At ICAEW, we are committed to supporting young people to succeed in their chosen careers. We know that those in underrepresented groups – this includes women, Black and other minority ethnic groups, the LGBTQ+ community, neurodiverse individuals and those from low socio-economic backgrounds – may struggle, especially when it comes to building confidence. We asked psychologist and wellbeing consultant Lee Chambers, founder of Essentialise Workplace Wellbeing, to describe some of the barriers to building confidence – and how to overcome them.
What are the barriers to building confidence?
Underrepresented groups can face many barriers when it comes to building career confidence. Some people may struggle if they don’t encounter representative role models, for instance, as this can make them feel uncomfortable and as though the environment is not for them.
Role models can be people who look like you, who are from the same background or who’ve had similar experiences. They can be invaluable when it comes to helping you to find your place in a new organisation. Not encountering role models can make people feel like imposters, which could mean they steer clear – and sadly miss out on valuable experiences.
Another possible barrier for those from underrepresented groups is that they may not know people in the profession who can provide guidance and assistance – and they might not know where to find them. Feeling like they stand out can also make underrepresented people feel as though their voice carries less weight compared to those around them. On the flip side, there’s a risk that they may fear being seen as boisterous or disruptive, or as ‘having an attitude’ if they’re willing to speak up, which can erode self-confidence.
These factors can all lead to doubts that your strengths and diversity will be valued in a particular profession or workplace. But despite these barriers, there is plenty you can do to launch a successful career.
How can these barriers be overcome?
1. Know your story
The first thing is to understand your value. Grab a piece of paper or notebook and write down where you’re from, what your family is like, your traits, the experiences that have shaped your life so far and where you want to be. Write it as a story – a vision – that you can reflect on. Doing this helps to guide and steer your choices. The story doesn’t have to have clear bullet points. You just need an outline that allows you some flexibility, depending on how you progress.
2. Write your pitch
The second step is to build confident behaviours. Start small. Ditch bravado. Gradually practise being a little more confident in all areas – from small talk with new people to thinking about the language you use. For instance, how would you introduce yourself? You need an ‘elevator pitch’, which is when you sum yourself up in a sentence or two. Craft this by thinking about who you currently are and who you want to become. Practise at home. When you meet new people, you’ll know what to say.
When it comes to networking and making new connections, it’s beneficial to start early. Start small, with people you know and feel comfortable with, such as your fellow students, then expand outwards.
One of the benefits of networking is that it provides an opportunity where you’ll learn about the profession and pick up skills. You’ll also be able to surround yourself with people who can answer questions, which in turn will build your confidence. There are many networking opportunities for young people looking to enter a profession – find out more about the work experience opportunities on offer from ICAEW here. Taking these small steps will help you to build a network of people who can provide knowledge and insight to help you enter the world of work.
Professionals in underrepresented groups should realise the benefits of their network and community, and how they will support their journey. But, remember: it’s important to not measure yourself against other people. You can spend your energy worrying how you are perceived and waste time comparing yourself to others. Focus on valuing yourself, because ultimately, there’s only one version of you, and no one else can do exactly what you do.
4. Find a mentor
You may have heard of mentors, but where do you find one? As your network grows, you’re more likely to find a mentor who suits you. When choosing a mentor, it’s not necessarily about what they’ve achieved or the position that they hold – it’s how the relationship benefits you (and benefits the mentor too). A good mentor will be supportive and help you navigate possible pitfalls. If you’ve worked on those little confident behaviours mentioned above, you’ll be able to ask someone if they can be of assistance. More often than not, people are willing to give back.
Don’t be afraid to ask. Even a rejection is a chance to learn and grow – it’s not a rejection of you. The person may not have the capacity at that time, or they might not feel they have what you need. Fortunately, though, there is an increasing movement of diverse young professionals giving back to students through mentoring.
As a young professional, you can be a leader in some area of your life. It can be something as simple as speaking at a club or school where you grew up. There are lots of ways to test your skills and rise to challenges, such as the ICAEW 100 competition. You’ll pick up transferable skills that you can use in your chosen career, whether that is finance or another area. The skill set is widening, because technology and automation are taking away the repetitive parts of some finance jobs, bringing more people-focused skills, such as critical thinking and problem solving, to the forefront.
Remember: in the world of finance, as in many others, new products are geared towards young people – and nobody knows the diverse generation like the diverse generation. You have huge value because the future consumer is you.
Lee Chambers is the founder of Essentialise Workplace Wellbeing – find out more about him here.
For more information on ICAEW’s work to improve diversity and representation within the profession, see the new ICAEW content series Welcome Inclusion and the Diversity and Inclusion Hub.