Lotte Davis wearing a light dress speaking in a microphone

Through our Woman-to-Woman series, we bring you interviews with accomplished women who share their key advice for women in leadership. Our first article of the series welcomes Lotte Davis, Canadian entrepreneur and philanthropist, who speaks about her advice on confidence building.

Born in South Africa, her family relocated to Canada when she was a child. Together with her husband, she co-founded a hair-care business AG Hair in 1989. Years later, her company was profitable, stable and her daughters were grown up. That’s when Lotte decided to follow her calling – fight against gender inequality. 

One day, Lotte attended a dinner party with a few friends. All of a sudden, she heard herself saying: “I want you to know that I am going to start building schools for girls in Africa, and I will work in gender equality.”

In 2008, without any prior charitable experience or contacts on the continent, Lotte founded One Girl Can. A Canadian and Kenyan registered charitable organization, One Girl Can is breaking the cycle of poverty and works to achieve gender equality through education and mentorship.

Lotte shares what role confidence plays in elevating the lives of young women, and her number one confidence-building tip for women in leadership.

Lotte davis wearing a white shirt standing next to a girl in blue shirt and a man in pink shirt pointing on object in the distance talks about self-confidence

Hi Lotte. What difference does building self-confidence make in young girls?

Lotte Davis: It’s all the difference in the world. Confidence is the foundation for success. In underdeveloped countries, girls don’t get asked what they want to be when they grow up. When we ask girls what they want to be, many can’t answer. They never looked into career opportunities, because it’s presumed that they’ll have multiple children and work as labourers. 

Our high-school workshops start with envisioning exercises. We ask girls to close their eyes and imagine their future conditions and environment. We ask them questions like: “What do you like doing? What do your loved ones say about you? What do you think you’ll be studying?”, or “How old will you be when you get married?”

The first round of workshops is called “Empower me,” the second is “I want to be,” and the third is “I will be.” The fourth year of high school is all about career development. We bring in successful business women who act as mentors and help girls navigate their career choices and craft a plan to get there.

Everything we do is based on goal setting. Goal setting is the only common denominator between a privileged white women leader from a peaceful, prosperous country and a girl living in extreme poverty in rural Africa. We can all move our lives forward by setting goals. If you start planning where you want to be in four years and then break it down into individual years, months and weeks, you begin to see progress. And, the progress gives you confidence. 

Goal setting has become highly successful with the girls – just as it does with women leaders. They realize that with vision, a goal, and a carefully constructed set of plans to get them to where they want to go, there is nothing they can’t do.

What's the best confidence building technique for women leaders?

Lotte Davis: Everything we do is based on goal setting. Goal setting is the only common denominator between a privileged white woman from a peaceful, prosperous country and a girl living in extreme poverty in rural Africa. 

We can all move our lives forward by setting goals. If you start planning where you want to be in four years and then break it down into individual years, months and weeks, you begin to see progress. And, the progress gives you confidence. 

Goal setting has become highly successful with the girls. They realize that with vision, a goal, and a carefully constructed set of plans to get them to where they want to go, there is nothing they can’t do.

How difficult does it come for girls to get started with building confidence?

Lotte Davis: Initially, it’s very hard. If a girl tells me that she wants to become a nuclear physicist, I go deeper and ask her, “Okay, how are you going to do it?” 

“I’ll work hard,” she answers. But, that’s not enough. I push her to go deeper by asking “What does it mean you’ll work hard? Can you break it down?”

Eventually, they start to understand that it is not about working hard. It’s about making specific goals to get where you want to go. And now, when girls are graduating, they come to me and say; “It’s the goal setting. That’s what makes the difference.”

Lotte Davis surrounded by Kenyan girls of her program One Girl Can teaching self-confidence to future women leaders

What advice would you give to women in leadership who want to become more confident in their careers and personal lives?

Lotte Davis: You need to put one foot in front of the other. It’s frightening to take the first step to launch a massive initiative or a new goal. But, if you break it into bite-sized pieces, you’ll be able to figure it all out – little by little.

The first step is to ask yourself; “What do you need to do tomorrow to get closer to your goal?” You’ll never get to the end result if that’s the only thing you’re focused on. 

Secondly, don’t take “no” for an answer. People might tell you that something can’t be done, and if you believe it can, then just keep going. Look for those answers, don’t stop when someone tells you it can’t be done. Generally speaking, it can.

And thirdly, act with conviction. I have never met a man who has as many doubts as a woman does. Men go after what they want without weighing up all the consequences and implications of potential failures. 

Go with what your instincts tell you to do – I learned this lesson a long time ago. You’re going to make mistakes along the way, but personally, I’ve never regretted anything I’ve tried. Failure is just a temporary roadblock, and you’ll find a way around it. There are so many roadblocks to becoming successful. Remember that there are so many ways around roadblocks, too. You need to go for it. Don’t overthink it too much.

Can you recall a time in your life when you struggled with self-confidence? How did you overcome it?

Lotte Davis: Like many other women, I suffered a lot with a lack of confidence in my life. But nothing has ever stopped me from moving forward. For me, the fear of failure is not nearly as great as the anxiety I get from not following up on my commitments. 

I am the type of person who has to get things done, and staying at home worrying about something is way worse than trying and failing. So, don’t fear failing – there’s no such thing. You need to keep moving on.

Lotte Davis wearing white dress and blue shirt hugging a smiling Kenyan girl future woman leader

What happens when you don't follow up on your promise?

Lotte Davis: I believe that my personal power is that I get things done. That’s what’s given me my confidence my whole life. And so, not following up on my promise has terrible consequences on my self-confidence.

I didn’t have much when I started, I come from a dysfunctional background. If I didn’t make the commitment to get things done, I’d never have been able to get where I am now. I wouldn’t have been as happy and confident as I am today. So, don’t be afraid to make commitments in front of people! I committed to making a difference for girls in Africa, and one day, I got on a plane to Kenya with a bunch of self-help books and I figured it out. Honestly, it wasn’t as hard as it seemed before I started.

If there's one thing you can do every day to become more confident, what would it be?

Lotte Davis: Goal setting. Every single day. Make lists, set goals, envision what you want to do, and start developing a plan. But, don’t spend too much time on crafting a perfect plan. The plan can be as simple as a to-do list for every day. And then, check your accomplishments off one by one until you get everything done on your list.

I guarantee you that you will get where you want. Once you realize the true power of everything that you can do, you’ll enter a stage of unshakeable confidence.

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