Post written by Jane Hunt, former inaugural CEO at Fitted for Work.

We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in’ Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO

Torn. That is what I felt when I read Sheryl Sandberg’s quote.

There is a grain of truth in the statement. Time and again, I have seen more than capable women consciously and sub-consciously hold themselves back, downplay their strengths and get caught in the sticky spiral of lack of self-confidence. It is difficult to watch.

What makes it particularly painful is that I have done this to myself. One of the most useful pieces of feedback I received from a Manager was: ‘Why do you water down your impact?’

This rocked my view of myself. It made me examine why I took this path and engaged in subtle career-limiting behaviours. I am grateful to my Manager for pointing it out to me. As a result, I sought out a coach and with their advice and support I make conscious decisions to ‘lean in’. I have discovered that each time I lean in I get better and better at it, I have increased my self-confidence and allayed my fears.

I also feel torn, because I have met women in FFW’s services who have experienced set-backs, such as ill-health, the death of a spouse, redundancy or an abusive relationship that have eroded their self-confidence and self-esteem. In these instances, it is the care, skill and expertise of the staff, volunteers and mentors (women and men) at FFW that have enabled these women to ‘lean in’ and put themselves forward for job interviews or to develop careers.

It strikes me that Sheryl Sandberg’s comment puts the responsibility solely back on women. However, both my story and the experiences of FFW’s clients show that the key to women’s participation at all levels in the workforce lies in individuals, their support networks and members of organisations at all levels taking responsibility.

If we all work towards this then we will make an impact, and help create diverse, inclusive and productive workplaces. One of the FFW clients summed up the impact really well:

‘I realised that I am not alone. There are lots of people supporting and helping me. I felt more confident. And now I can also help others.’


PS: Don’t water down your impact on Dare to Wear Day! On March 15, or any day in March, you and your colleagues can commit to stepping out of your comfort zone and dressing up for Dare to Wear Day. It’s a great way to have fun and raise valuable funds to support other women into work.