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Here's why.

By Debbie Messemer
March 6, 2016

MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: How can more women leaders instill confidence in the workplace? is written by Debbie Messemer, managing partner at KPMG San Francisco.

“I wish I would have learned to be confident and stand up for my beliefs. Just to never be afraid of what others think,” a respondent from KPMG Women’s Leadership survey.

Women in today’s workplace are facing a dilemma: while the opportunities for advancement to leadership roles has grown significantly, some women say they find it hard to see themselves as leaders. My firm, KPMG, conducted a women’s leadership study that found confidence remains an important, though elusive, characteristic for many women seeking advancement in the workplace, as 63% cited confidence as a top characteristic of leaders, but six in 10 women said they find it hard to see themselves as leaders.

How can companies help women overcome this disconnect to be more successful in their careers? One suggestion is to ensure that the resources and initiatives that can help advance women are made available, or bolstered, where they are lacking. And this is where the importance of women (and men) leaders comes into play. The study’s findings suggest that positive role models, a strong professional network, and leadership training can help build confidence. Thinking back on my career, I recall senior partners in our firm who helped me gain the confidence that I needed to achieve my goals. They encouraged me to seize my career aspirations of making partner and ultimately, becoming the managing partner of one of the largest markets in the firm.

See also: Why Mentoring Won’t Create More Female Leaders

At the time, I knew I had the experience and attributes to be successful in these roles but I lacked the confidence to raise my hand to be considered for them. Having access to positive role models, who exemplified how I should look and act, and leadership training that included effective public speaking (as an introvert, this was particularly important for my development,) helped bolster my confidence to lean in and ask for these leadership roles. I also remember those same senior partners who went out of their way to check in with me to ask about my leadership journey; facilitating introductions to other senior partners in our firm. I am forever grateful for these acts of friendship, mentorship, and stewardship. I am a senior leader at my firm today because of them.

Another confidence-builder for me was developing my own professional network, which actually started by establishing my community and philanthropic networks. Not only did this help me grow a well-rounded network of professionals and civic and non-profit leaders outside of my organization, but it also helped instill confidence. When I moved to San Francisco in 1994, I didn’t know a soul. I joined the Junior League of San Francisco, the San Francisco Ballet Auxiliary, Leadership San Francisco, Financial Women of San Francisco, and Financial Executives Institute. Through these organizations, I began to build a wonderful network of friends and professional contacts leading to a number of growth opportunities.


It’s also important for women (and men) leaders to acknowledge and understand the realities of work and life balance, as it can make a difference for leaders and the people they lead. Workplace and personal pressures can impact confidence. For example, the pressures of managing a business and raising a family. At times, either business or personal matters may take precedence over the other, and the importance can shift back and forth. Knowing this reality can help avoid or lessen a person’s feeling that one can’t handle their job and personal responsibilities. As a result, a person can more effectively balance work and life, instilling the confidence that leads to achieving professional and personal goals. For me, striking this balance has been the foundation for success.

I feel strongly that we work to live; we do not live to work. I am fortunate to have a very supportive husband who is a successful executive himself. He has probably done more to bolster my confidence and encourage me to lean in than anyone or anything else. The environment for advancing women into leadership roles in the workplace has never been more positive for women at all levels, with an increased desire by senior leaders to advance and prepare women for leadership roles. To help more women take advantage of this momentum and succeed in the workplace, we cannot forget the importance of confidence building.

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