- Everyone has inside a resilient sense of self; a core confidence they can connect with.
- Many, but not all, the reasons women get stuck in mid-level roles are to do with a lack of confidence.
- Core Confidence aims to build the confidence and resilience people need to progress their careers.
By Ella Donald
Kate Boorer FCA, founder and CEO of the Young Professional Women Australia networking group, can recall plenty of instances in her 20-year finance and consulting career when she felt out of place and lacking confidence.
“I can think of a number of times in the first 10 years of my career where I didn’t feel like I belonged,” she says. “And typically that was because I was a young female, and I was in a room full of white men in their mid 40s and 50s who were having all sorts of blokey conversations.
“It was always a matter of how am I weaving my way in? Who’s my wingman, as in who’s the person I’ve got the best relationship with who I can almost use as a gateway in.”
Instead of avoiding them, Boorer decided to deal head-on with deeply uncomfortable situations. Working in financial and managerial roles at companies such as KPMG and APN Outdoor, she overcame her nagging self-doubt about public speaking and walking into a room where she didn’t know anyone.
She says she realised she had something within herself – a reassuring sense that no matter what, she would get through on the strength of her experience and abilities.
Boorer calls this resilient sense of self “core confidence”, and says it’s invaluable for people wanting to progress into senior positions.
The power of core confidence
Fiona Pearman and Kate Boorer FCA
Boorer and strategic consultant Fiona Pearman have drawn on their own career experiences and work as corporate facilitators and coaches to co-author Core Confidence, a book that examines the barriers – particularly for women – to building confidence at work, and a ‘how to’ guide for connecting with your resilient core.
“Stuff is going to come up,” Boorer says. “You are going to be challenged. You are going to get a question you won’t know the answer to. You may take the fall for something that wasn’t your fault.
“[Core confidence] is that real sense that at a deep level you’ll be OK, that you can navigate this; that no matter which way it’s going to go, you’ll be OK.
“The simple mantra we settled on is ‘I’ve got this’.”
How lack of confidence cripples careers
While anyone can struggle with being confident and assertive in the workplace, Boorer and Pearman’s research has found this lack of core confidence really impedes the progression of women from middle management into senior positions.
When they asked women in mid-level positions “what barriers do you believe are hindering your career progression?” respondents identified a lack of clarity in their goals (38%), building relationships (28%), or belief in skills (19%).
“[Core confidence] is that real sense that at a deep level you’ll be OK, that you can navigate this.”
“All of these issues are founded in confidence,” Boorer says. “If I’m clear about what I want, I’m more likely to have a tough conversation, or say ‘yes’ to the opportunity that scares me a little bit, such as volunteering to present in a high-stakes meeting.”
Hidden barriers to women’s progress
But Boorer and Pearman acknowledge there are hurdles beyond self-belief that stall women’s careers. As they point out on their Core Confidence website, today’s working women are part of a generation of girls brought up to believe they could be whatever they wanted. Yet despite this, the ranks of business leadership remain overwhelmingly male.
Both women experienced that moment in their early 30s when it appeared skill and hard work were no longer enough to get ahead. They were fighting against politics and influence; unspoken rules that seemed impossible to navigate.
In their book, they investigate the barriers that women continue to face in the workplace, and how to advocate for change.
“We are dealing with these systemic, structural, gender bias barriers that exist in society,” Pearman says. “The idea that we can overturn these overnight is simply not true.”
“That’s not an even playing field… there are dynamics at play we have no consciousness of,” adds Boorer. “The expectation that working hard and knowing your stuff will help you navigate those very tricky dynamics is false.
“Women tend to blame themselves. The reality is we need new strategies to navigate this new landscape we are now exposed to,” she says.
Individuals connecting with their core confidence, and demanding change, could be the place to start.
How to connect with your core confidence
1. Develop clarity on what you’re working towards.
“One of the best things anyone can do is engage in the process of knowing what you want and what you don’t want,” says Boorer.2. When faced with a challenge, stay present.
“Even when something unexpected comes at you, if you can just stay with the moment and see what comes next… it’s amazing how quickly that sense of fear dissolves.”3. Use the chances presented in daily life.
“Even if it’s just doing one small thing you wouldn’t normally do, like speaking up in a meeting or a group of people.”4. Reach out.
“You’d be amazed how willing people are to support you. Extend yourself a little bit. Maybe there’s a person you admire; reach out to them even if it’s just to grab a coffee with them.”5. Ask for what you want.
“Too often we’re assuming the answer is ‘no, it’s not allowed’ or ‘it’s not done that way’. There are all these rules that are often just in our heads. Sometimes it’s just about breaking the rules and seeing what happens, and doing that in a mature, sensible way.”
Assess your own core confidence and buy the book at coreconfidence.com.au