Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Top Female Leaders Share Their Advice On How To Stop Undervaluing Yourself At Work

In celebration of International Women’s Day, we asked a series of leading entrepreneurs for their top advice on how to stop undervaluing yourself at work. Each woman featured will participate in #EmbraceYourEntrepreneurialSpirit this year’s Global Women International Women’s Day event at the PwC Tower. Global Women is a non-profit organisation, a collective committed to increasing equity, equality, inclusion and diversity for women in the workplace and society to help stimulate economic growth.

‘The best way to thrive is to focus on what you are talented at.’

Vicki Saunders, Entrepreneur, Award-Winning Mentor & Founder of SheEO

Biggest tips and advice for how to not undervalue yourself?

My first advice here is to flip the question – where are you most valuable and do your best to always stay in your assets, not your deficits. We are trained from a young age to pay attention to what we aren’t good at and then spend time ‘getting better’.

In my world, the best way to thrive is to focus on what you are talented at, which flows easily for you and cultivate that. For the things, you are not talented at, find others and collaborate. When you operate this way, ‘not undervaluing yourself’ isn’t an issue because you get consistent feedback that values you because you are doing what you are great at. Any time you find yourself in a situation where people are trying to fix you, practice flipping yourself out of that situation. It’s a trap.

How can women maximise their personal business offerings?

Not unlike the previous question about undervaluing yourself, the answer to maximising your personal business offering is to focus on what you are good at and stay in your strengths. When you do so, you often get great feedback. Notice the words people say about meeting with you. If you don’t readily have a few words people share about your talents and how it makes people feel to work with you, ask around. You’ll likely hear the same words over and over again. Use what people give you as feedback to fuel your brand message, or talk about your offerings.

Tips on spotting strategic opportunities in business?

My advice for opportunity-seeking is to follow the energy. If you see something and the door is open, walk through it right away, don’t delay. I believe there is a timing element and a “fit” element to strategic opportunities – I often approach this from the framing, “why me? why now?” if you can answer those two questions compellingly, you have your pathway to achieve your goals.

‘Stop being a good girl.’

Dr Hinemoa Elder, Psychiatrist and Author

​​Biggest tips and advice for how to not undervalue yourself?

In a nutshell, stop being a good girl. One of the best nuggets of advice I received at Med School turned out to be “back yourself”. It worked for me because I had to process what it really meant. How do we back ourselves when we might not feel sure about who we are? We might be aware of how much we are growing and changing. And so what are we backing exactly? What does backing yourself really mean?

Backing ourselves to me is valuing ourselves, warts and all. It is accepting we have something unique to offer. No matter what else we might feel about ourselves, we can build a sense of what we can offer. Often it is a special way to connect with others. Yes, we have similar characteristics and similar skills, attitudes and knowledge but our particular take and intuition are specific, and this unlocks distinct potential and opportunities. It is about learning to trust ourselves and build trusting relationships with others.

It is uncanny, the things we feel are weaknesses, and the inadequacies we tend to focus on can be flipped into aspects that we come to value the most. Sharing these stories is often how we connect with other women. Finding those commonalities opens up business ideas that have potential because we discover we are not alone, many of the other women we meet have similar vulnerabilities.

‘Backing ourselves to me is valuing ourselves, warts and all.’

Valuing ourselves is about accepting that we are not finished. We are a work in progress, we are learning and evolving all the time. So valuing ourselves is valuing this openness to our own connected development.

As women we are carefully taught by the society around us, by well-meaning parents, whānau, friends and colleagues, that our value comes from a pretty strict set of ways to think, feel and behave. To play nice, to share, to emphasise others, to have a smaller portion, to dress according to certain accepted standards, to express our sexual selves in certain ways, to be paid less, to be less likely to be promoted, to be less valued across a range of tangible measures. I am not saying that sharing and being “nice” and thinking of others are inherently bad things. Of course not. The difficulty is that we are taught to only present those sides of ourselves. Otherwise, we are made fully aware that the consequences are dire. We are labelled difficult, and cold. I have been labelled the angry wahine Māori many times. And yes, we also learn that racism is alive and well both inside and outside groups of women. We learn that our voice is discounted, and our proposals are rejected based on those projections. We learn to stop trusting our own instincts.

Valuing ourselves is stopping thinking, feeling and behaving in those self-defeating ways. Stop as much as we can, right now. It takes a while to de-programme ourselves. Keep going. Tomorrow and the next day and the day after that. You get the picture. Stop being a good girl.

How can females maximise their personal business offerings?

This reminds me of the “lean in” imperative. In other words, the responsibility is yet again put on women to do better in order to succeed. This suggests that there is a meritocracy, that there is a level playing field. The hard evidence is undeniable, this just isn’t true. We already provide smart, vibrant, effective businesses. But we are hamstrung. The financial investments are not there for us as they are for men. Sexism and misogyny are ever present.

We need connectivity to dismantle the power structures that maintain this discrimination. We need male allies who know that when we are paid the same, offered equitable opportunities when we have the same access to financial investment business is better for all.

Tips on spotting strategic opportunities in business?

