If we truly believe in ourselves, we’ll have the confidence to live our dreams. That is what we are taught as children.

For women in technology careers, self-confidence is the equivalent of rocket fuel. It can propel us to extraordinary heights so we can change the world. When it’s lacking, our great ideas remain stuck on the launch pad.

Throughout my career – as an entrepreneur, Fortune 100 executive and now senior leader of a global information technology firm – I’ve come to believe that self-confidence is one of the biggest success factors for women.

I reject the notion that it’s merely a personality trait, something you’re either born with or not. To me, it’s more akin to a skill. Like music, meditation or sport, it takes practice.

Some very important obstacles facing women in the workplace have recently received much-needed attention.

Yet even if unimaginable progress can be achieved over the next decade, it still won’t be enough. The game-changing ideas of millions of women around the world simply can’t be held back by small, snails-pace progressions.

Women in technology careers don’t have a moment to lose. They are surrounded by promising technologies, such as augmented intelligence and smart cities, so it is critical they sharpen their self-confidence skills now.

When women believe in themselves, doors that they never knew existed begin to open. Without self-confidence, I couldn’t have registered 25 patents, launched two successful start-ups, or executed such exciting business deals that my heart still flutters when I think about them.

How can women become self-confident and use their self-belief? One approach is to take charge of defining who they are and how they’d like to be perceived, instead of allowing other people to do that for them.

Let’s face it. Every woman out to change the world faces the obstacles of gender stereotypes and other institutionalized discrimination. Whether due to height, skin color, career choice, age or accent, the industry is awash with stereotypes. In business situations, these act like a wayward town crier who announces your presence using outdated, biased and even offensive terms. Before uttering a word, other people – including other women – have formed an opinion about you based on their own upbringing, culture and experiences.

Barriers to career success for women in STEM  fields worldwide (2016)

Every woman faces the obstacles of gender stereotypes and other institutionalized discrimination    Source: Statista

But women can do something about it. They can decide on the precise words, phrases and imagery they’d like business colleagues to associate with them, and make sure those colleagues hear them: loudly and clearly.

Whenever I meet someone in a business setting for the first time, I begin by talking briefly about myself and the exciting directions we’re taking TCS in.

This simple act of defining myself before others do helps to override their stereotypes. Instead of wondering what they’re thinking about me, I’m confidently getting down to business. I can focus on my priorities because I’ve established who I am, perhaps shattering some of their preconceived notions in the process.

When a woman confidently communicates who she is, it tells others that she rejects labels. Otherwise she may find herself trying to remove every label put on her, which is like asking for permission to succeed at every turn.

Defining ourselves to others starts with how we define ourselves. The beliefs we hold and stories we tell ourselves are at the core of our self-confidence. This is not a one-time exercise as we need, at least occasionally, to check if our definitions are still serving us well or if we need to refine them.

Self-confidence helps us grow into the images we create for ourselves. If we define ourselves as a strong leader, we will become a strong leader. Our actions help turn our definitions into our reality.

Mahatma Gandhi once said that people often become what they believe themselves to be: “When I believe I can, then I acquire the ability to do it even if I didn’t have it in the beginning.”

 

Seeta Hariharan, General Manager and Group Head, Tata Consultancy Services – Digital Software & Solutions Group