Our VP of Client Success discusses the importance of taking action to grow in the workplace. If you’ve felt less than 100% qualified for a job or project and are looking for tips on how to overcome this lack of confidence read on.
We’ve all heard the commonly quoted statistic—women won’t apply for a new position unless they meet 100% of the qualifications, while men only need to meet 60% to apply. I’d heard that, but I experienced it in a new way about a month ago.
I needed to hire two managers on the client success team and was very public about the open positions, that I was posting job descriptions externally and requesting internal applicants. A clear internal application deadline was established. The deadline came, and I had a number of internal applications. Great. But there were zero female applicants. Zero. Women comprise two-thirds of our client success team, but none of them applied.
Candidly, I was pretty surprised. I had initial thoughts about qualifications for the role and felt that a number of women in the office had a shot at it. They didn’t apply, while a number of their male counterparts did. I didn’t immediately see why all of the men who applied did so. Going through the interview process with them, however, I learned about their experience, goals, strengths and ambitions. And in every case, I understood why they felt compelled to apply, and the process made visible to me future opportunities that they would excel at.
Ultimately, I hired two external candidates (both men, by the way). Along the way, I gained a clear idea of growth and advancement opportunities for the men who applied and a knot in my stomach for those strong, ambitious women who didn’t apply.
I used to be like that too.
From the beginning of my career, I worked my ass off. I prioritized work over everything else in my life. I would get promoted, moving into new roles because I was the best at the role I was in at the time. But I was passive, rarely taking the reins for myself or saying what I wanted. Doing what others wanted of me was so much easier; it felt achievable and like something to check off the list. I was also really good at it.
It wasn’t until I had a boss (a woman, by the way) who refused to tell me who I was and pushed me into uncomfortable places that I finally took any sort of initiative. It was with her that I gained confidence, learned to fail, and grew significantly. I’m tempted to say ‘finally grew significantly’ because I feel like it took me a long time to get it. And now I’m watching another generation of early career women doing the same things I did.
7 Ways to Take That First Step
Yes, there are sexist cultural norms, discrimination, and inflexible workplaces that are in your way. I’m not denying that. And things are even harder for women of color and the LGBTQ+ community. Yes. But there is always an action that any one of us can take today. And in my view, any of the following can be a good first step:
Take action: I spent a lot of years waiting for others to give me permission before I would take the first step. That is not how confidence is built. When you follow someone else’s game plan, you’ll get experience. But experience and confidence are not the same thing. Seriously consider yourself, what you love, and the opportunities around you. Write your desired job description and consider it against what you’re doing today. Volunteer for a project that gets you the experience or visibility you need. You can take action in little ways and big ways, but every time you move on your own accord, you will learn and grow more.
Be comfortable with what you know and what you don’t: Competence does not mean that you know how to do everything. It’s OK for you to not know how to do something and even to be bad at something. Recognize what you know, where the gaps are between your knowledge and what you want to achieve, and figure out how to learn. Get resourceful. Ask for help. Admit to a weakness. You’ll have to be honest with yourself and others to gain confidence in what makes you special.
Say what you want: By nature I observe before I speak. But earlier in my career, I waited for everyone else. Maybe I wanted all the information first. Maybe I didn’t want to step on toes. It doesn’t matter. I took too long. Speak up. Be specific with someone who has influence.
Surround yourself with the best people: One of the best ways I’ve found to learn something is to be around people who are better than me. Learn from them. Ask questions. Be friends. Understanding how they solve problems and think differently will improve your knowledge, attitude, and business perspective.
Get comfortable with the unknown: Stop looking for answers to all your questions. If you need all your questions answered before you can take action, you’ll never move. Every senior position will require you to navigate gray areas. Ask enough to ensure you’re moving in the right direction and know what the first step is.
Find someone who pushes you: If you exclusively gravitate to people who make you comfortable and reinforce your own views, it’s going to be hard to grow. That boss who made me be accountable for my own path was instrumental in helping me gain confidence. I didn’t always like it and frequently wanted her to just tell me what to do, but I grew a ton. While you can’t always choose your boss, you can find peers or a mentor who will challenge you.
Respect your value: If you have done all of these things and it feels like you’re never going to get what you want at your current company, you may be right. Have the confidence to leave. Great people sometimes leave great companies. Sometimes they even take really rough jobs that test the limits of their abilities. That may be just what you need.
You have the power
If you found yourself connecting to any parts of this story, be encouraged. You have the power to change things. Even though the world isn’t what we want, you have far more control of your world than you realize. I’m excited to see how much faster you will learn the lessons it took me too long to figure out and how much more you are going to achieve because of it.