Improving Confidence in the Workplace

By Amanda Polster, LMSW

This blog is for us women. Us strong, hard working, and resilient women.

How many of you have felt discouraged at your job or struggled to build confidence in the workplace? This blog is to tell you You’re not alone.

A study conducted at Cornell University highlights the ways “men overestimate their abilities and performance, while women underestimate both” (Zenger, 2018). This study shows what is happening in the workplace due to these inequalities, but the real questions we want to ask is why, and how, as women, can we build more self-confidence and empowerment?

Feeling connected to our work and finding meaning in our careers has been proven to counter symptoms of depression, and improve self confidence and overall quality of life. We likely have all heard sayings like “If you enjoy what you do, it won’t feel like a job.” There is truth to these kind of cliches, but what is not highlighted as much is the challenges women face to receive validation, compensation, and equal opportunities in the workplace.

Many of my clients share discouraging and frustrating stories of the types of discrimination they experience at work, mainly on the basis of gender and sex. These clients have shared vulnerable stories about how they have been overlooked for promotions, been undermined by bosses, and harassed by colleagues based on appearance. These narratives play an important role in women’s confidence, self-esteem, and feelings of self-worth in the office.

Tips to improve confidence in the workplace

Debunking the workplace myths

Star Jones, an American lawyer, journalist, diversity activist, and the President of the National Association of Professional Women (just to name a few of the many hats she wears) discusses myths that often hold women back in the workplace. Let’s look at a few below:

  1. Women choose to devote their time to their families instead of to the workplace

This myth creates the assumption that women cannot manage a thriving home-life while also maintaining steady employment. This assumption not only insults women’s capacities and competencies, but also it perpetuates stereotypical gender roles that women should stay home while men earn the household income. To debunk this myth, let’s counter this flawed image of women to highlight the ways women are often pillars of their families and communities. Instead of being hindered by family responsibilities, women often use their families as motivators for moving forward in their occupations - families are not excuses but reasons for women to move up in their careers.

2. Women leaders are too emotional

Many of my clients share that they are scrutinized for their natural ability to display feelings of empathy and vulnerability at work. Qualities such as active listening and empathic responses are viewed as weaknesses instead of strengths to build strong relationships and connectivity in the office, as well as support and improve the overall work culture. In a 2018 Ted Talk, Star Jones shared that having at least 30% of women in leadership roles adds 6% to the net profit margin of a business (Jones, 2018). This proves that having more women in C-suit roles is better and more profitable for businesses. So the real question is, how do we counter the myth that women are too emotional? Debunking this myth means owning our compassionate personalities unapologetically and continuing to allow the research to speak for itself.

Let Our Bodies Tell the Story

Mindfulness and body awareness practices can tell us a whole lot about how we are feeling throughout the day, especially at work. Our bodies are also our own to move around or sit still at any given moment. When we are feeling discriminated, undermined, unappreciated, or any other painful feelings in the office, this can be a great opportunity to check in with our bodies and sensations that naturally come up through this uncomfortability. When we are unable to control what happens outside of us - the way people respond or treat us - we have the powerful ability to control what is within us, including our thoughts, feelings, and actions in response to these moments. We can ask empowering questions, such as:

  1. What am I feeling right now in my body that brings me more self awareness?

  2. How does this uncomfortable or painful moment serve or motivate me to possibly change something within myself?

  3. What kind of support would I like to receive through this optional transformative process?

Create a Resiliency Bubble

I view this tip as a supportive compliment to noticing sensations in our bodies. Creating a resiliency bubble is about creating additional protection from outside criticism through self-compassion and validation. This tool is a visual depiction of how we can improve our own self esteem while conversely preventing others from influencing or lowering our empowered state of mind. Affirmations have not only been proven to boost self-esteem and confidence, but studies have also shown that they improve performance in the workplace (Holmes, 2015). Daily mantras are a great way of creating a ritual of affirmations in our lives. Writing affirmations down and holding them in a sacred place can also feel comforting and desirable.

It is normal to feel discomfort turning inward and saying positive things about ourselves confidently. This is a perfect time to affirm your choice of mindfully taking this moment to explore new challenges by saying to yourself, I am strong and I am powerful.

Invitation to an Affirming Mindfulness Practice

Before concluding this blog, feel free to take this moment as an invitation to experience a mindfulness self-compassion practice. Let’s try this together.

Begin by gently closing your eyes or looking a few feet in front of you. Begin taking three deep breaths in and out at your own pace. Once you feel settled in your breath, begin silently affirming yourself with validations that feel genuine to you. At this time you can either use the affirmations above (i.e. I am strong, I am powerful, etc.) or you can create encouraging statements of your own. As you breathe in the affirmations, allow yourself to breathe out any feelings you would like to release from your body (i.e. shame, frustration, resentment, etc.) Repeat this cycle of breathing in affirmations and breathing out, releasing any heavy weighs as you wish. Take a few more moments at your own pace, breathing in and out, noticing any sensations in your body during this process. When you feel comfortable and ready, take this final moment to honor yourself for your courage to explore this practice and opportunity for self-growth.

For Additional Resources:

Ruschelle Khanna’s 10 week course of building self-esteem in the workplace

Holmes, Lindsay. Self Affirmations Can Boost Performance, Study Shows

Jones, Star. 2018. The myths that hold back women at the workplace. Ted Talks.

Zenger, Jack. The Confidence Gap in Men and Women: Why It Matters and How to Overcome It.