Building Confidence Unlocking Leadership Through Networking

A 2014 Hewlett Packard report pointed out that women only apply for a job if they believe they meet 100% of the qualifications. Men, it stated, would apply for a job even if they only met up to 60% of the qualifications. In 2022, this study is still being cited as an unfortunate fact. 

Kari Foote, director of leadership development for Leadership Resources, said this might be because women may feel unprepared for the gravity of the job. But she also said, pushing beyond those doubts is important to not only growth within a company, but also individually. 

“Being ready to put yourself into uncomfortable situations where you’re deliberately stretching beyond what you think you’re capable of can be really important,” she said.  

Finding the confidence to push those boundaries can come from a variety of experiences, from mentoring to leadership courses. LBJ-Women_in_leadership_headshots

Start with Passion

“Whatever it is that stirs you in terms of service to others, that’s a great way to get involved,” Foote said. “There are more opportunities than there are people to serve. 

If your passion is in helping children be successful in their early lives, Engage.Empower.Graduate., a joint program between Women United and the Emerging Leaders United, might be a good fit. 

Since it began in 2010, Women United has raised more than $2.1 million to support school readiness and family development, according to Michelle St. Clair, advisor at Prospective Planning Partners and volunteer chair for Women United.

“When we look at the building blocks of a quality life—health, education, and financial stability—we can see how those three things are related,” St. Clair said. “If one of those areas is negatively impacted, so are the other two.”

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For instance, a big focus for the organization is mental health by addressing behavioral and emotional barriers to learning through the support of school-based therapists at two Lincoln elementary schools. 

“Together we’re working to identify and address these disadvantages children and their families face to ensure that the children, regardless of their situation, have the opportunity to succeed at school,” St. Clair said.

Common Connections

If you’re focused on professional development, networking groups can be a great place to start. 

Hanna Peterson, assistant director of alumni engagement for the Nebraska Alumni Association, highlighted The Nebraska Women’s Leadership Network, formerly Cather Circle, for alumni and students at Nebraska University.  

The organization hosts biannual conferences that target both professional and personal growth.  The last conference, titled “Passion to Purpose,” was held on Oct. 29, 2021, and included speakers such as Akriti Agrawal, co-founder of Girls Code Lincoln; Dominique Kelley-Johnson, former Nebraska women’s basketball player and head girls’ basketball coach for Lincoln High School; and Paska Jump, Black Leaders Movement organizer, entrepreneur and social justice activist; among others.



“Each conference typically has a different theme such as designing your life, community impact and leadership or persevering during a time of change,” Peterson said. “Our goal for these conferences is to offer content that attracts women from all professional backgrounds and from all stages of life—from first years at UNL to retired women.”

Acknowledging the time constraints many women are facing, The Network began offering Zoom sessions as well short evening events for their regular programming. 

“The Network is made up of very supportive women who have experienced the difficult and uncomfortable conversation of asking for a promotion,” Peterson said. “Their experiences have turned into advice for the women they meet within The Network. Through their support, I’ve seen women grow professionally and become leaders.”

If you can’t find a local networking group that interests you, virtual networking has also become popular in the wake of COVID-19.

Knowledge is Power

Foote, with Leadership Resources, noted that women-only groups may be more beneficial for women, as it can create a safe space for dialogue. 

“When we talk about a female-only group, often the differentiation is the context and the conversation that happens within that small group, recognizing that some of the issues women face at work are different and unique,” Foote said.

 Like the reasoning that you should share your salary with co-workers to improve awareness, women sharing their experiences with each other can also help women feel empowered. 

Leadership Resources provides some leadership development groups where learning is cohort based in a female-only environment. 

“Usually these consist of highly-placed women in various companies who value the opportunity to work through issues and learn together in an environment of women helping Women,” Foote said. “We’ve been talking about doing some very specific executive strategic leadership type programs for female executives.” 

Additionally one-on-one executive coaching can be helpful. 

“We can help women with some tactical ideas around how they develop and enhance their own personal leadership brand to make sure they’re having the impact they want,” Foote said.

Be Your Own Voice

Some companies may already have leadership programs in place. Some companies may still need to decide if an internal or external leadership program or coaching is necessary. Either way, Foote said it’s important to be your own advocate.  

“You might be in a situation where your employer isn’t pouring development dollars into you,” she said. “Advocate for your own growth and make sure you’re creating your own opportunities wherever you can. Be involved in your community. Find ways to serve. Build a network of women because sometimes we have to own our own career paths.”