International Women’s Day: Q&A with Thea Tillson

March 13, 2019

Taylor Root is proud to be supporting International Women’s Day 2019. International Women’s Day celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. Whilst we all know that gender parity within the workplace has improved over the past decades, we all also know that there is still a long way to go.

We would like to join the discussion and be part of International Women’s Day 2019 #BalanceforBetter campaign on the 8th March by interviewing inspiring women we work with and, in particular, understanding the role confidence has played in their career.

We interviewed Thea Tillson, Talent Acquisition Consultant, Human Resources, Zurich Financial Services Australia.

How do you define confidence, particularly in the workplace?

To me, having confidence (either in work or outside of work) means having belief in yourself. Having belief that what you say matters and what you say is valid. Confidence is also demonstrated in how you carry yourself and how you interact with other people. If I am not feeling confident, or don’t have self-belief, I am less likely to strike up a conversation with someone, say how I feel or really put myself out there. If I am feeling confident on the inside, it definitely shows on the outside.

How do you think the confidence gap affects women?

In a room full of men, it can be intimidating. I work in the Insurance Industry which is typically very male dominated. Lacking in confidence can mean you don’t have a voice, or your opinion is not heard because you are afraid of speaking out. It also means men are accelerating their careers ahead of their female counterparts because they have more confidence and self-belief to step outside of their comfort zone. I think women are definitely more afraid of failing.

Do you think women’s workplace confidence has improved over the past few decades? Please explain why.

Yes, I do, but there is still a long way to go. Over recent years there has been a very strong focus on workplace equality and addressing the gender pay gap which has gone some way to giving women more confidence and self-belief in the workplace. When you are achieving goals and being heard it definitely has a positive impact on your confidence (speaking from personal experience). I am fortunate to be surrounded by exceptionally strong and highly capable female leaders and it is empowering in turn giving me more confidence and self-belief.

How important have confidence and self-belief been in achieving your career goals? Please explain why.

It has been extremely important. Four years ago, I changed career direction and decided I wanted to move into an internal recruitment role (incidentally it was a female leader who saw potential in me and took a risk by employing an agency recruiter who had never worked in an in-house role before). I had no prior knowledge of the industry I was entering, and I had to find self-belief and confidence in my own ability to succeed. I work with some very senior leaders in our business and having confidence in my capability has enabled me to be seen as a subject matter expert in my field and a go-to person in my organisation. This then gives me more self-confidence and so the cycle of increased self-esteem continues.

Have you ever experienced imposter syndrome (where you doubt your achievements and have an internalised fear of being exposed as a “fraud”)? If so, how did you overcome it?

I have always experienced negative self-talk (both personally and professionally) which I have worked hard to deal with over the years. Deep down I know I am capable and successful, so I overcome this with positive affirmations and counter arguments to the negative self-talk. It takes practice but the more you talk positively to yourself the less you feel like an imposter and the less you fear failure / being exposed.

How much has risk-taking contributed to your career development?

At the age of 25 I decided to up sticks from the UK and move to Australia. I relocated alone and had never been here before. This risk has led to so many wonderful opportunities for me and I am now in a job that I love. My career has taken a different direction into Internal Recruitment and I have developed my knowledge and skill set in areas that would never have been possible if I hadn’t taken the risk.

Can you give an example of a risk you’ve taken that has paid dividend?

Relocating to Australia was a huge risk for me as was my decision to move into Internal Recruitment. Both have paid absolute dividends to my career and my overall mental health and well-being.

How important is mentoring, coaching and sponsorship in helping women to grow their confidence at work?

It is so important. At Zurich we have a wonderful Employee Resource Group called the Women’s Innovation Network. Amongst other fantastic initiatives, every year they run a Mentoring Program which I have been fortunate to take part in. My mentor was a very well-regarded Executive in our business and she really helped me pick apart my skills and expertise and truly understand my worth and value. She challenged my negative thoughts and pushed me to think outside the box when it came to my career journey. Having an impartial mentor who you can talk to and confide in with confidence is so important to ensure you are reaching your full potential.