Contributed by EWI’s summer Communications & Development Intern, Kacey Beckham.
As the intern for EWI, I get to attend some really special events. For the past few weeks I’ve had the privilege of sitting in on a new workshop EWI has introduced called the Confidence Cure Workshop. I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into but I was intrigued by the name and eager to see what the class had to offer.
Each class, approximately 16 women from all stages of life trickle into Dar Al Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church. Several nationalities and age groups are represented. Some are mothers. Most are business owners. They smile at each other and greet one another as if they have been longtime friends. They all seem very composed and appear to “have it all together.” From the outside, you would think “Wow what an impressive group of women! They are doing great things for their families and the world and are eager to learn.” But as our wonderful trainer Jessica Dowches-Wheeler, founder and CEO of Bright Space Coaching, starts talking about topics such as fear of failure, self-doubt, feeling inadequate there is a chorus of ‘mhms’ in approval. You look around the room and every woman, including myself, seems to be nodding at the material which has obviously struck a chord with all of us. We know these feelings all too well.
It was shocking to me to see so many women, who seem so composed and strong, struggle with confidence. Clearly, the struggle with confidence transcends nationalities, ages, life experience, religion, and so many other factors. “So many women struggle with confidence because we’ve been conditioned from childhood to avoid risk and pain;” Dowches-Wheeler said, “society rewards men for acting confident (even arrogant), but when women assert themselves or act confidently, they’re judged for it.”
So many women in the group could relate to the need to avoid risk and pain. EWI and Dowches-Wheeler were able to provide an intimate environment for women to share their stories with facing failure, the sting of harsh criticism, and the negative messages they tell themselves which make it so hard for them to recover rejection. With every story that was shared, there was always someone beside her saying “Me too.” It created an amazing opportunity to connect with each other most women do not often have.
Another reason why women struggle with confidence according to Dowches-Wheeler is because women are ‘supposed to be’ nice, friendly, likeable, demure, etc. and when they act ‘out of character’ (e.g. bold, assertive), it is taken negatively. Veronica Voyest, an EWI alumni and a student in the Confidence Cure workshop would agree. “Women push ourselves too much,” Voyest says “everything has to be perfect.”
This is where I think female entrepreneurship and confidence meet a crossroads. Entrepreneurship can be a crazy journey. The first step is having a great idea but turning it into a business requires boldness, risks, decision making, and inevitably failure at times. If women are told they can’t be any of these thing or fail, then they are basically being told they can’t be entrepreneurs. This is why women often times ask for less money when opening up a business, receive less funding, and have trouble owning their accomplishments because they aren’t praised for being bold or assertive or sure of themselves.
Confidence and entrepreneurship go hand-in-hand. Over the past few weeks, we learned how to be self-aware, to understand failure as a part of life, to silence our inner critic, and to let criticism be constructive rather than destructive. The women are already seeing a difference in themselves just after a few classes. “This workshop has helped me think about my strengths, how to build them up, and own them” student Mae Nodin said. Voyest also said that this workshop has given her time to discover herself, which she doesn’t always have much time to do.
We are going to do this to be better business owners, mothers, wives, and most importantly to learn to believe in ourselves like never before.