Ilona Brannen: ‘Building our confidence muscles’

We are excited to welcome our first blog contribution by Ilona Brannen the founder of Learn to Tech Off who works with professional women to build their confidence muscles

If you would like to become a guest blogger for Women shift Digital please do get in touch

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While working as a teacher, in an all-girls school I started to notice certain patterns of behaviour in my students that I found quite puzzling. They would become exceedingly precious about not messing up and they were afraid of making mistakes. If these mistakes were recorded in their books some went so far as to tear out these pages to destroy the evidence. They were afraid to fail and afraid to take risks.

‘Boys are 8 times more likely to be told off than girls’

So I went on a researching mission and found out that girls are less likely to take risks than boys. Girls are generally told to “stay still, don’t get messy and be a good girl”. Carol Dweck, a psychologist from Stanford University in her book, “Mindset”, says that a boy is 8 times more likely to be told off than a girl. This builds up a level of resilience to feedback in boys and an over preoccupation for girls to always be perfect. While girls and women, now outperform men in every stage of academia the reality once they get into the world of work is that within two years, a women will lose her confidence and this has an impact on her longer term aspirations.

‘What can we do?’

So we have two challenges to overcome as girls and women. We have a greater aversion to risk, and our confidence gets more of a walloping through feedback and different challenges in the real world over the course of our careers.  What can we do?

One solution I devised for my students was Risk Week, a whole curriculum designed to encourage them to take risks, step outside their comfort zones and build their confidence muscles. From this, one student elected to the UK Youth Parliament as the representative for Southwark, another won an app competition and one student was in the final of a gospel choir competition. The feedback from the students was phenomenal and they loved the chance to flex their skills and try new things.

‘As women we need to build up confidence muscles so that we can make creative cognitive links’

A statistic that has always stayed with me since I first heard it over 5 years ago was that if a woman sees the job description she will see that she can do 90% worry about the 10% that she can’t do the man will see that he can do 50% and take a shot at it. This in my opinion it’s one of the biggest reasons why women are not realising their full potential.

As women we need to build up confidence muscles so that we can make creative cognitive links. When we feel more confident and authentic to ourselves, we can make better decisions and create better work. This is how we can genuinely make a difference in the world and to others.

Using digital technology is one of the greatest enablers for women and the way we use it is very different to men. We use social media primarily for knowledge sharing, learning and communication, whereas men tend to focus primarily on receiving news and for dating. By leveraging digital technology we utilise this to educate ourselves further, find our tribe and put into practise things to help us build our confidence muscles.

‘Go on, give yourself permission. You’re worth it’

For all people practise is key to this is why I founded Learn to Tech Off whereby we run workshops and events aimed at giving women the safe space to build their confidence muscles and take off in their career in tech. One workshop, communicating with impact, looked at the ways in which women tend to use passive verbs such as “I helped, I supported” rather than “I led, I implemented” and this has an impact on job appraisals and applications. Our recent workshop on negotiation showed how we undervalue ourselves by 20% on average and that we dislike initiating negotiation conversations for fear of not being liked. That discomfort actually can cost us money!

In the future I want to see Risk Week up and down the country to build confidence in our young people. I gave my students permission to take risks, to fail, and to build their confidence muscles they learnt how it’s actually really important in order to learn. The truth of the matter is that we all need this, and we need it today. Go on, give yourself permission. You’re worth it.

ro2Ht-9cIlona Brannen. With over ten years’ experience in education and technology, Ilona understands how to get the best out of people and to help them realise their potential. Ilona excelled as a teacher in London, and saw there was a gap and an enthusiasm for education for girls. Since then she has been running successful initiatives encouraging women, and girls to take risks. As a result one of her students was elected to the UK youth parliament and another won a national app building competition. Now, as a consultant Ilona is working with professional women to build their confidence muscles and so Learn to Tech Off was born.