The Power of Self-Belief to Get You on Board

I have been invited to present at an International Women’s Day event and the theme is the United Nations Women’s ‘Cracking the Code: Innovation for a gender equal future’. This article is adapted from my presentation notes for this event.

The focus of 2023’s UN Women’s IWD theme is how bold, transformative ideas, inclusive technologies, and accessible education can play a role in combatting discrimination and the marginalisation of women globally.  Of course, this is not to be confused with the IWD theme of ‘Embracing Equity’. And not to be confused with The World Bank’s theme of ‘Accelerating Equality and Empowerment’. Whichever theme resonates with you, they are all working towards the same endpoint: an increase in women’s representation in positions of power and influence.

To that end, I want to focus on Boards and, more to the point, YOUR participation on boards. And I’m doing so because being on a board puts you in the privileged position of having an extraordinary amount of influence and control on what and how an organisation does what it does, particularly around equity and the representation of women and anyone who doesn’t identify as a straight, non-disabled, white man across the organisation, board, and wider community. If the data is anything to go by, broader community representation is sorely needed on boards and at higher levels of leadership within organisations to make real, positive progress towards true diversity and inclusion.

I’m also going to zoom in on ‘bold, transformative ideas’ and the message I want to share with you is that sometimes the boldest, most transformative ideas we can have are the ones we choose to have about ourselves.

When I look back on my professional career and my board career successes, one thing stands out above all others: my unwavering faith and belief in myself. If there was anyone I was going to bet on, it would be myself. Always.

Do you think that sounds a bit arrogant? Do you believe in yourself like this? I invite you to reflect on your initial answers.

There’s a reason why this is important. And I’ll get to that reason in a moment.

When I look back on my professional and board careers there is something that stands out to me, and that is I have achieved what I have through the decisions of others to take a chance on me. The person who hired me into my first corporate role as an executive assistant with only a certificate II in Fitness as my highest education. The person who hired me in my last professional role and nurtured me into university study and rapid career progression. The people who believed in me to serve as Vice President of a triathlon club as my very first board appointment. The person who saw my potential and helped me onto the board of a community bank and the people who voted me into the position of Deputy Chair at only 29 years old. And, most recently, the people who saw my potential for my latest board role (a substantial elevation and evolution in my board career to date).

I have thought deeply about why these people took a chance on me. What assured them that it was OK for them to stick their neck out for me? The reason all of these people had faith in their decision was because of my faith and belief in myself. To them, I was – and am – a safe bet.

When I reflect on how I demonstrated my personal faith and belief, three things become clear:

  • I showed up. Because I had faith in myself, I had the confidence to put myself forward for roles that many others would determine they are “unqualified” for. My first corporate role. My first board role. Starting a business in the board/governance space. My first workshop. My first speech. My next board role. You never can feel truly ready for any role. What I did know was that I could and would learn quickly, and that I was capable. For my latest board appointment, I ticked 90% of the boxes they were seeking. I had enough to get me an interview and that’s all I needed! Once I met with the team, they saw my potential and my value, even though I thought I sucked in the interview. And whilst I didn’t get that particular role. I was appointed in the very next available role. They saw enough of my self-belief and faith to be comfortable to appoint someone much younger than the majority of the board, and to be the first ever South Australian on that board. None of this would have happened if I hadn’t shown up.
  • I didn’t wait for an invitation. I created my vision and chased it. I can’t recall anyone ever telling me that I couldn’t do or be anything (or perhaps if they did I wasn’t listening). For whatever reason, I also never believed that I can only do what others have done before me. From a very early stage I knew in my heart that I was destined for greatness, even though at the time I didn’t know what that meant. I embodied that thirst for greatness and live my life pursuing my own definition of greatness.
  • I thought beyond. Based on where I grew up it would be totally normal not to go to university, to get married young, and have babies. In fact, any hint of reaching higher would get you cut down to size quick-smart: who does she think she is?! It’s no surprise that many people become self-conscious, too concerned with what others think about them and their actions. For whatever reason, that thought never really crossed my mind. I know I am a nice, considerate, respectful person who doesn’t concern herself with anyone else’s business (I hate gossiping about other people), so why do I care what others are saying about me? Eleanor Roosevelt said: Small minds discuss people. Average minds discuss events. Great minds discuss ideas. I always try to be a great mind.

You may be thinking right now, well that’s all well and good but you obviously are very confident and I’m not, so I can’t do this.

To you I would encourage you not to wait until confidence strikes you. Take confident actions and you will create a reiterating cycle that will build and over time make you a confident person. It’s like motivation. It won’t come on its own, it will come once you act. And that action breeds motivation, in turn breeding more action. And so on and so forth. The first step is to do and then you will be.

The boldest, most transformative ideas we can have are the ones we choose to have about ourselves. Choose to have unwavering belief and faith in yourself.

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