BITE Focus

Finding, building and maintaining your confidence in a virtual working world

For Bloom’s panel at BITE LIVE 2020, three industry leaders offered their vital advice about developing confidence, setting boundaries and remembering your worth.


Once you have given something a name it is not just easier to understand, it is easier to identify with. So, when it comes to things like imposter syndrome, do you need to identify with it? Is it actually helpful? What if we are inadvertently presenting women as a problem to be solved, rather than the solution to the industry's collective crisis of confidence? What if the things we tell women about how they can build their creative careers are in fact holding them back?

In a panel discussion hosted in partnership with Bloom, three of the industry’s leaders joined co-hosts Nicola Kemp, Editorial Director of Creativebrief and Izzy Ashton, Deputy Editor of BITE to talk about the crisis of confidence many are feeling in their careers. They explored how best to create and maintain boundaries around both your working day and your energy. 

“Every single person’s working life has changed,” explained Sally Keane, Head of Sales at LinkedIn and Bloom Women’s Network President for 2020. Keane was joined on the panel by Debbie Ellison, Chief Digital Officer at Geometry UK and Elizabeth Anyaegbuna, Founder of Bloom in Colour & Co-Founder of Sixteenbynine.

Maintaining your creative energy, growing your career and building your confidence isn’t easy in the midst of a global pandemic. From navigating the fact you are always on mute on Zoom calls, to the challenge of reading body language or making the most of informal networking opportunities, we are all facing new challenges in our working lives, challenges that need to be both understood and respected. 

It’s from building trust and empathy that it helps you build confidence.

Sally Keane

A crisis of confidence

Ellison revealed how much she’d struggled with her confidence as the nation went into lockdown and remote working and a lack of face to face and human interaction became essential. “I always knew I liked being around people, I love getting my energy from people,” Ellison says, explaining that it was this revelation that was an important step in regaining her confidence. 

She explains that the non-verbal feedback she gets from people she’s in a room with is vital to her, as she says, “I realised I’m a performer,” and this lack of feedback creates a lack of confidence. To navigate this challenge, Ellison explains that she now prioritises, “reaching out and making personal connections before I go into the ‘room’. I really try to spend time with people and build that connection.” She understands that this human  connection is an essential part of how she works at her best. 

Keane agrees, describing how her confidence was initially  knocked as a leader: “everything I knew went out the window because you have to adapt in a virtual world and for me that led to a real crisis of confidence.” What became essential is that Keane adapted, and did so at speed. Firstly she had to figure out, “How do you ensure everyone has a voice in a team meeting? [Because] the loudest voice in the room tends to speak all the time.”

A time of discovery

Keane explains that she worked to completely shift how her team meetings were set up to offer space to each and every person who wanted to speak. “Now I have space to go round the room and make sure everyone’s voice is heard in an authentic and genuine way,” she adds. Keane also highlights the importance of empathy at this time, of understanding that, as a leader, what’s important is to listen to everyone’s different circumstances. 

This empathy comes through authenticity. Keane explains that “to be authentic as a leader, you have to show vulnerability and you have to admit that you’ve struggled...because nobody is perfect.” This vulnerability from the top then allows people the space to open up in turn. “It’s from building trust and empathy that it helps you build confidence,” she adds.

Anyaegbuna agrees, particularly as a business owner, that there was a knock to people’s confidence at the start of lockdown. But now, she’s changed her attitude. “It’s a time of discovery,” she says of this time. “It’s making people uncomfortable and therefore vulnerable but it’s also making people more accessible and open...People are sharing their challenges in life and that makes us come together as one.”

If you understand what value you bring to a conversation then that should give you a sense of confidence.

Debbie Ellison

Setting boundaries

Work related stress and ill health is the leading cause of sickness absence and according to NABS, as Kemp revealed that the number of calls to its advice line due to redundancy are up by 117%. People don’t necessarily feel secure enough to share the challenges they’re facing because they’re worried about job security. 

Keane says that, “it is within all of us, not just leaders and managers, but all of us as peers, as co-workers to ensure that we are setting boundaries at work, not just for ourselves but for each other and holding each other accountable.” What it comes down to is respect, for your own time and for other people’s. Keane explained that she was currently in the middle of a no internal meeting fortnite, “to let the team refocus and refresh and I think this is coming from recognising that teams are burning out.” 

This concept feeds into Anyaegbuna’s belief that we need to be more mindful about our time and more structured in the way we protect it. She carves out time in her day, whether at the beginning or the end to go for a walk, because she recognises now that that is what she needs in order to work to the best of her ability. The importance of making time for yourself is not to be underestimated she says, emphasising that, “if you put too much pressure on yourself, you will not function fully.” If you give employees the space to prioritise their mental wellbeing, you’ll get the best from them.

Ellison acknowledges that, although everyone starts with the best intentions, the problem arises when people don’t respect the time you’ve blocked out. You can be as diligent as you want about protecting your time and energy but if other people around you aren’t respecting that, it can be near impossible to safeguard that time. “We can talk about what we’d like to do and then we can talk about reality,” Ellison explains. “If you talk to any leader, those times get overridden and I can’t remember the last time I actually had one of my blocked times,” she adds.

Remember your worth

Each leader offered their advice on finding, building and maintaining your confidence, answering questions from the audience that ranged from how to navigate the virtual working world as an introvert to how best to approach finding new work. For Keane, she wants people to, “remember your worth,” particularly when interviewing for new roles. Ask questions of the new role and remember, says Keane that, “you have so much to give as an individual,” both skills and personally.

For Ellison, it comes down to preparation but she wants people to remember that authenticity is key. Don’t pretend to be extroverted if that’s not what comes naturally to you. “The world is made up of lots of different people and lots of different characteristics and all of those are valuable and valued,” she explains.

Ellison encourages people to open up space for others around them in the hope that that act is a reciprocal one. Be open and honest with the people around you and ask for their help. “If you understand what value you bring to a conversation then that should give you a sense of confidence,” she adds. “Remember that everyone is trying to work this out and work to their own rhythm,” Ellison explains, urging people to both respect the rhythms of those around them. Also, if people find themselves in positions in which they can instill working rhythms for those around them, they should.

Anyaegbuna’s parting advice is an apt reminder at  the end of a long and difficult year. “It’s OK to not be OK some of the time,” she says. The reality is that visibility shows us what the possibilities are, and more nuanced visibility like hearing people’s personal experiences shows us the complications within that. 

It sets us all up for success when leaders like this step up with confidence and encourage us to do the same. Keane left the panel with a vital mantra: “Say yes to everything even if you don’t know how to do it.” Having three leaders sharing their experiences and their advice so openly is so important because it acknowledges that while we might not have all the answers, we are all facing new challenges, which honesty and collaboration can help to overcome.

Sally Keane, Debbie Ellison and Elizabeth Anyaegbuna were speaking at BITE LIVE 2020. To watch the full conversation, visit the dedicated event page, No time for imposters