By Jacey Fortin
Every working woman faces challenges on the way to reaching her professional goals. And sometimes, the biggest obstacles are internal ones. In the pursuit of success, confidence is key—but it’s not always easy to stomp out the inner voices that preach self-doubt.
To gain some insight, we spoke with Patricia Werhane, director of the Institute for Business and Professional Ethics at DePaul University and a co-author of “Women in Business: The Changing Face of Leadership.” The book is based on interviews with 22 female professionals, all at the top of their fields.
What did these leaders have in common? “They’re utterly fearless,” said Werhane. “Many of them are in fields where it’s almost all men, and they pay no attention to that.” Powerful women like these can make success look easy, but insecurities nag at even the best of us. These five tips can help you put negative thoughts aside.
1. Get Yourself Out There
Your company is not a bell jar. When work gets you down, networking with other professionals in your field can set you up. There are men and women you’ve never met who deal with the same challenges that you face, and they can become a support system outside the parameters of your nine-to-five.
Werhane herself found inspiration—not to mention the resources to put together her book—by networking with female professionals. “I belong to the Chicago Network, an organization of women who are the top people in their professions,” she said. “We decided to interview some of these women because they’re amazing role models.” The lessons she learned from those talks still empower her today.
To find these opportunities, look for trade shows and business expos in your area, read company newsletters to find relevant events, or become a member of a local charitable organization.
2. Know the Value of Originality
Don’t let your unique point of view make you feel like the odd one out.
Difference is powerful. Research shows that the most diverse companies are the real money-makers, since they have a broader pool of ideas to draw from. Just last year, Catalyst released a report called “Why Diversity Matters,” indicating that “companies with more women board members, on average, significantly outperform those with fewer women.” The study does not find that women are better businesspeople than men, or vice versa. The implication is that a better diversity of opinions allows everyone to make better decisions.
If you have an idea worth fighting for, it’s in everyone’s best interest for you to speak up. It’s not about being pushy; it’s about being profitable.
3. Keep Track of Successes
In high-stress work environments, new tasks can come at you from a thousand directions. As you tackle minor emergencies, that one big goal you wanted to achieve today may fall by the wayside.
But don’t assume the day is wasted. Instead, keep mental note of all the fires you put out on a daily basis. Better yet, make a morning checklist of every little thing you want to accomplish. You may not finish it all, but seeing a row of checkmarks at the day’s end can combat feelings of inadequacy.
Once you begin keeping track, you may notice the true scope of your workload. If your responsibilities exceed your job description, make sure others recognize your contribution.
“Women have to take leadership in making sure they get recognized for their work,” said Werhane. “You have to sort out the data, and you have to show them.” If you’re keeping track of all the work you really do, both you and your colleagues will begin to appreciate your worth.
4. Cultivate a Supportive Environment
Unhealthy workplace politics often contribute to feelings of self-doubt, but understanding the psychology behind the drama can save your sanity.
This year, the Association for Psychological Science published a study from Leiden University in the Netherlands. The report investigates a common phenomenon among women in male-dominated industries—one that can lead to toxic work environments. “Queen bees,” according to the report, “are senior women in male-dominated organizations who have achieved success by emphasizing how they differ from other women.”
This study posits that such behavior is a response to discrimination, noting that “the queen-bee behavior is actually a result of the gender bias and social identity threat.” In other words, these bosses saw the need to toughen up for fear of being marginalized.
If ever you find yourself the victim of a queen bee, keep this study in mind. Superiors may be harsh without reason, but taking it personally will do you no good. Instead, preempt the problem by being supportive of other female colleagues. With any luck, your consideration for others will come back to you in time.
5. Exude Confidence
The simplest answer to dealing with self-doubt? Fake it ‘til you make it. Everyone has insecurities, but voicing those worries can make them come true. If you have legitimate misgivings about your ability to handle something, ask for help. But venting for the sake of it is little more than wasted breath.
Werhane explains that you can’t be afraid to promote yourself. As she spoke with some of the most powerful women in the United States, this outward confidence was their most common thread. “They don’t sit around and worry about things,” she said. “The way I put it, they don’t whine. Instead, they just make it.”