Community Conversation reveals: Confidence is a woman's language to success

Inge Walters discussed the internal barriers that keep women from achieving success.

On Wednesday night, 6 August, CFO South Africa hosted its first online Women’s Community Conversation in which leading women finance and HR executives discussed the “language of success”.

After welcoming attendees, CFO South Africa editor in chief Georgina Guedes introduced Nedbank group CFO Raisibe Morathi and Cell C chief human capital development and transformation officer Juliet Mhango, who shared their stories of using language to forge their way to success. 

For Raisibe, the language of success was building individual relationships with her stakeholders through her career. Early in her career, she was running a very large technology programme that affected everyone in the organisation when she was still fairly new in her job. She needed to get buy-in from the various stakeholders of the company, but hadn’t gained their respect or recognition at the time yet. “To get the business case approved took a long time,” she said. “I had to build much stronger relationships with the various individual stakeholders before I could get their buy-in.”

Juliet found her language of success after searching within herself for the confidence to make her voice heard. She found that, when she was sitting on the executive team, she was the only woman and often the only person of colour. She found it difficult to make herself heard, especially early on in her career.

“I would come up with an idea and express it, only for it to fall on deaf ears. A male colleague would say exactly the same thing and the idea would be taken on board. Over time, that started making me withdraw from conversations because I felt that my views were not valued,” she said. “It was then that I had to look inward, within myself, to find my authentic voice, once I embraced the value that I was bringing, the rest fell into place.”

Raisibe and Juliet expressed that, with women stepping into leadership roles they are becoming more aware of the internal and external barriers that perpetuate the underrepresentation of women The biggest hindrance is the internal barrier, they said, which sees women being held back by their beliefs.

Raisibe warned against women letting their perception of themselves get in the way of success. “Just because you are a woman, doesn’t mean you can’t be doing the same things as a man.”

Raisibe also said that because women tend to be affected negatively by bias, we should be the first ones to police against it in our organisations, making sure that we don’t allow ourselves and our colleagues to judge a book by its cover when it comes to perceptions about people in the workplace.

Juliet said that some women use apologetic language and play into patriarchal stereotypes. “You have the same skills as your male colleagues, but when you walk into a boardroom, you undermine those skills,” she explained. “Don’t apologise, own that space, like everyone else in the room.” 

Georgina then introduced leadership practitioner and co-creator of the IgniteHer women’s development programme Inge Walters, who took the attendees through a series of exercises to determine the limiting beliefs that influence their success.

Many of the attendees said that they lacked the confidence to speak up when they have something to say because they were afraid of being wrong.

Languages of success

Inge explained that there are two languages of success: conversations with ourselves and conversations with others. “Language is a rich field, it is something we use to describe our beliefs and also to generate new beliefs. But for many of us, it’s something we don’t feel comfortable with.” 

She asked attendees what they felt when they heard the phrase “It’s a man’s world”. The room echoed with women wanting to disprove the statement. Some attendees felt indifferent to it, saying that the world is changing and, whether you are a woman or a man, your work should be the determining factor to your respect and power. 

“This statement elicits very different things for different people. And here you see the power that language has,” Inge said. 

Tips to own your power

One of the attendees pointed out that, what women don’t realise, is that they’ve always had the power, but haven’t acted on it. 

Inge then shared some behaviour tips for women to follow:

  • Eye contact - when you make eye contact, you show sincerity and trustworthiness
  • Facial expression - we don’t realise, but often our default expression is a frown or concern
  • Diaphragmatic breathing - breathe deeply to stay centred and present
  • Open posture - keep your posture open to show openness
  • Sit upright and lean in - this shows you are engaged and interested 

She also warned against the following behaviours: 

  • A high pitch - when you speak with a high pitch you are perceived as nervous, young and less competent
  • Lack of vocal variety - when you speak without varying your tone of voice, you are perceived as dull, cold and withdrawn
  • Playing with your hair - this makes you seem ditsy and reduces your credibility
  • Dressing inappropriately - you need to look the part of a confident, professional woman

[more to follow]