At a glance, it may seem like confidence has never been an issue in my career.
In 2014, following ten years working for a multinational corporation, me and a business partner launched an executive concierge alongside our full-time jobs. Two years later, we learned we’d created a lifestyle business, rather than anything scalable, so we decided to sell it on. During this time my 10-year marriage broke down and I found myself back with the parents until I could sort things financially. By the end of last year, I had no business and no home, but I also had nothing holding me back.
Up for a new challenge, I began looking for it outside of my native Northern Ireland. Three days before Christmas, I flew to Manchester to meet founders of UKFast, Lawrence and Gail Jones. And two months later I’d packed up my life in Belfast and jumped on the boat to England to start a new life launching a non-profit project for UKFast – called Tech Manchester.
It may surprise some that I had initially planned to turn down the opportunity. It was only after a lot of soul-searching that I realised I was saying no because I was scared of failure. My confidence failed me, I didn’t believe I could do it, so I wasn’t even going to try. Once I realised that not trying would be the biggest regret of all, I picked up the phone and called Lawrence.
Tech Manchester supports early-stage tech companies in Greater Manchester and contributes towards making this city a world-class tech hub. So far, it has been a rollercoaster; we are still working out how we can best help the city to achieve its huge potential. The launch of the project has brought with it several crisis of confidence personally and professionally, which left me doubting that I am taking the project in the right direction to succeed.
It was in early May I turned a corner through my chums at the Lean In circle Manchester meeting, when the topic of discussion was the ‘Gender Confidence Gap’. The event was a huge eye-opener and helped me to move forward.
At the meeting, we discussed a Kay & Shipman 2014 article, demonstrating several examples including a study by HP which found that men apply for promotions when they meet just 50% of the application requirements while women wait until they have 100%. Ernesto Reuben, a professor at Columbia Business School, has a term for this phenomenon: honest overconfidence. Kay and Shipman echo this; success, it turns out, correlates just as closely with confidence as it does with competence.
Women’s confidence is further hampered by our own response to feedback. In a review on feedback and gender differences, J.B Bear (2017) found consistent evidence in research that women are more likely than men to internalise feedback and make negative interpretations of ambiguous or lack of feedback. Men are more likely to disregard poor feedback due to overconfidence in their own abilities and pursue progression.
The meeting helped me realise that I should have confidence in my professional skills and ability to build relationships, to create processes and to achieve an outcome. My own self-doubt was holding me back from fully believing that I can take Lawrence’s vision and manifest it into a physical programme for start-ups, collaborate with the existing organisations to truly make a difference. But now that I am cracking on, we are about to launch our first project – a mentor facilitator scheme engaging and training new mentors for the tech community in Manchester.
I feel very lucky to be working in a company where 50% of the board are women, including Gail who is co-founder and commercial director for UKFast. All of them are role models to me and have taught me that with experience, confidence can be acquired. This means the confidence gap, in turn, can be closed. To do this, it is important that as women in business, we encourage each other to become careful consumers of feedback. Through supporting each other we can help in transforming the labyrinth to leadership into a more direct path of success for women.
I have saved all the articles I have used in today’s blog into our Wakelet – check out the Lean In Manchester board https://wakelet.com/@TechMCR
Tech Manchester’s vision is to digitally and physically connect tech stakeholders across Manchester, accelerating our digital businesses, driving growth and raising Manchester’s profile as a world-class tech hub.