International Women’s Day: Q&A with Sharon Burns

Jonathan Foxley International Women's Day

Brewer Morris is proud to be supporting International Women's Day 2019. International Women’s Day celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. Whilst we all know that gender parity within the workplace has improved over the past decades, we all also know that there is still a long way to go.

We would like to join the discussion and be part of International Women's Day 2019 #BalanceforBetter campaign on the 8th March by interviewing inspiring women we work with and, in particular, understanding the role confidence has played in their career.

We interviewed Sharon Burns, Transformational Leader, Financial Services.

How do you define confidence, particularly in the workplace?

Confidence is having self-respect and backing yourself. If you operate from your value set your authenticity will shine. This does not mean there is no disruptive inner voice chattering rather it means controlling the inner voice, doing the necessary preparation even if challenging and setting yourself up to deliver great outcomes.

How do you think the confidence gap affects women?

An example of the confidence gap for women is needing to meet all requirements of a new job to formally explore the opportunity.  I have always thought this is peculiar as women are generally very resilient and are able to adapt.  But we all do it!  

Do you think women’s workplace confidence has improved over the past few decades? Please explain why.

The culture of the workplace and operating environment impacts your confidence. An organisation encouraging a growth mindset, collaboration and clear communication embodies trust and empowers its people.  From experience the culture of a team may not align to the culture of the organisation. This discrepancy may cause anxiety and reduce your confidence.  As an organisation’s culture evolves there is impacts on its people.    

How important have confidence and self-belief been in achieving your career goals? Please explain why.

I often remind myself that if I don’t back myself how can I expect anyone else to!  This usually shifts me back into action. The most challenging times are generally where you learn the most and especially about yourself!
We have recently enjoyed a strong message from Lady Gaga in her Oscar’s acceptance speech.    

Have you ever experienced imposter syndrome (where you doubt your achievements and have an internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”)? If so, how did you overcome it?

I think everyone experiences self-doubt and has the disturbing inner voice. It’s about taking control of it and being logical.  This may not be easy. It’s necessary to break and change your thoughts, then move to action.  Some strategies I use to break and change my thoughts are to change the environment get some fresh air, go for a walk/run, or as simple as work in a café or a different area in the office for an hour.  

How much has risk-taking contributed to your career development?

My career in Financial Services is characterised by longevity at a couple of organisations with many internal opportunities and differing roles for growth rather than always exploring options in the external market.  At times of change there is always a risk element.  

In an internal move the timing is not usually driven by you, or planned in advance, since the opportunity arises out of a business need.  However, joining a new area within an organisation feels almost like a new organisation. There is generally no option to revert to your previous role if needed or at the end of the successful delivery.  The variety of opportunities have provided me with a broad interesting career that may have been hard to achieve if I reached out to the external market for each opportunity. 

Can you give an example of a risk you’ve taken that has paid dividend?

Moving from an operational business performance reporting role to support an internal project. The project role was ambiguous, and the project had not secured funding.  The project was establishing a new business line within a large organisation.  It included defining and developing the business operating model as well as scoping, building and implementing a Technology platform to support the new business, take to market and connection within the large organisation.  There were many challenges during the multiyear project delivery.  This was great experience to be involved with a start-up business, and exposure across the organisation.      

How important is mentoring, coaching and sponsorship in helping women to grow their confidence at work?

All three are important irrespective if it is a formal arrangement or an informal relationship.  Everyone thrives on support.  It could be as simple as a casual conversation to a colleague who is having a difficult day.  It is important to identify your sponsors. This will help you read the room. 
How can confidence-building be built into career development strategies?

Regular review and feedback provide insights and learning opportunities which ultimately develops your confidence and builds resilience. It also embodies trust.
What can be done to ensure a woman being assertive in the workplace doesn’t negatively impact on colleagues’ perceptions of her?

As a leader it is necessary to hold people to account. It is the behaviour displayed that is key. Regular, timely behavioural feedback from a variety of trusted sources is important. Unfortunately, perception becomes reality so this needs to be avoided.