The confidence gap
We’ve all heard of the theory “imposter syndrome”. It’s a term that’s been at the centre of many self help and coaching books in recent times, implying that professional women often believe they don't deserve their position, that they are "impostors" who could be shown up as incompetent at any moment (Clance, Imes 1978).
Research by Zenger Folkman shows that as women’s experience increases over time, so does their confidence. Women’s confidence increases more with age than men’s; however, in the early years, many opportunities are lost due to fear and lack of confidence.
Here we speak with Maria Grossi, Founder, CEO and Creative Director of Designs To You who shares her insights into leading with confidence and the success that comes with the early adoption of it.
Hailing from a humble, hard-working migrant Italian family, growing up Maria was an extremely timid and shy young woman. Through her passion for people and drive for success she has been able to overcome her insecurities, and now shines with confidence both personally and professionally.
Since her last year of VCE, Maria’s passion for fashion and textiles has been at the forefront of her mind. Maria’s mum worked as a seamstress all her life and was a source of inspiration as well as a humble mentor. Still to this day at the age of 80, she calls on her mum for garment construction advice.
At 15 years old, Maria held a part time job at Target which soon became a full-time job after leaving school. Although she went on to work in various administrative positions her passion was always fashion and she longed to be in a role where she could utilise the knowledge passed on from her mum and make people look great and feel confident in the clothes they wore.
After getting married and the arrival of her daughters, Maria re-entered the workforce and managed to secure a part-time position in fashion retail, before embarking on a full-time career with a uniform provider as a Sales Representative for men’s workwear.
She went on to fulfil further short course studies in production and product design to better understand construction, fit and fabrics suitable for the uniform industry.
In 1999, she decided to take things one step further and fulfil a lifelong dream of starting her own business and being her own boss - Designs To You was born out of the family’s rumpus room.
What is your job title and can you give a little insight into what a day in the life of Maria Grossi looks like?
My official job title is CEO and Creative Director, however, most people in the industry simply know me as The Uniform Lady. It is a title I gained early on in my career when I would travel door-to-door, business-to-business physically fitting out teams of 50-100 people, all on my own in my 4-inch heels.
Being a business owner, mother, wife and daughter means that no day is ever the same and there are always many new things to process. However, one thing that never changes is my morning espresso, I simply cannot start the day without it!
In my capacity as CEO I’m responsible for the business strategy and goals, but it’s not unusual for me to take an occasional customer phone enquiry if our customer support team is flat out. I always appreciate direct feedback from the people who wear our uniforms every day.
Most days I am dressed in a one of my favourite colourful blouses, power pants and heels for meetings with existing or potential clients. I very much enjoy the interaction with our clients and being involved in the process of creating new uniform collections.
Other days you will find me in leggings and sneakers rolling my sleeves up working on new styles, fabrics and designs with our production team, or on occasion helping in the warehouse with one of our many yearly uniform rollouts.
No matter what I have going on each day, it’s always crucial for me to wake up early and take time to assess what needs to get done that day, that week, that month or our overall goals for the year and devote my time to the areas where I will bring the most value to.
These days, I also work alongside my youngest daughter Danielle who has been working in the business for more than 10 years, starting from the ground up, and shows equally as much tenacity, passion and drive for the success of our business and industry.
DEBUNK: It is often assumed women lack the confidence to lead. As the Founder, CEO and Creative Director of Designs To You, what are your thoughts on this?
In my opinion, this is a thing of the past.
Both women and men can become successful leaders regardless of their gender, but girls and women often grow up with a different set of expectations to men.
It’s not necessarily lack of confidence that causes less women to become successful leaders, but rather a lack of support, network, empowerment, knowledge, education, perceptions and other similar factors that can hold women back from becoming leaders.
For me personally, I was lucky to have a very supportive husband and family who encouraged me to follow my dreams. Many women have to juggle raising a family and their career in a way others may not.
As a wife, mother, carer for my parents and a female leader of a successful business for more than 22 years, I had to learn how to multi-task (very well!), and sometimes there are sacrifices I have to make. As for my confidence, it grew with the business. Every bit of success and every achievement proved I was capable and worthy.
In 1999, when I left behind a successful career to start my own business, a male colleague told me “I was tied behind the kitchen sink”. This is just one example that comes to mind of a woman being greatly underestimated for her tenacity, strength, drive and passion.
As female leaders, it doesn't mean we cannot be great wives or mothers too, but in my opinion, it proves the opposite; women have even greater capacity to confidently do anything they put their minds to.
It is also important to acknowledge that behind every great leader there’s a great team both on a personal and professional front. In my view the most important characteristic of a successful leader is to always have a clear vision of your goals, be confident and courageous and lead with integrity, honesty and humility.
Never be afraid to hire a team that may be more professionally experienced than you and take pride in the accomplishments of those that help you, and you in turn can help them along the way.
A great leader, regardless of gender will always remain humble and true to themselves.
I have been fortunate to have a great team around me who share the values and goals of our business.