Looking for a half decent image to accompany this blog has taken me longer than writing the blog itself. It has also somewhat infuriated me. This blog is about running Authentic Confidence training for women. Now I know that some people think a ‘women only’ focus for networking, training, conferences etc is one that encourages a divide more than resolves it. I do understand that perspective, to a degree, but I don’t entirely agree. I know that there are some women who would not turn up to certain all-gender training programmes as they wouldn’t feel it was targeted at them, or they fear not feeling able to speak up.

Recently I ran a ‘women only’ session for university staff, one of them said: “The best bit was the warm feeling of camaraderie generated amongst a group of open and honest women, which I found reassuring and helpful”

This is not to say that I don’t work with men to help them build self-confidence, I do. For the purposes of women though, I have looked at the research. It shows us that men are more likely to be the first to speak up in a mixed group and they tend to speak for longer than women. Try your own experiment, the next few times you sit in a meeting or a conference Q&A session, observe who takes the floor first when it is opened out to everyone.

This of course isn’t the fault of the man who decides to ask his question first or speak at length about his opinion. After all, he can’t make women speak before him, or for longer. Let’s just come back to discussing the image for this blog for a moment though. The reason it took me so long to find a suitable image is that firstly, when I searched “group of women interacting” the first photo was three women sat in silence. The second photo was two women interacting with a man in a way that might suggest he was ‘the leader’. The third and fourth photo were variations of the second. I decided to search for silhouettes of women interacting instead. Some of the pictures weren’t appropriate for a business page, I’m sure you get my drift. There were no women at work who happened to be pregnant, there were no size 16 women, there were very few women who weren’t smiling. It didn’t take long to conclude these pictures would make most women feel inadequate by reflecting female images in an unrealistic fashion, or encouraging women to behave in a passive way.

My blog is not highlighting something new. We all know about the unrealistic demands placed on women (and men) by media to be beautiful, happy and confident. What we find more difficult to know is how we can be authentically confident. So, back to my blog topic… training women to be authentically confident. Sometimes it helps to understand the challenges women face when it comes to being confident at work. How do we do this? Well the research is hugely important, as is knowing you’re not alone in your place of work. As another participant said “the best bit was learning facts and sharing other people’s experiences”

Then it’s important to understand our own levels of confidence – if you understand the ways you are confident, and less confident then you are better placed to focus on developing those skills. Self-confidence is a skill, and like any other workplace skill it can be developed, but it takes time. When asked how the workshop could be improved, one participant said: “it would’ve been better, for me at least, to spend more time picking apart our own different personal confidence issues and suggesting [more] techniques to help with these”. I wholeheartedly agree!