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The Secret Ingredient for Career Success...

03/09/2014 13:02 BST | Updated 02/11/2014 10:59 GMT

A recent study of 500 boardrooms in the US showed that companies with three or more women on their board of directors experienced an 83% higher return on equity, a 73% boost in sales and a 112% higher return on invested capital. Furthermore, numerous global studies, ranging from Goldman Saks to Thompson Reuters show that companies employing large numbers of women outperform their competitors on almost every level of profitability.

Faced with these hard facts, few companies could deny that a diverse workforce is a stronger workforce - so where are all the women at the top table? Many people are quick to blame external factors - like sexism in society - but anecdotal evidence from a number of our members revealed that they would shy away from that next big careers step because of self confidence issues. This isn't restricted solely to the Rail Industry, it's a sentiment echoed across professions. The Institute of Leadership and Management recently surveyed British managers on how confident they feel in their positions. Half of female respondents admitted they had self doubt about their performance and careers, compared to just one third of male respondents. Crucially, the study also found that women with low confidence were less likely to be appointed to management positions, and as a direct result were less likely to achieve their career ambitions.

But admitting a lack of self confidence is no weakness. Thankfully it's the first step to creating a more empowered and equal workforce as confidence can be rebuilt. Women in Rail is a passionate advocate of helping more women get to the top. We have held several confidence seminars to try and raise self esteem amongst our members. The first step to overcoming self doubt in the workforce is to identify why it exists in the first place.

Society teaches women to be communal, sympathetic and helpful, whilst teaching boys to be assertive, bold and ambitious. It's a generalisation, but given the chance many little boys will choose to pretend to be soldiers or explorers, whilst little girls will choose to play with their dolls. As we grow older these conditioned behaviours remain with us to an extent. None of these traits are negative - but in the working world it's all about striking a balance. Assertive women who exhibit some of the more traditionally male traits can often face double edged feedback, often being described as "formidable" or "hard", whereas men seem to be judged to a different standard. These ambiguous labels can often knock a woman's confidence, making her feel she has to make a choice between being liked and being authoritative.

But it's not just societal attitudes which can hold women back. An in-depth investigation into women's attitudes in the work place revealed many refrain from applying for promotions because they lack self belief. An internal Hewlett Packard study revealed women only felt willing to apply for promotions when they felt they met 100% of the jobs specifications, whereas men felt confident applying when they'd met 60% of the specifications. Many females only applied when they felt over qualified for the role, whereas men recognised their short comings - but still had the confidence to put their names forward.

As much as many of us may like to - you can't eradicate self doubt overnight. But by inspiring confidence and encouraging women to take little steps out of their comfort zone on a regular basis, you can slowly see it melt away. Women in Rail has also found that one the most effective way to overcome self doubt, particularly in a male dominated environment, is by establishing a one on one mentorship scheme.

For a mentee, the gift of having someone to listen, advise, challenge and nurture your productive thinking is invaluable. For the mentor, the positive feeling of giving something back is equally rewarding. After all confidence breeds confidence, and the benefit of being able to talk to a senior colleague makes them seem more human, in turn making their position at the top seem attainable. I'd advise every woman to ensure they fulfil their potential by seeking out mentors at work; they will be flattered you approached them! Take the risk when the next promotional opportunity comes up; remember you miss every shot you don't take. After all, a diverse workforce is a profitable workforce. You owe it to yourself and your company to put your hat in the ring!