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The Confidence Gap


Women in grocery need two things to achieve a leadership position: confidence in themselves and, more importantly, confidence that they have a path to leadership in their respective organizations.

While women graduate from college feeling as qualified for success as their male peers, their aspiration level drops by more than 60 percent over time, according to “Everyday Moments of Truth,” a report from New York-based Bain & Co.

Why do female college graduates quickly lose confidence in their career potential? Bain attributed the confidence gap to three main factors: little supervisory support, too few role models in senior-level positons, and the widespread perception among men and women that “ideal workers” put in long hours and are adept at self-promotion, networking and maintaining a high profile.

Organizations that address these workplace challenges are able to leverage the power of women’s leadership and the talents, skills and leadership potential of every employee. That’s a huge competitive advantage.

Making the Leap

To succeed in today’s environment, women need to believe in themselves, find their own role models and create their own paths to success.

At the NEW Leadership Summit last fall, more than 1,200 Network members were inspired by women executives who overcame such doubts to become powerful and effective leaders. These high-powered women worked through their fears sought the help of mentors and sponsors, and took on stretch assignments that broadened their skills and built their profiles.

During a Summit panel discussion, Ahold USA EVP of Human Resources Kathy Russello shared that early in her career, she was hesitant to take on a new role outside her area of expertise: responsibility for labor relations strategy, which included negotiating with mostly male union officials. “I went into that role with a great deal of concern. I wasn’t sure I could do it,” she recounted. “But it’s the role I learned the most from.”

Failure Is an Option

For Ellen Junger, Hallmark’s SVP for corporate brand development, “stretch” has meant “jumping in without fully knowing what you’re doing.” But, like Russello, she learned the most and gained the most confidence when she accepted a role thinking, “I really don’t know if I can do this.”

With stretching comes risk, and some risks fail. Successful women and men don’t let a failure — or two — permanently change their career trajectories, however.

Summit keynoter Denice Torres, co-chair of Johnson & Johnson Consumer Cos., has faced multiple challenges as a gay multicultural woman and the mother of a special-needs child. During the low times, she said, it’s important to remember the situation won’t last forever: “It’s just for today,” Torres counseled. “Tomorrow can be different. Every career has highs and lows — and the more highs and lows you go through, the stronger you become.”

The NEW Summit’s closing speaker — Carla Moore, VP of talent acquisition at HBO — explained why closing the confidence gap that women face is so important: “I believe that when leaders change, businesses change,” she said, “and sometimes it takes a personal transformation to lead a business transformation.”

More succinctly, as Junger advised, “Don’t let the butterflies in your stomach hold you back.”

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