Anna is a single, high flyer executive leading a team of sales professionals in her company. Despite strings of achievements under her belt and raving respect earned from her colleagues, she does experience self-doubt on her own capabilities. Recently, her boss approached her to consider a promotion – a job abroad. She decided to decline as she felt that she wasn’t ready for such a huge position in a foreign land.

Betty is a start-up entrepreneur in the construction industry. She has been working so hard since she started her company 24 months ago. Some days are very challenging. Many times, Betty feels very small especially in situations where she must negotiate contractual terms or pitch her case to potential investors, typically men. She could sense a weird ‘judging’ expressions coming from them.

Iman was on a soccer team at her school. She played soccer for a good 7 years from the age of 10 until 17. Now at the age of 20, she is studying medicine in India. A few months back, she went to visit some friends in a neighbouring college. There were many guys playing soccer at the field. Iman decided to join them. As expected, they included her in, hesitantly. Being herself, Iman dribbled the ball comfortably. One of her team mates was fouled and her team earned a penalty. Iman decided to take the penalty kick. And to the surprise of everyone watching, she slammed the ball right into the back of the net. Her team earned a goal. Her team mates looked at her in awe.

Whether you are like Anna, Betty or Iman, we tend to encounter similar experiences in the world that we are living in today. There’s always some stereotypes hold upon women; some judgments from men and society that could influence and limit our belief that we can do great things.

The most important thing is for us to know how to respond in the right manner in such situations. We would only be able to respond in the right manner if we have the right ‘belief system’.

In this context, the ‘belief system’ means having the mindset that we are equally good and we are living that belief by demonstrating the right behaviours on any given situations when required.

Building the right ‘belief system’ requires self-awareness and self-management. You need to deliberately condition yourself to inculcate the core attributes of the ‘belief system’. Doing it repetitively over time will transform such attributes to habits – which will become second nature to you.

The core attributes of the ‘belief system’ are:

Sustaining self-confidence when in doubt:

Merriam Webster dictionary defines self-confidence as confidence in oneself and in one’s powers and abilities.

Most women know their capabilities and where they stand at any given time. However, in real life, there are many elements that can create self-doubts even in the most confident woman on the planet. The story about Anna is an example of someone independent, single, very successful and confident, yet when offered the big job in the foreign land, she doubted her own capabilities in performing such task. In scenarios like this, you must be mindful that when the right opportunity comes knocking on your door, you should prepare yourself to be fit for the opportunity. Anna’s boss would not have offered the role to her if he/she thinks Anna was not capable.

If you were in Anna’s shoes, what would you do? Here are some steps that you can take to prepare yourself to be fit for such opportunity:

  • Listen to your inner voice. When in doubt, it is best for you to just stay quiet and listen hard. Stay focus and hear what your inner voice is telling you. Sara Blakely, the CEO of Spanx, posted a precious guideline from her personal experience dealing with self-doubt in running her business, which basically says this:

  • Perform a quick assessment on the gap between your current role and the new role offered. Identify specific areas – skills, know how, new language, new culture and other criteria that you personally find relevant – that you need to excel at. Have a discussion with your immediate manager and other relevant personnel to seek feedback. Develop a plan to get to where you want to go.
  • Ensure there’s a sponsor and support system. This is crucial for your success. You need a ‘sounding board’ – someone who can guide you and provide the best advice and direction. In addition, you also need to reach out to your trusted friends for support to give you assurances or even just to talk.
  • If you have a spouse or a partner, his input will carry some weights to influence your decision. Key is to have a realistic conversation and find the best way for a win-win situation for both parties.

Handling negative criticisms effectively:

Obviously, women are exposed to negative criticisms due to the lingering stereotypes hold upon them.

In the book, Lean In, written by Sheryl Sandberg, it cited that decades of social science studies confirmed that we evaluate people based on stereotypes. Our stereotype of men is that they are providers, decisive and driven. Whereas our stereotype of women is that they are caregivers, sensitive and communal. When women are high achievers and successful, they are not meeting the stereotypical expectations that we have upon them. As a result, successful women are not taken positively, unlike their male counterparts.

“Difficult to deal with”, “aggressive”, “not a team player” and “can’t be trusted” are some of the common criticisms that women need to deal with.

What would you do if you face such situation? Here are some key considerations that’s worth adopting:

  • Recognize that such criticism has something to do with the stereotypical expectations of what a woman should be. Appreciate where it originates from to give you the power to continue doing what you are doing.  Do not let that hold you back.
  • It is OK for you to feel upset or even to get emotional about it.  If you need to cry, go ahead and cry. But don’t get carried away. React to your emotion and then, quickly move on.
  • Reach out to your support system. Ensure that you have like minded friends to lean on. They can be a strong support system, a source of inspiration and motivation. Talk to them when you need to.

Be ready when the right opportunity is available.

Having the right belief system means that you are fully aware of your strengths and weaknesses. You have positive perspectives about situations and look at almost everything in the context of opportunities for you to make a difference.

Iman’s participation in the soccer game in the earlier example demonstrated her belief that she can make a difference. Though her team mates were doubting her, she just played her game and helped them to earn a goal.

In the context of your career and entrepreneurship journey, you can’t quite predict when the right opportunity comes. Hence, it is imperative for you to consider the following approaches:

  • When an opportunity is made available and you are equally interested in such opportunity, raise your hand and get yourself to be considered.
  • Be confident and say exactly why you would be the right person for such opportunity.
  • If you feel you are not meeting 20% of the requirement, don’t panic. It’s worthy to remember that your male counterparts are stereotypically evaluated based on future potential, not necessarily current skills and capabilities.
  • If your lacking 20% happens to be discussed during the selection process, articulate how you will close the 20% gap effectively.

The underlying principle in dealing with the stereotypical judgments is to be aware that such situation naturally exists and you must choose to respond appropriately to avoid being held back. Mastering these three skills can get you very far down the road to achieve your goals.

Have you ever experienced similar situations before? How did you respond to it?