tips to build confidence according to Asia's female leaders

Confidence can take a dip when you work in a toxic environment, fail a test, fall out with a loved one or experience a setback at work. Everyone experiences low confidence levels in various degrees.

How confident you feel comes from life experiences related to culture, trauma, childhood bullying, parenting style, race, gender and sexual orientation – even the most highly driven individuals can experience the classic symptoms of impostor syndrome.

Related: Beyond confidence: 3 strategies to help female leaders rise

Understand women's confidence levels globally

The Women's Confidence report, published in March 2021, found that globally, women's sense of confidence is moderate. Commissioned by an American cosmetics company, IT Cosmetics, and conducted by consulting firm Eranos, this global women's confidence report was conducted over three years in 11 countries with 11,176 women between ages 18 to 69.

The study found that women in Mexico are the most self-confident, followed by those in China, the USA, Russia, Germany, Australia, United Kingdom, France, Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan.

Researchers for this report also worked with academic experts, and successful and confident women to provide a well-rounded perspective on a woman's confidence. According to this white paper, confidence stems from 14 different interior and exterior sources, such as intuition, resilience, routine, spirituality and support system. How you draw from them is directly in relation to your personality, the time of day and your current life stage.

Related: How to ask your boss for more responsibility

Here's a brief overview of experiences that influences women's confidence in the Asia-Pacific Region from this report.

28% of Australian women, or almost one in three women, affirm that they have special skills as women in a professional context, which give them an advantage over men. This echoes the idea that womanhood gives them an edge over their male counterparts.

81% of Chinese women believe that their condition can be improved by banding together - an exceptionally high ratio compared to other countries. Chinese women are more than aware of the key role they play in society and family, as opposed to men. In a country where protests are not common practice, women are very conscious of the cause that binds them together.

62% of Hong Kong women say that they would hesitate to break the rules even if they deemed them unwarranted. Respecting the rules is still a strong cultural standard, and contesting them openly is not welcomed.

34% of Japanese women, or more than 1 out of 3 Japanese women, think that all bad things happen for a reason, and we have to accept that, even if it is hard. The ability to accept fate is valued in Japan. On top of that, almost one out of three Japanese women say they feel stress or anxiety very often.

63% of South Korean women seek inspiration and strength in their predecessor’s experiences. In work, family, individual and social situations in general, Korean women draw great lessons from those with more remarkable experience than them.

Related: 5 ways to improve equity in the workplace

A lack of confidence can slow down career advancement for women. In 2019, research carried out by My Confidence Matters and the University of Glasgow found that 79% of women lack confidence (compared to 62% of men) when it comes to their careers and speaking up at work.

On top of that, LinkedIn’s Gender Insights Report found that women feel that they need to meet 100% of the job description criteria before applying for a job. And in comparison, men would often apply for a job after meeting about 60% of the job description.

This confidence deficit can lead to many minor issues that will build up to have a significant impact on women’s careers. For instance, when women do not speak up at appraisals, they miss the chance of getting promotions and negotiating for a higher salary. Also, when you feel confident, you are more likely to act on criticisms with a positive and motivated mindset than to dwell on negativity.

Related: A guide to writing a winning resume

To build confidence, it is firstly essential to identify the cause of the lack of confidence. (Here is a quick confidence quiz you can take.) And from there, work on how you can become your biggest cheerleader.

Ahead, 12 female leaders share their tips for building confidence.

Advice from Asia's female leaders: Ways to build confidence

“In the face of new world norms, to gain confidence, leaders today have to possess a strong conviction, trust our instincts to take calculated risks, develop a lifelong sense of curiosity, excel in navigating through ambiguity to form meaningful learnings and reframe mindsets to see failures as opportunities.” – Alison Ee, Director, Head of Customer & Marketing, Retail Business at NTUC FairPrice.

“A good start is to model leadership – by taking a page from the many leaders, we see around us. No one is born a perfect leader. We all build a unique stack of different skills, such as communication, strategy, and people management, that help us become better managers throughout our careers. Having said that, modelling will only take you so far. After some years of experience, it’s just as important to transition to trusting yourself, your instincts, and that stack of skills you’ve now developed fully.” – Angelia Teo, Director, Futures and Innovation at Kantar.

“What’s worked for me is taking risks and stepping out from my comfort zone, which sounds unusual coming from a Chief Risk Officer, but it’s really about taking calculated risks. Also, speaking at conferences and publishing thought leadership articles help build my confidence too. I enjoyed that connection with people, and that also helps me build confidence. Another way to build confidence is to have a sense of passion and purpose in whatever you do.” – Anita Menon, Chief Risk Officer at Prudential BSN Takaful Berhad.

Related: How to ask for a pay rise – 10 effective tips

“I was not born with confidence. I had to work on it and build it up over time. I think having the humility to know that I am not perfect is one thing. The second thing is to know that, sometimes, things fail no matter how hard I try. It is about the ability to learn from your mistakes and rebound from failures. Also, I was a math major, so my approach is to look at problems, no matter how complicated they seem, and break them down into little pieces. So to me, confidence is not about having no fears. It is, realising that you have the strength to overcome those fears.” – Farra Siregar, VP, Strategic Partnerships at Zuellig Pharma.

