Time and again we hear the same thing: the way to build women’s confidence and courage is by acting with it.

And yet, the Impostor Syndrome remains a reality for many women from the board room to the Golden Globes. Over and over, women reveal that despite their recurring successes, they continue to doubt themselves when considering new roles and opportunities.

This often inhibits them from taking risks and pursuing challenges. And even when they do, they experience the same gut-wrenching self-doubt every single time.

To help people, especially women in male-dominated professions, reach their full potential, it is important to address the following questions:

  • What keeps some highly competent women from seeing their own brilliance?
  • Why does their competence not sink in despite ‘proving themselves’ every single time?
  • When does “Just do it” not translate into “I can do it”?

The economic and business case for advancing women to senior leadership positions is clear and compelling. So is the dearth of women at the top despite the time, effort and money spent in their leadership development. Addressing these key questions and finding solutions to them should result in measurable success and improved performance for business and women.

My research over the years has shown that many women struggle with new challenges because they haven’t internalized the feeling of competence that comes with success.

Success does not always lead to increased confidence when approaching similar tasks or projects, even after achieving or surpassing previous goals.

The reasons for this can run deep, sometimes all the way back to early experiences. They can also stay hidden, because these feelings of incompetence operate largely outside of conscious awareness. And they can show up as the common female dilemma of “I know I am capable, but I still can’t do it”.

Luckily women do not need to play small and stay within their comfort zones, or go through the excruciating process of fighting the same recurring fears of revealing their perceived incompetence in order to do anything worthwhile.

We now know that that the brain is plastic, and that we can change old patterns of thinking by consistently engaging in new (and more helpful) ones. Organizations can promote systemic practices that help employees feel good about their performance. This builds lasting confidence in their competence.

So, what can workplaces do to help build women’s confidence?

1. Celebrate successes and strengths

Many organizations wrongly believe that celebrating success will make employees complacent and negatively affect performance. Nothing is farther from the truth!

In fact, many studies show that the practice of celebrating success helps embed them in long-term memory instead of being lost on the brain. Even celebrating the smallest wins helps to build a library of competence that shows up as genuine confidence in one’s abilities.

This is especially important for women as they have inherited multi-generational training in modesty and find it difficult to share their success unless they’re encouraged to do so. Additionally, research shows women who receive recognition for their accomplishments, report higher levels of confidence in their leadership abilities compared to women who did not receive recognition.

2. Take risks and embrace failure as a learning opportunity

Research shows that rebounding from failure builds feelings of mastery and not just competence.

Mastery is the general sense that you’re able to handle whatever comes your way while competence is knowing that you’re good at what you do. Today’s workplaces are volatile and ambiguous. Organizations must encourage risk-taking, even if it may result in failure, and provide safe spaces to learn from it. Action and results are not always linear or guaranteed.

In this way employees feel confident to create, innovate and approach opportunities despite inherent risks. When you embrace failure you can also help individuals to develop resilience and a growth mindset.

3. Promote Work Life Balance, Prioritize Wellbeing and Practice Self-Care

Working women continue to be the primary caregivers in most families, responsible for the bulk of childcare and domestic duties.

Between putting food on the table, making sure homework is done and getting the kids off to activities and then to bed, there is little time left for a breather, much less for feeling good about their work. What is far more common is overcoming the “mother’s guilt” that comes from trying to find the elusive work-life balance.

Organizations should promote a healthy work-life balance by being empathetic to the female reality and taking responsibility for their role. This can be achieved through a culture of flexibility, open dialogue, and creative solutions.

Employees drive innovation, customer loyalty, growth and more.

Only when organizations truly value their employees and meet them where they are by addressing their unique needs, challenges and aspirations, can they bolster women’s confidence and help women to rise.


This article first appeared on Forbes

Sign up to get emails, blogs and subcriber only free content.
Share this post: