women would be very nervous about doing so and are therefore likely to underestimate their value and undersell themselves.

Marie Cooper, head of people at Swim England, summed it up when she told researchers, “If I was really confident, I would feel more in control and would prioritise my development and getting to the next point on the trajectory more than I do now. Lack of self-confidence and self-belief is holding me back from taking the next step. It has done in the past. Until I feel 200% ready, I won’t put myself forward. If I had the confidence, I’d take more risks, not over think things and go for it.”

The research, which was carried out among 2,499 employees (87% women) from mainly large organisations (1,000 plus employees worldwide), also reveals the type of challenges that had prevented women from making the impact they wanted at work in the previous month.

When identifying what had recently stopped them having the impact they wanted at work, half of women reported only appearing confident but not feeling it, 46% admitted they suffered from the imposter syndrome (a mindset of “why would anyone listen to me?”) and 38% said they forgot what they were going to say or waffled.

As a leading business partner in a global professional services firm said, “When dealing with incredibly smart people in senior roles, it doesn’t take much to suddenly doubt myself and think ‘I shouldn’t be the person doing this.’”

Women also feel that having a family is likely to rule them out of reaching the top. An unnamed director at a professional services firm said she was concerned about telling people she had children “in case this had an impact on my role and what people expected of me”.

A large minority of respondents (43%) said that health and wellbeing played a significant part in their career choices.

Confident communication is key to improving confidence in the workplace – 51% said they were nervous about presenting to an audience or giving a speech. Mentoring and sponsorship are also seen as essential – EY analyst Rozalie Boyle told the researchers, “Having inspiring role models and hearing others’ experiences is so important” – along with leadership skills training, coaching and flexible working.

Commenting on the findings, My Confidence Matters founder Joy Burnford says that lack of confidence is clearly holding women back from their aspirations, and that the absence of support from management is demotivating as well.

“We know that employee wellbeing and mental health, as well as flexible working, are becoming more and more of a focus for managers and senior leaders – and that’s great – but we also need to see these leaders prioritising help with confidence and self-esteem among their teams too,” she added.