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Women in business champion

Joy Burnford maps out a culture of confidence

Joy BurnfordJoy Burnford is the founder and director of My Confidence Matters, an organisation aimed at inspiring business women to become confident leaders. She shares her pioneering research into boosting women’s self-assurance at work.




In many ways, women in the workforce have come a long way. There’s increasing commitment to gender diversity, more efforts to get women on boards and gender pay reporting is gaining ground. However, as Grant Thornton’s research has revealed, little has changed in the last 10 years when it comes to the actual numbers of women in senior roles.

Why is this? And what changes can organisations make to encourage and support their women to move up the career ladder? If we want a more inclusive and diverse workplace, where all genders thrive and are valued, something has to change.

We believe that creating a ‘culture of confidence’ where confidence is talked about openly is essential. We often see a stigma attached to admitting a lack of confidence.

In 2017 My Confidence Matters carried out a survey of over 300 businesswomen and asked them about their confidence in the workplace. Some 73% of respondents admitted they lacked confidence on a regular basis and when asked what made them nervous at work, 43% said asking for a pay rise, while 40% cited presenting in front of an audience. Networking was not far behind at 34%.

It was also interesting to note that 62% of the women surveyed said that they felt less confident after they returned after a career break. With many women taking time off to have children, how can we rebuild their confidence when they return to ensure they progress up the career ladder as quickly as they should?

Here are three simple ways that you can create a culture of confidence:

1. Have the ‘confidence’ conversation

We need to encourage conversation and dialogue around confidence – don’t just assume that women in your organisation have confidence in their own abilities. This can be during performance reviews or as part of your day-to-day interactions. Perhaps find out what areas they feel most confident in and work out where you can support them to develop areas where they lack confidence.

2. Provide gender-based training and coaching

Women and men both have a need for building up confidence, but the challenges they face are typically very different. For this reason, we recommend that organisations run gender-based training rather than a one size fits all training. We asked the women in our research what they would find useful in terms of building up their confidence: 48% said that one-to-one coaching would help them, and 57% wanted to be part of a community.

3. Create a process for public speaking preparation

If you have women in your team who lack confidence in public speaking, put in place a process and timetable to follow.

  • Push: What are you doing to gently challenge your women so that they feel supported yet stretched?
  • Plan: What are the objectives of the presentation? What objections might they encounter? High-level advance planning can help to calm nerves.
  • Prepare: As the old adage goes, ‘Fail to prepare, prepare to fail’. Everyone prepares differently, but the key is to allocate time to this part of the process.
  • Practise: It is important to practise and allow time for this. Recording and playing back presentations can be a useful tool, as can asking for feedback.
  • Perform: Nerves are natural and should be welcomed. Fear and excitement are the same emotion and can be embraced in a positive way. Encourage a smile and be there to support where you can.

Start the conversation today and empower your female leaders of tomorrow.

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