Sometimes reading about successful women and their achievements can be daunting! We endow these women with super-powers and listen to that self doubting voice within us that tells us “yes but I couldn’t do that’.

In my work delivering self-development programmes to women, I am privileged to meet some amazing women. Women of all ages, at all stages of career and life, in many different sectors. Their stories are inspiring, sometimes moving, always interesting and they provide excellent role models to the women on my programmes.

Nevertheless, no matter how senior a position they have reached, I have rarely met a woman who doesn’t admit to having struggled with, or indeed still struggles with, self-doubt and a lack of confidence.

In our self–development programmes, we spend time looking at factors which are critical to our success.  When we consider the relative importance of performance, image and visibility, many women initially identify performance as being the most important aspect, usually followed by image and visibility last. Visibility is in fact the most important requirement – if your performance and image do not have high visibility, then nobody will be aware of how good you actually are and you are unlikely to achieve your potential.

Many women find it very difficult to promote themselves positively and visibly. Perhaps due to upbringing, culture and stereotyping, there is a fear of being seen as ‘showing-off’, ‘boasting’, arrogant’. ‘pushy’. This fear also restricts our visibility being raised by other people. We deflect, deny or dismiss positive comments or feedback about our performance or image –‘it was nothing’, ‘I was just lucky’, ‘it was the team really’, ’that’s not really me’.

In order to increase our visibility we have to make ourselves speak up –

  • Speak up about our accomplishments, our abilities, our successes, our learning from mistakes, and our leadership qualities.
  • Speak up in meetings, seminars, conferences, blogs, social media, networking activities.
  • Speak up about what makes us unique.
  • Speak up and ask for feedback, opportunities, projects, and responsibility.

Elle magazine recently ran a feature where five successful women share their stories and tips for success. Here are some excerpts from their great advice – it is not just me who advocates speaking up!

 Moya Greene – CEO of Royal Mail. Moya emphasizes the importance of having a voice at meetings and stresses the benefits of having a network of supporters to help you develop the self-confidence to speak up.

Kath Mainland – CEO of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society. Kath talked about her first boss as being a wonderful example of a strong woman. Inspired by her, Kath said she ‘helped her to find her voice in the workplace and it meant I never had a problem asking for responsibility’. Kath believes ‘no-one ever reached a responsible job if they didn’t speak up’.

Chloe Mackintosh – co founder of online store made.com. Chloe talks about he importance of having the confidence to speak up and how she ‘helps young people to feel comfortable enough to voice their opinions.’

Holly Tucker MBE – founder of online retailer notonthehighstreet.com. Holly comments on the reluctance of women to speak up in meetings, even though they know the answers just as well as their male counterparts. Holly shares her belief that women have to continually cultivate their confidence in order to speak up at work.

Professor Nazneen Rahman, Head of Clinical Genetics Unit, Royal Marsden Hospital. Nazneen comments on the gender difference she observes, ‘ men are happier to speak up, even if there are gaps in their knowledge, whereas women are less likely to.’ Nazneen adds a piece of valuable advice ‘ don’t make the assumption that other people must know more than you do’.

As well as working with women at all stages of their careers, I also run personal development programmes for female undergraduate and postgraduate students.  One of the recent participants, a gifted young woman studying for her Doctorate at Cambridge University, recognised that she was significantly hindering her career development through her inability to speak up in any situation. She decided to set herself an action point that in every meeting or discussion opportunity she was in, she would find just one thing to say and speak up.  This simple decision has transformed her working life, she found that far from being ignored or criticised, she has been taken more seriously and now realises her views have real value. Her self-esteem and self-confidence have increased, and she has much higher visibility in her department.  All that from finding the courage to just say one sentence at a meeting!

I regard myself as a strong and successful woman; I have built a career of which I am proud, whilst bringing up my five amazing children. I have worked at Director level for national and global companies, and then launched my own business in an area that I am passionate about – helping other people, especially women, to develop themselves and fulfill their potential. Like everyone else, I don’t always get it right, but there are many more occasions where I wish I hadn’t kept quiet, than where I wish I hadn’t spoken up!

No one will ever appoint an ‘invisible woman’to a Board position, so go for it – drown out the sound of the little voice of self-doubt in your head and SPEAK UP!