Last month, the RAF announced their landmark decision to open combat roles to women. Extensive research into the physical and psychological impact of years of gruelling training and tours reveals that women are in fact up to the same job as men.
Amid this move, the lack of diversity in our own industry seems all the more poignant. Women are still under-represented, especially in more senior roles. And yet the nature of our job doesn’t really favour one gender over another. So why is this?
Under-representation comes from lack of confidence, not a lack of ability
In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg talks about the female affliction being a lack of ambition, not a lack of talent. This lack of ambition isn’t fuelled by laziness, it’s fuelled by a lack of confidence. Women just don’t believe that they can.
Engine’s own findings back this up. Earlier this year, our 21st Century Women research found that women believe that men can succeed with good social skills and average intelligence, while women need extreme intelligence and a lot more besides to shimmy up the same greasy pole.
Where does confidence come from?
Confidence is nothing more than believing that you can. But believing you can is a journey and for a journey to be deemed successful it needs a destination.
Of course, it’s near impossible to see the path ahead when you have nothing to aim for. That’s why we need to clearly signpost, and light the way to the top; sending talented women signals that they are wanted and needed at the top table.
Having role models at work and in your industry is essential to success. The Glass Hammer and Accenture found that 83% of women in tech who said they wanted a C-Suite job also said they had a role model. The study concluded that there was a strong correlation between women with role models and women with leadership goals.
Role models are also key to changing perceptions. The effect of Marissa Mayer, Angela Ahrendts, and Sheryl Sandberg has not gone unnoticed across the globe, and likewise the likes of Lindsay Pattison, Karen Blackett, Debbie Klein, Katie Mackay and Vicki Maguire to name but a few, are lighting the torch closer to home.
But we need more. Gina Davies was right when she said; "if she can’t see it, she can’t be it". When more women are seen in the top of organisations and at the top of their game, the more this will be regarded as the standard and a perfectly normal, and logical, path to choose.
The women of the future
Women aren’t all that great at shouting about their successes. From early childhood, girls are socialised differently to boys, and although this is changing, many 30 and 40 year old women of today still struggle with the idea of self-promotion.
Women in advertising (and women everywhere) need to stop being shy. We need to step up to the plate and start sharing our achievements.
Why? Because we have earned the right to do so. Because we deserve to be recognised. Because if we don’t, lesser achievements will be praised and rewarded.
But most importantly, because all successful women have the chance to help light that path and signpost the way for others. As successful women it is our right, and our responsibility, to step out of the shadows. If not for ourselves, then for the next generation of women, who deserve the opportunities we have fought so hard for.
It’s time to bridge the confidence gap. Here are five actions you can take today:
1. Say YES to new opportunities even if they appear daunting
Confidence is nothing more than a mind trick. Tell yourself and others that you can succeed and you will.
2. Know what you are good at and do more of it
Don’t be shy about showcasing your greatest talents and skills. You’ve got to be seen to be recognised.
3. People stream
Aligning yourself with your promoters will boost your confidence. Listening to the occasional detractors will give you the strength to improve.
4. Fake it till you make it
Stand up straight, assume a relaxed but confident posture, smile. You’ll be surprised how much the look suits you.
5. Be a role model
Share what you’ve learned with others, in doing so you are also acknowledging it to yourself. You’ll surprise yourself with how far you’ve come.
Erminia Blackden is head of strategy at Partners Andrews Aldridge