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Women in Advisory: How to Increase Your Confidence

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The research is clear: Despite there being little difference between male and female accounting professionals in terms of skills and capabilities, women tend to be far less confident than men. However, a key component in successfully offering advisory services is being confident in yourself. Sandra Wiley of Boomer Consulting offers valuable tips for women to build themselves up.

Jun 14th 2021
President Boomer Consulting
Columnist
In association with
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When I was initially asked to write about how women can increase their confidence in advisory, I admit I was a little hesitant. In my experience, there are all kinds of people of all genders with different personalities and levels of confidence.

Yet, numerous studies suggest a confidence gap exists. While there’s little difference in actual competence levels, leadership skills or the ability to handle management and business challenges, men consistently give themselves higher scores for their ability to be effective leaders, suggesting women are selling themselves short.

To succeed in advisory, you need to believe in yourself. Other people can sense whether or not you believe in yourself and the advice you give, and that persuades them to engage your services and take your advice. If your confidence needs a boost, here are a few ways to become more self-assured.

1. Make a Commitment

Women tend to want to gain confidence in their abilities first, then commit to providing advisory services for their clients. In my experience, this is backwards.

Most women in the accounting profession are already extremely capable; they just need to make a commitment. Confidence is the outcome of the doing, so committing to the process and diving in will help you develop confidence.

If you feel as though you need to learn everything there is to know about our profession and business in general before getting started, you’re making it harder than it needs to be. You already have the knowledge, so just go for it.

2. Adopt a Growth Mindset

In the book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, author Carol S. Dweck explains how mindset affects growth and change. Mindsets are on a spectrum, from fixed to growth. People with a fixed mindset believe that abilities, intelligence and talents are traits we’re born with. People with a growth mindset, on the other hand, believe they develop talents and abilities through effort and practice. As a result, they’re more willing to try new ideas because they know failure is a natural part of learning.

Advisory includes experimentation. You may advise a client on how to grow their business, and your advice may work, or it may not. Either way, you will learn something about the client and their market.

So, do you have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset? If you honestly see yourself falling more toward the fixed end of the spectrum, the good news is, anyone can work to become more open to growth and new ideas. Look at your current beliefs and identify where you might be holding yourself back. Shine a light on those roadblocks, and work on turning them around.

3. Lean into Your Strengths

Every person is an individual and has unique skills and leadership qualities. However, certain competencies, such as compassion and empathy, tend to be attributed to women more often than men.

According to Pew Research, roughly 60 percent of adults say women do a better job at being compassionate and empathetic. Are those traits women are born with? Or do we develop them when we’re growing up because we’re more often tasked with helping family members and providing care to others? Arguments can be made on both sides, but if you possess these traits, they can be an asset in advisory.

The desire to feel heard and understood is a basic human need. Empathy helps you see your client’s fears and wants and choose the right emotional response to help them feel heard and understood. In advisory, integrating empathy and compassion into your practice can help you listen to understand their challenges, proactively communicate relevant information, and anticipate what your clients need next.

Being a valued advisor doesn’t require you to be the most assertive voice in the room, so instead of trying to force yourself into some preconceived mold of what an advisor looks and acts like, curate your individual advisory style and accentuate your inherent strengths. That will increase your confidence level exponentially.

4. Find Your Mentors and Role Models

People tend to take their cues from leaders, and many firms still fall short when it comes to women in leadership positions. According to the Accounting & Financial Women’s Alliance 2020 Accounting MOVE Project report, women make up more than half of all full-time staff in CPA firms but make up just 29 percent of partners and principals. For women of color, the numbers are even worse.

Having another confident woman as a mentor or role model is extremely helpful and motivating. A mentor can help guide you to be your best self at work, navigate tricky situations and obstacles, and set a powerful example for how to achieve success in the profession.

If you don’t have a mentor in your firm, seek one from outside. Check out the AIPCA Mentoring program, The Lady CPA Network, your state CPA society or other professional organizations. Look for someone who has the strength and confidence you want to have, and work on establishing a collaborative relationship. Keep in mind that while having another woman as a mentor is excellent, having male mentors and role models is perfectly acceptable if the relationship provides the desired results. I’ve had many male mentors who have helped me tremendously over the years.

5. Consider Firm Culture

When people join an organization, they look for clues about how to fit in. What does it take to succeed? Who gets rewarded? Who gets promoted?

Unfortunately, in some workplaces, women are expected to navigate a very narrow path of “acceptable” behavior. They need to be assertive but pleasant, successful but not self-promoting. Otherwise, they risk being labeled as abrasive and difficult to work with — stereotypes that may jeopardize their career paths.

The 2019 Women in the Workplace survey from the Lean In Foundation and McKinsey & Company found that 73 percent of women have experienced some sort of microaggression at work, such as:

  • Having their judgment questioned in their area of expertise
  • Needing to provide more evidence of their competence
  • Being interrupted or spoken over

It’s not your job to be more “likable” or make other people in your firm more comfortable by toning down your competence and intelligence. However, if you’re in a toxic environment that is holding you back from being the confident advisor you want to be, it may be time to try somewhere new.

Like any skill, confidence is something you can nurture over time. If you want a future in advisory services, commit today and put yourself out there. You will fail sometimes, but you will also win sometimes, and those wins will make you more confident.

Women have long been key contributors in the tax and accounting profession, bringing new ideas, perspectives and insights to an industry that’s traditionally comfortable sticking to the familiar. Yet, despite huge strides, recent survey results suggest female accountants are less confident and less equipped to take on new business challenges than their male counterparts at a time when creativity and challenging the status quo is needed more than ever. See the stats and get the knowledge you need to empower women in your practice.

 

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