Managing director of Inclusion & Diversity at Accenture, Michelle Gadsden-Williams. Photo courtesy of Accenture.
There’s a serious confidence gap between men and women. Women are much more likely to consider themselves unqualified for a position or even unqualified for a conversation. When you add the fear of being “bossy” to the sneaking feeling of insecurity many women have, you create a not-so-tasty cocktail of confidence issues.
But research suggests confidence is linked to high professional performance. That’s why Fairygodboss Co-founder and President Romy Newman hosted an exclusive interview with Michelle Gadsden-Williams, managing director of Inclusion & Diversity at Accenture to discuss her new book: “Climb: Taking Every Step with Conviction, Courage, and Calculated Risk."
Gadsden-Williams and Newman agreed that hard work “is just not enough” to reach your full potential. Self-confidence — and the ability to go after what you want from your career even if it’s “risky” — is the road to success.
“It’s about grit and stick-to-it-iveness and conviction and courage,” Gadsden-Williams said. “Get out in front and do everything necessary to differentiate yourself from everyone else so people will know and see your talents upfront and center. Get out in front of leadership. Do the things that will scare you.”
Here are three ways to find the confidence it takes to get risky at work, from Gadsden-Williams and Newman themselves:
When asked how she learned to take risks, like asking for promotions or applying to jobs that seem just out of reach, Gadsden-Williams had a pretty simple tip.
“My parents always said: ‘What’s the worst thing that can happen? Stretch yourself. Take a calculated risk.’ So, I always ask myself: ‘What’s the worst that can happen in any given situation, as long as you do the research and the homework?’... The worst thing they can do is say ‘no.’”
She says taking a risk might not always mean getting a “yes,” but a “no” doesn’t mean the end of your career.
“You can always bounce back. You can always reinvent yourself. You can always pivot left and come back.”
One of the best ways to feel confident in your skills? Making sure they’re as strong as possible. Gadsden-Williams suggested two ways to make your skills bullet-proof: consistent self-assessments and outside feedback. She emphasized the importance of having both sponsors and mentors to help your personal growth.
“Your mentor is like your personal trainer… And your sponsor is like your agent. They’re the person who’s advocating for you, fighting for you. I’ve greatly benefitted from these relationships that I cultivated, maintained, and sustained.”
But feedback helps more than your abilities or your spot in the chain of command. Newman noted that seeking outside perspectives is also important to building confidence, especially for women.
“It’s good to get outside perspectives on yourself because it’s difficult to brag… it’s good to think about ourselves at arms length to get more promotional.”
What’s one of the easiest ways to speak up? Speaking up about something you really care about. Gadsden-Williams emphasized the importance of aligning your personal career ambitions with your passions. Not only does this ensure you are knowledgeable and energetic about your field, it ensures you can clearly communicate your professional purpose and ask for what you need to reach your goal.
“We all have a career path and a career trajectory. Figure out what’s going to give you passion and purpose and resolve. Just try to figure out what’s your North Star: How does your passion and purpose intertwine?”
Don’t have a North Star yet? Gadsden-Williams has some advice on how to find it.
“Constantly ask: What is it that you want? What is it that you’d want to do to get there? What are decisions you want to make? Do some self-assessment — what are my strengths and weaknesses? A vision board is always good.”
But you better get started — there’s lots of choices out there. As Gadsden-Williams put it, “The world is your oyster. We just need to seize the opportunity.”
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