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Kirsten Flanik on How Women Can Succeed in the Workplace

Fostering freedom and confidence are key drivers

Illustration: Olimpia Zagnoli

Next month, Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg will publish her book, Lean In. Among other things, it’s been reported that Sandberg believes that, as women, we hold ourselves back by lacking self-confidence, not raising our hands and pulling back when we should be leaning in.

Another book, Heather McGregor’s Mrs Moneypenny’s Careers Advice for Ambitious Women—released in 2012 and shared with me by Cilla Snowball, group chairman and group CEO of AMV BBDO in London—devotes an entire chapter to confidence, specifically how in an effort to please, women often lack the basic confidence to say no.

And then there’s the title that stopped me in my tracks while traveling through an airport in 2008: Linda Babcock’s Women Don’t Ask. These books have been on my mind lately in the aftermath of what seems like endless articles and commentaries over the past year, debating the issue of “Can women have it all?” and the unfairness, the challenges, and ultimately, the compromises women have to make to be successful in life.

My hope is that we can shift the focus away from “having it all” and toward the more important dialogue of what kind of leaders do we want to be. I would like to stop debating “Are we doing this right?” and instead start doing what is needed in our business to create change; to create environments where people do not continuously question themselves or their successes. We should aim to become leaders who instill confidence and celebrate the contributions we are making to our businesses and stop beating ourselves up for what we may or may not be able to do.

I have carried the belief for some time that freedom and confidence are the essential elements needed to inspire success. Freedom and confidence can relieve us of the stress and tension we face when we set balance as our goal and can achieve for us the kind of respect we deserve as leaders within our respective industries and communities.

Enhanced freedom certainly helps with balance between personal and professional time. We absolutely no longer need to be chained to our desks to get our jobs done.

In fact, because of technology, we now have more freedom than ever (I’m actually one of those individuals who finds the smartphone to be liberating). Those who work with and for me know they don’t ever need to tell me that they have a parent/teacher conference or a doctor’s appointment for one of their children. They don’t ever need to worry about attending an important event. They simply know what they are accountable for; how and when they choose to get their work done is up to them. All we should ever really care about are the end results.

As for confidence, I’ve learned that if you foster empowerment, personal pride flourishes and guilt and worry diminish. We live and work in a critical, fast-paced and transforming media environment that is often too quick to judge, label and move on.

We forget how important instilling a bold ethos in those on our teams and around us can be. Nothing drives success more than confidence, and nothing builds confidence more than having success. We need to find ways to better empower the women around us and give them the opportunities to create their own wins. Small wins beget bigger wins, which in turn beget long-term success and sets the example for others to follow.

I also strongly believe we have to really love what we do because if we don’t, those around us won’t either. Negativity is incredibly contagious and will destroy confidence.

This year, and going forward, we have the opportunity to redefine and build women’s influence in the workplace and, as a result, create, attract and retain the best talent in the business. No doubt rivals on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley and Alley understand this as well and are starting to adjust their processes and philosophies accordingly.

So, just as Cilla was kind enough to share Mrs Moneypenny’s Careers Advice for Ambitious Women with me, I plan to review Sheryl Sandberg’s book when it comes out and share copies with the female leaders around me as we continue to conquer our own individual challenges, and work together to build ourselves up.

Let’s lean in, stop asking how to have it all and start asking for what we need to succeed.

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