Copyright (c) 2012 Alison Withers
This year in the UK a female head of state is celebrating her diamond jubilee.
Contrast this evidence of a woman who has been in an arguably high-powered position for a very long time with the worsening employment position for many UK women.
Nearly every day it seems that there is yet more information about the disproportionate effect of the current economic crisis on women, particularly on those who are looking for work.
We are told that there are still far too few women in high-powered positions, in the boardroom, in the courts and in politics and that the so-called glass ceiling still exists.
However, recent figures reveal that woman have been disproportionately affected by both unemployment and the challenge of getting a job at every level, from basic administration through secretarial, PA and mid-management level.
In spite of the difficult conditions that currently beset everyone in the effort to either find work or progress a career there are those who argue that women are in some ways their own worst enemies.
In countless surveys it is shown that women lack confidence when compared with men, such as this example where women were found to be more cautious than men in applying for jobs or promotions: "Men are more willing to put themselves forward for roles where they don't fully meet the criteria - 20% of men will apply if they only partially meet a job description, compared to 14% of women".
Women are also seen as more risk averse than men and even their posture is read as an indication of their diffidence.
Consequently there is a plethora of advice for women about how to approach an interview or to handle themselves in the workplace.
In addition to the advice on doing the research, preparing properly and polishing the CV, perhaps practising interview technique with the help of an advisor in a recruitment agency, women are encouraged to pay attention to their body language. They are encouraged to project confidence by standing and sitting straight, not hunching their shoulders, making eye contact and all this is before considering the questions of the choice of clothing (smart and tailored), jewellery (minimal) and make-up (understated).
Although all of this is sound advice it could also be argued that all of it comes from a starting point of improving on negatives. When self confidence is an issue when facing a very stressful situation like an interview all these instructions could be seen as piling on additional pressure. That is not to say, however, that women should not follow the advice.
What would be welcome is a bit of support and guidance that accentuates the positives that women have and this is where having a supportive mentor could help.
For example instead of focusing on lack of confidence, the mentor could reinforce a woman's self belief by emphasising that she is more perfectionist and more thorough and that this might be a more positive explanation for her being less willing to apply for a role they do not feel they are entirely competent to fulfil?
Generally employers value efforts to do the best possible job and put in this way, together with an emphasis on the desire for personal improvement and learning new skills, the negative "lack of confidence" could turn into demonstrating a number of positives that show ambition, openness and aspiration.
Far too often women's lack of career progression is pinned to a lack of self confidence. Put differently it could be described as a desire to get things right and do a good job, a much more positive description. By Ali Withers. http://www.rmsrecruitment.com
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