In a world of scrolling through social media posts on our mobile devices, “thumb-stopping moments” are those that make you click with a purpose.

That was what an article from the Atlantic was for me three years ago, “The Confidence Gap” made me slow my scroll.

At the time, I was in the midst of an intense two-year leadership development program at Cisco. I had dreams of moving into a management role, and had the support of my manager and his manager to develop and take on this next step within my career.

Yet, I had repeatedly avoided opportunities to interview for promotions. The article was all about this – that women would often find reasons to not go for a job or promotion.

Doubts go through our minds – my mind – as women. “I’m not sure I know enough about that solution area” or “I just came back from maternity leave, maybe it’s not time for a promotion yet.” This article, and my experiences, told me I wasn’t alone.

When a job is posted, there is immediate interest from many people. But statistics show that men who are interested in the job might have 50% of the experience and qualifications listed, yet still think to themselves, “I’m gonna go for it!” Meanwhile, women interested in the same job, with 80% of the qualifications and experience, tend to think to themselves, “I don’t meet 100% of the qualifications, I guess I shouldn’t go for that job”.

Herein lies the Confidence Gap.

I realized it was holding me back too. That awareness helped me look at new opportunities in a different light, and also spurred me to approach my career in a more strategic way. After working for 10 years, I realized I hadn’t done any meaningful career planning since I was in college!

 The first step I took in my new approach was to write out my career goals and create a plan to address the education, experience, and exposure I needed in order to achieve my goals. While in college my career plan was to find a job where I could make enough money to support myself doing something vaguely related to my area of study.  My new career plan, however, delved into the things I loved doing like helping others to be successful and driving business strategy through executive conversations and relationships.

I wrote out what I saw myself doing in one year (manage a team), three years (lead managers) and five years (run the world, obviously.)  The plan I created around my goals detailed out the additional things I needed to study and experience, and the people I needed to meet in order to reach my goals.

I knew it would take self-confidence to tackle my aggressive plan.  As a woman, as a wife, as a mom with two young kids, there are plenty of moments to have self-doubt.  As a business person, having a plan gives you a guide where you can check things off along the way – and each time you do, you’re putting coins in your confidence bank.

Genuine confidence doesn’t just happen, it must be built and nurtured.

How can you close the confidence gap? Here are a few more strategies I’ve found success with ever since clicking that article link:

Find a great mentor, and become a mentor too. Having regular meetings with a mentor gives you the opportunity to ask questions of someone who is not your manager and gain outside perspective.  It gives you the chance to refine and validate your approach or solutions to challenges in the workplace, thereby building your confidence in your ability to address them.

Did you know? Cisco has a great culture of mentoring along with an HR supported process of matching mentees with mentors!

Build a Personal Board of Directors. Select 3-5 people who are at least one (but preferably two+) levels above you and work outside your direct team or organization. They should work in places that are related to your job or are in an organization you might be interested in going to. Ask if they’d be willing to dedicate one hour per quarter for the next year so that you can learn from them.

Identify your Accountability Partner. You know who your friends are at work and that they not only believe in your abilities, but will keep your conversations confidential. Ask one or two people from this inner circle to help you through particularly tough situations – let them know their job is to keep you on track!

When my Accountability Partners see me waiver with launching a tough conversation or going for an opportunity – they step in to keep me focused, and remind me of what I am capable of.  These folks are your personal cheerleaders in the workplace, and many of whom I’ve asked to be my Accountability Partner have circled back and asked me to do the same for them – which has helped us to build a sense of community.

Finally, mindfully quiet that inner voice that kills your confidence. In other words, stop trash talking yourself! This will take time, but building your confidence will ultimately quiet that voice that drains you and keeps you from going out for new opportunities!  You can mindfully build towards that by becoming aware of how often you vocalize self-doubt.

What you say out loud impacts how you feel about yourself, so if you keep expressing why you shouldn’t go for a promotion – that is what you will ultimately believe. Focus on the positives and all the amazing skills you have over ones you still have to work on!

As women, we need to start with the awareness that many of us are struggling with confidence, and work towards the steps of closing that gap.

Want to work for a company that encourages you to grow? We’re hiring!




Isabella Yani

Chief of Staff

Office of the Chief Customer and Partner Officer, Jeff Sharritts