Confidence: The Top Career Skill You Should Develop in 2012

Nellie BorreroHow do women advance their careers? What growth opportunities are they looking for? Which knowledge/skills sets are they developing?

Accenture asked these questions in a global survey of 3,400 professionals in 29 countries. I asked Nellie Borrero, global managing director of inclusion & diversity at Accenture, to discuss the results of “Reinvent Opportunity: Looking Through a New Lens.”

What do you consider the study’s most significant results?

We found that only 43% of women are satisfied with their current jobs, but nearly three-quarters — 70% — of them plan to stay with their companies. Instead of being disgruntled, we find that women are staying put but are not stagnant. This is important for women: What will they do to progress their careers? And it’s important for companies: Do they see this as an opportunity to engage employees and help them become more successful, provide clearly-defined career paths, training, and leadership development?

The media loves to play up the differences between men and women, but what I read here is that men and women are far more alike than different. What’s your take on this?

We were interested in — and surprised by — the extent to which women and men around the globe share similar career perspectives. For example, when we asked about the top factors that would make respondents want to pursue career advancement, women and men agreed largely on: better compensation (65% women, 67% men); new, challenging assignments (44%, 48%); flexible work arrangements (39%, 34%); and leadership positions within their companies (22%, 28%).

We still believe there are differences, and we are delving into those in our International Women’s Day 2012 research, which is in the field right now. We are asking more questions about what people are doing — not just believing or feeling — regarding their careers. We’re also investigating how personal lives and families are impacting career decisions and progression.

Developing knowledge/skill sets is highly important to women (and men). In this economy, which knowledge/skill set do you think is most important to develop/refresh?

Skills that are useful for almost any career include communication and confidence. Yes, I consider confidence a skill and one that many women should develop and embrace. In addition, skills around P&L and managing money and budgets are important and typically are key to top management roles. I believe women are focused on continually improving their skills, and our research found that more than half of women (59%) plan to work on developing their knowledge and/or a skill set to achieve career objectives this year.

Men and women ask for a raise at fairly equal rates. But women are far less likely than men to ask for a promotion. What do you think is going on here?

I believe two things are at work here. First, I consistently find that women work hard and expect to be recognized . . . and wait, instead of asking for that recognition, whether it’s a raise or a promotion. The second is confidence. Women tend to need to be 100% sure they can defend their argument for a raise or promotion. If they doubt themselves at all they may refrain from asking.

Anything else you’d like to point out, or add?

I think differences between generations are also interesting, especially since so many of us work with three different generations. We looked at the findings by Baby Boomers (born before 1964), Gen X (born 1965-1978) and Gen Y (born after 1979) and found a difference in how people use mentors. Just 25% of Baby Boomers said they’ve worked with a mentor, compared to 32% of Gen X and 37% of Gen Y. I’m a beneficiary of great mentors, and I make sure to continually mentors others, so I find the increase across younger generations pretty interesting.

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