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International Women's Day: Interview with Carla Tavares

Izgi Genc International Women's Day

“Confidence is very important but, not more important than being yourself; being authentic.”
 
How do you define confidence, particularly in the workplace? 
For me, “confidence” is to: (i) trust in one’s abilities and leadership skills; and (ii) know how to communicate these skills openly in a clear, professional and assertive fashion.
 
How do you think the confidence gap affects women? 
I do not believe in the confidence gap. Women can be and, often are, as confident as men in the workplace.
 
Do you think women’s workplace confidence has improved over the past few decades? Please explain why. 
It has certainly improved over the past 30 years. More than ever, women have taken ownership of their own careers; they have heavily invested in high education degrees and worked hard to achieve their professional goals alongside men. I believe this has contributed to boosting their confidence in a generally male centric work place; plagued with cultural stereotypes. More than ever, women are familiar with the corporate world, know what they want and understand well what are the road blocks ahead. Unfortunately, this does not mean gender disparity will fade any time soon. Despite exuding the same skills and ambitions, women are less likely to be promoted and considered for a salary increment than their male counterparts – that’s an undisputed fact. 
 
How important have confidence and self-belief been in achieving your career goals? Please explain why. 
Very important but, not more important than being yourself; being authentic. 
 
Have you ever experienced imposter syndrome (where you doubt your achievements and have an internalised fear of being exposed as a “fraud”)? If so, how did you overcome it? 
On the contrary, I have never doubted my achievements! Indeed, I usually share my own and my team’s accomplishments with my peers and line managers in the workplace, as much as possible. If anything, I may be accused of boasting about them!
 
How much has risk-taking contributed to your career development? 
Risk-taking is fundamental should you wish to develop and advance your career. Success was never handed to me on a silver plate and risk has been part of my career strategy as far as I can remember. I set myself high goals and am sure not to shy away from all the opportunities I come across – I pursue them with passion, whether is taking on a bigger scope or an entirely new practice area or a completely new industry or simply moving to a different jurisdiction altogether. Determination, drive and energy are important ingredients for this “exiting the comfort zone” challenge. 
 
Can you give an example of a risk you’ve taken that has paid dividend? 
Resigning from a top management position at Hewlett Packard in Lisbon and coming to Dubai without a job in the hope that I could strive in this challenging and buoyant environment was a shot in the dark, to be honest. I have since then experienced many humps and bumps along the way. Without the so-required regional experience at first, getting a job was far from being a walk in the park and getting the right job was even more defiant. With that said, I always believed it was possible and I always believed I could do it; despite the hard-work, the uncertainty of possessing the right qualities and the idea of having to make concessions with respect to career progression. I kept telling myself “slowly but surely”!
 
How important is mentoring, coaching and sponsorship in helping women to grow their confidence at work? 
Essential. I wish I have had a mentor or a coach to guide me through the most challenging, scary and troubled moments of my career. Having a mentor who is willing to share her experience and key learnings can help women avoid common mistakes and set them on the fast track path to career growth. Coaching can be reassuring when it comes to self-belief and self-confidence building.
 
How can confidence-building be built into career development strategies?
So long as we continue to place the gender gap responsibility on women’s behaviour and lack of confidence, nothing will change in the workplace. Naturally, women have a crucial role in educating the new generation of men and women in terms of putting an end to gender biases but – there’s only so much we can do. However, the onus for building strategies that encourage women to develop their careers should be equally placed on the organizations for which they work and, more particularly, on men who typically fill in the top management spots and have a significant influence on gender equality policies in the workplace. I would like to see more women given the opportunity to participate in the decision making process and their performance taken more seriously. 
 
What can be done to ensure a woman being assertive in the workplace doesn’t negatively impact on colleagues’ perceptions of her? 
Over the years, I have become more tactful and affable in the workplace however, as a young legal counsel I used to be very self-assertive and acute! Five years into the legal profession and I recall I was attending project finance negotiations with banking professionals and attorneys from multiple backgrounds and nationalities when someone commented that during the discussions I had come across as a “pretty tough legal counsel”.  At the time, I perceived it as positive praise! In today’s corporate world, I see this a little differently. Diversity is embedded in our society and we have to know how interpret and manage cultural sensitivities and different ways of doing things. Perception is paramount in the work place and is intrinsically related to how we practice our listening and communication skills in the office. We can- and should, be assertive yet, without being aggressive or offensive or rude to any given audience.