Look for the gaps in daily life services; products; experiences; information you identify that would make your life easier. Identify gaps that produce a big emotional reaction. These suggest a real opportunity. Listen to other women. What’s missing from them? Be alert for conversations and posts that highlight the “If only… I need… I wish there was a …” And then do the research. Where else do similar gaps, and needs show up? Who else has tried to effectively provide something to meet those needs? Look to future trends, what is happening with AI, with changes in flexible working arrangements, especially for women in this next chapter of COVID? Put on an imaginary female investor hat. Or maybe you are one already. As an investor, what are you looking for in your proposed business opportunity?

‘I wish I would have been more gentle with myself.’

Jensine Larsen, Award-winning Digital Entrepreneur, International Journalist, and Speaker

Photo credit: Andrea Leoncavallo

Biggest tips and advice for how to not undervalue yourself?

Building your vision into a business is like growing a garden. You plant and nurture many seeds, but they grow in their own time.

When I look back at my younger self just starting out, how little sleep I had, and how urgent and stressed I was to carry the world on my shoulders, I wish I would have been more gentle with myself. I was so driven by feeling like I wasn’t enough – or moving fast enough. Even though deep down I knew what I was building would be revolutionary for women globally, I believed I had to push to convince others of its value of it.

Walk into the room confident that you have something others would be fortunate to work with you on. Get curious about who they are and how their dreams might match your business idea. Take a deep breath – accept that the work is like the steady planting and watering of seeds in a garden. You can’t force them to grow, but they will in time with steady care – including of yourself!

How can females maximise their personal business offerings?

Pass the mic. As a business leader, always be looking to grow more microphones for others to amplify your value. In pitches, ensure your team or board has speaking roles. Use quotes from your customers, members, and peers in your materials. Boost your customers’ voices on social media. Create special recognitions and platforms for your biggest champions to speak about your business in their own words, and get additional visibility themselves. Your success is their success. The world will see a chorus of strong voices behind your work.

Tips on spotting strategic opportunities in business?

With the right mindset, fundraising can be like falling in love. A mentor of mine taught me this — and I wish I had learned it earlier. Seek out the people who give you energy and whom you truly admire for your fundraising work. Go into it with the mindset of seeing the opportunity to meet and develop reciprocal relationships with those who share your vision, see the value of your offering, and want to make a difference alongside you. If you don’t feel seen or appreciated by investors and funders after a few meetings – let them go. The right funder relationships can enrich your life, and if you learn how to deepen these ties with mutual care, you can make any vision come true.

‘If you don’t believe in yourself, how are others going to support your vision?’

Keren Blakey, PwC Chair

Biggest tips and advice for how to not undervalue yourself?

The best advice I can give is to embrace opportunities and seek broad mentoring and support. Some of the most challenging and unexpected opportunities provide the deepest development and inspiration.

I remember being encouraged by a number of our male partners to stand for the PwC Board “ an elected role” and then later, the role of Chair. I was hesitant, I had imposter syndrome around my contribution. I sought advice from colleagues and the best piece of advice I received was to “own it”.

How can females maximise their personal business offerings?

Collectivism can foster information – I gathered a group of colleagues to help me with my key value proposition. This was invaluable in understanding my personal brand, my strengths and the unique value I could bring to the Board role. This was critical because if you don’t back and believe in yourself, then how are others going to support your vision?

As the first female Board member at PwC in 2016, and then the second female Chair in 2021, I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to build a diverse and collaborative board, with differing perspectives but strong critical thinking which has resulted in more entrepreneurial, strategic and powerful decisions. A strong team helps bolster a strong business offering.

Tips on spotting strategic opportunities in business?

I encourage you to lean into opportunities, seek that mentoring and support, explore and understand your own brand and personal value proposition and then own it!

‘Be a good friend to yourself.’

Theresa Gattung, Global Women Chair

Biggest tips and advice for how to not undervalue yourself?

Imagine that you were a very good friend of yours and that she is talking to you about how she tends to undervalue herself. Imagine the advice you would be giving her, all the things that you see she does so well, her talents, her skills. Do that for yourself. Imagine that you were talking to a good friend, be a good friend to yourself.

How can females maximise their personal business offerings?

It is important to understand that female entrepreneurs are still more likely by investors, usually men, to be asked questions that indicate some degree of concern, caution and scepticism about what they are able to achieve or what their business is able to deliver. It is important not to buy into that, to understand that men are generally asked much more promotional questions. For example, it is never assumed that whether a man has one child, two children or six children will make any difference as to whether his business is successful. That is definitely a theme that women encounter. So it is important not to buy into that, to keep the conversation on the potential of the business that you see and not go down the track of all the things that could possibly go wrong.

Tips on spotting strategic opportunities in business?

For most entrepreneurs that is not really a problem, their minds are continually thinking about what isn’t working and what could work better. Many people, but especially women, start businesses to deal with a problem that they have actually encountered that could work so much better. Sometimes those things exist in the world but not in New Zealand. So one of the tips is to find out where and who in the world does it best and learn all you can about that situation, that context, to see what opportunities it might have in the Aotearoa New Zealand context.

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