Brewer Morris is proud to be supporting International Women’s Day 2019. International Women’s Day celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. Whilst we all know that gender parity within the workplace has improved over the past decades, we all also know that there is still a long way to go.
We would like to join the discussion and be part of International Women’s Day 2019 #BalanceforBetter campaign on the 8th March by interviewing inspiring women we work with and, in particular, understanding the role confidence has played in their career.
We interviewed Louisa Gonzalez, VP of Tax, ConvaTec
Do you think women’s workplace confidence has improved over the past few decades? Please explain why.
I do think women’s workplace confidence has improved in certain countries, in certain working environments, and for certain groups of women. I would attribute this largely to a slowly, but nonetheless, growing number of female leaders who have carved their way through and therefore there are now role models, senior sponsors and experienced mentors who can support and create chances for the next generations. When I was a junior there may be one female leader in a sea of white males. Now the proportional split is better, sometimes balanced, sometimes still not, but with enough numbers that the conversation is changing. But we still need to recognise that there is more improvement to be made, and in particular for women who face institutionalised barriers to progress, whether due to their ethnic, cultural, social, sexual, ability or other backgrounds.
How important have confidence and self-belief been in achieving your career goals? Please explain why.
It’s been massively important to put myself forward, just outside my comfort zone, and stretch myself. That’s how I have felt I have progressed. Tenacity and just ‘going for it’ even though that might mean into the unknown, ended up being crucial springboards to the next stage in my career. That doesn’t mean to say I’ve been surfing on a continuous super-wave of confidence since I started in Tax 21 years ago. When I think back on certain periods in my career, I realise on reflection that I was in a rut and had lost a sense of self-value. In these times I turned to friends, peers, mentors, coaches, to find a way back up. But you need to have self-belief, reinforced by a great network of people who believe in you too.
Have you ever experienced imposter syndrome (where you doubt your achievements and have an internalised fear of being exposed as a “fraud”)? If so, how did you overcome it?
OMG, yes! And so frequently. It’s like there’s a naughty monkey in my head who likes to play mischievous games with my self-confidence. Usually when I’ve come out from a meeting where I think I’ve been flying, and then I start to reflect with an outer-body type perspective, and self-doubt creeps in. Just recognising you’re having an Imposter Syndrome moment helps. I read this article which called it Imposter Experience, not Imposter Syndrome. The difference is subtle but so important; knowing it’s an experience enables you to realise that it’s what you’re feeling in that moment, and that it will pass, and therefore it doesn’t define you. With this knowledge I realised that it was in my control to acknowledge the moment but then spur myself into action to overcome those moments. I also actively seek feedback from various sources, say on how a particular meeting went or my role on a project. This enables you to feel empowered about reflecting on your capabilities, constructively considering what you could do better next time but, and this bit is crucial, also admitting that there were things you actually did really well! There’s no shame in this; when I read that Michelle Obama suffers from this feeling I wanted to sing – she’s almost a demi-god in some people’s eyes and yet she has her feet firmly fixed on the ground with this so-real affliction.
How important is mentoring, coaching and sponsorship in helping women to grow their confidence at work?
There have been times that it has been the efforts and words from others that have propelled me forward, and I’m so incredibly grateful to those people. Mentoring and coaching relationships can be formal, can be informal, can be from one-off discussions, can be long-term, can be with people in the same profession as you, or from other walks of life. When the hand of help is offered, accept. I now find myself in a privileged position that I can offer, or give when asked, time to mentor, coach, or sponsoring people, and I love learning from them too. Your network is a vital asset.
What can be done to ensure a woman being assertive in the workplace doesn’t negatively impact on colleagues’ perceptions of her?
The concept that an assertive woman is a harmful quality really needs to be ditched! Do we worry about male colleagues being viewed negatively when they assert themselves, or do we admire them for their boldness? Why do we expect softer, more submissive behaviour from women, but then wonder why there’s an imbalance in pay, unequal representation at leadership levels, and a growing gender data gap? Assertion is not aggression. It’s knowing one’s values and attributes. Women do tend to worry more about their likeability from their colleagues. But I find if you ask the question “Is it you want to be liked, or to be respected?”, the answer is more likely to be the latter. In which case, does assertiveness gain you respect? If so, apply it, irrespective of your gender.