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 workplac e? is written by Perry Yeatman, CEO of Perry Yeatman Global Partners.
I don’t think confidence is the primary reason women don’t get ahead or that they lower their aspirations early on in their careers—at least not in business. That may be part of it for some women, but that certainly isn’t the whole picture. And I would argue that by the time a woman hits the job market, if she isn’t already pretty confident and resilient, then it’s a real uphill battle.
So instead of asking what women can do to build confidence among female employees, I’d start with what mothers, fathers, siblings, teachers, and coaches can do to instill confidence in girls. How we talk to girls, how we encourage them to play, how we support them to compete, how we show them what really matters—not just by what we say but by what we do—sets the stage for whether they will even make it into the workplace. Indeed, as a growing body of knowledge is showing, building confident and motivated girls is a long-term, multi-faceted process.
If and when young women do get in the door at a top firm, what can we do in those first few years in the workplace to keep them moving ahead? I recently read a great paper issued by the White House. It summarizes many of the forces at play regarding both getting women into business and all the way to the C-suite.
When I work with young women early in their careers, I do my part by focusing on these three things:
If women don’t see others they want to emulate, they are much less likely to aspire to move up. If all they see is stress, politics, no life outside of the office, etc., they—more so than men—are likely to simply say, “No thank you.” And even money and power aren’t enough to keep them motivated. So I always try to show young women, both through what I say and what I do, how they can have really fulfilling lives and careers—not that it’s easy or that they can have everything at the same time, but that over a career that may span 50 years, they can indeed achieve what is most important to them—at work and at home. And I try to show them that if kids are part of that, then being a mom doesn’t have to work against them. Indeed, being a mom can help prepare them to be CEOs.
Clarifying their ambitions
The second thing I try to do is help them understand and prioritize their desires and ambitions—short term and long term—often in three to five-year increments. I try to create a safe space for them to share what they really want, because if they aren’t clear about that, they certainly have much less chance of getting it. I also help them understand that every organization is focused on “what’s in it for them.” That way, when these young women do negotiate, they know they need to focus on both sides of the equation and try to find a balance between what they want and what the organization wants.
For example, when I wanted to work overseas, I set my sights on Europe. But when the offer came, it was Singapore. If I hadn’t been clear that getting that first job overseas was more important than getting to Europe, I would’ve said no—and missed out on the most amazing 10 years of my life, which in the end took me from Singapore to Russia and finally to London.
Coaching, mentoring, and sponsoring
Each of these is very important—providing support, motivation, and counsel. And, they are most certainly not the same. So I figure out what role I can and should play, which most often depends on my relationship with the individual. Am I her boss, or even in her company? Or is she the daughter of a friend? Then, regardless of which role I am playing, I make a point to ensure that she knows that I care and that my motivation is to help her be the best she can be and to achieve what she wants. To help her navigate the twists and turns of getting there, I listen, observe, and provide honest and direct feedback. If she works for me, I’ll also get her out of her comfort zone with stretch assignments.
My experience is that capable young women who are willing to work hard and get this kind of support normally do well and choose to move up to bigger and bolder things.