“What really helped me was being able to come to the realisation of my weaknesses. I do believe my own strength, as well as knowing my weaknesses are important. One of the ways to gain more confidence as a leader is to embrace my weakness. I am a quick learner and fast thinker, which can also, at times, become a weakness. If you think you need to know everything in your team, you’re in trouble. For example, I’m not an expert in manufacturing or supply chain as I grew up in marketing and sales before becoming a general manager. So instead of hiding the fact that I have certain knowledge gaps in these functional areas, I try to embrace them by pausing before speaking. And by asking more questions before I jump to conclusions.” – Huilin Min, CEO, Wyeth Nutrition, Greater China at Nestlé

“I realised that to gain confidence, I needed to practise. It’s all about practice. A lot of people were asking technical questions, and I started to spend a lot of time presenting in conferences; every year in the early 1990s, there were four to five conferences around the Asia Pacific. So I started to build confidence by [doing] repetitive work, repetitive presentations, each time trying to figure out what to do better than the next, and hearing feedback from people and what works for them. So it’s gaining confidence by pushing yourself into areas that make you uncomfortable. I still have butterflies in my belly every time I go up on stage!” – Irene Oh-Buhrfeindt, Vice President in Sales and Commercial Strategy, APAC at Tronox Limited.

Related: Why recognising women in leadership and their achievements matter

“Everybody learns from their lessons and failures. That is how we can achieve success. I’m not sure if you have heard of the writer from Japan called Junichi Watanabe. He wrote a book called The Power of Insensitivity, about the sensitivity of [people], about how we care about the comments of others, about our failures, about how we are fragile. We call this ‘office glass heart’, so if you have an ‘office glass heart’, that is a problem. You will be easily beaten and lose your confidence. That’s why, according to Watanabe, we need to build up this power of insensitivity, put aside the comments from others and do the right thing. Gradually, the confidence will grow. At Ping An, we call this ‘AQ’, or ‘Adversity Quotient’. It is your ability to stand up in a challenging environment.” – Jingle Pang, Chief Digital & Information OfficerChief Digital & Information Officer at UniCredit.

“It always starts with domain knowledge. Confidence, for me, always comes from a good mastery of whatever that thing is. The second factor is about having a support system. Having a group of advisors, such as mentors, sponsors, your peers, your friends or family members, who can see you, see the value in you, that can really help you.” – Paula Wang, Managing Director, App Developer Business, APAC at Google.

“Knowledge is important. As I’ve said before, I benefit from the fact that my work and personal life are so closely aligned. The rest of it has to do with preparation. Do your homework because nothing replaces that. It adds to your knowledge and ability to solve big problems. I have also gained experience and confidence by working with people, gathering inputs and taking feedback, especially when preparing for critical decisions. So my advice is this: keep learning and keep practising. I learnt so much from interacting with my children, and it is incredible when they tell you the most honest feedback. I think, in life, we have to learn to receive feedback in the raw form. Don’t miss those opportunities. Sometimes you build confidence just by engaging with your own children.” – Penny Wan, Member Board Of DirectorsMember Board Of Directors at Dr. Reddy's Laboratories.

Related: How to improve your work-life balance in 2023

“Confidence comes from deepened competence and capability: Read widely, learn continually through courses, industry and peer dialogues, and equivalent professional platforms to triangulate insights and form unique points of view. You can also find someone more senior and from a different field to mentor you and harness alternative perspectives. In turn, take on younger individuals as your mentees to give back the knowledge acquired.” – Romona Loh, Assistant Vice President, Singaopre Businesses at Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB).

“Knowing your purpose, and on my part, knowing that I have built a company for the right reason leads me to be a confident leader. Growing up with eczema, I couldn’t find any skincare company that cared enough about my skin. My son suffered from eczema to the extent that he would bleed. So I took the leap of faith to start a customised skincare company to address my family’s needs and that of millions of customers that an entire industry had ignored. Our first and hero customised serum made of 120 combinations of 10 active ingredients was an instant success because it not only addressed the specific needs of our customers but was effective. Every day, I wake up knowing that as long as I keep to the core of our beliefs, to deliver customised skincare and wellness to each customer’s unique needs, I am doing the right thing. And I feel confident in doing so.” – Sabrina Tan, Founder and CEO at Skin Inc Global.

“Self-care. A person who is happy and well can lead better. You’re relied upon for decisions and motivation for the entire team. What you do is very contagious and can impact everyone. So caring for yourself, ensuring that you exercise and sleep well, that’s probably the most important thing. So when it comes to self-doubt and self-criticism, just being aware of these thought processes allowed me to understand that they are just that – thoughts. They are not real.” – Teresa Condicion, Founder and CEO of Shoplinks.

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