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What is the biggest barrier to women achieving their career goals?

Women.  That’s right, I reckon we are own worst enemy when it comes to realising our full potential.  Sure there are many other factors that come into play, some of which are unique to women, but put simply I think women often don’t believe in themselves enough. There are of course always exceptions… like some of our sphinxx leaders who have been in the news over the past couple of weeks.  You may have seen Naomi Simson, CEO of Red Balloon Days on Channel 9 last week as the Secret Millionaire (showing her generosity again – well done Naomi) and did you know that Sharyn Baker, General Manager at MLC was just announced as the 2009 CSIA Executive of the Year? (/p>

If you’re a member of the sphinxx Leadership Program you would have met or at least heard the stories of these amazing women and how they’ve backed themselves for success in their respectives careers.  But what I also know is that many women lack the confidence to take their careers to the next level, to ask for a promotion or payrise or negotiate the employment terms they need to operate at their best.

In the recent sphinxx survey of working women, 27% of respondents said they had turned down an offer of a promotion due to a lack of confidence in their ability, while a further 14% had turned down a promotion due to a perceived lack of competence to perform the role.

Both of these last 2 points are linked: if a woman’s confidence isn’t at its best, nor will her perceptions be of herself and her skills and her ability to take on a new role.

In the various leadership and executive roles I held in finance and consulting before I started sphinxx, I was always amazed at the difference between men and women when it comes to self promotion.  It becomes much more obvious when you are managing teams in the hundreds, and this is when I really noticed the difference.  Every week I would have male members of my team dropping by my desk, sending emails or booking coffee meetings to make sure I knew they were ready for their next promotion or to let me know they needed time off for study or travel or family commitments (yes there were some who came to me about this).  Although I had just as many women on my teams, I never heard from them on these points unless they’d managed to secure another job altogether or they’d decided the work-family-life balancing act was so out of kilter the only option was to resign.

The thing is this: if someone comes to you and offers you a promotion, they’ve already determined you have the skills and competence to do the job.  Even if you don’t have confidence in yourself, someone else does!  So why not take the job, and the payrise, and live happily ever after?

Well of course it’s not as simple as that.  Research by Catalyst shows that women won’t apply for a job unless they have 90% of the required competencies whereas men will apply with fewer than 50% of the competencies.  Women on Boards research also shows that 35% of women lack the confidence to apply for a board position.

So what is this research saying?  That we need to get over our nervousness and start believing in ourselves.  After all, as Carla Zampatti recently told me:  If you can’t sell yourself then how can you expect anyone else to believe in you and all you are capable of?

So what are my tips for giving yourself a shot of confidence?

1.  Recognise the little wins:  start carrying a journal or notebook with you every day and write down your successes – whether large or small – as they arise.  When it comes to performance review time, or when you just need a shot of confidence, you can read through your (very long) list of achievements and see for yourself how great you can be!

2.  Hold brown bag lunches in your work place to get other women together for brainstorming and discussion groups on the common challenges women face in getting ahead.  Negotiation, innovation, communication and personal branding are all good topics to get you started.

3.  Get a mentor or a role model you can ask for advice and to work through tricky situations with.  Girlfriends are also a good substitute for mentors, if you prefer.

4.  Do some professional development, formal study or qualifications – but beware: Australian women are among the most qualified in the world.  It’s what you do with your new found knowledge that matters.  Make sure people know about it at work and in your professional networks.

5.  Network.  Did you know that about 80% of all job appointments are made before they are even advertised?  That goes for internal and external appointments, so you should be spending just as much time on internal networking (with peers, clients, suppliers etc) as meeting people outside of your business.

6.  Get involved in programs like the sphinxx leadership program and our development days that combine all of the above and package it up for you.  We’d love to help you reach your full potential – so contact us if you’d like to know more.


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