Bridging the Confidence Gap
Evidence shows that professional women are less self-assured than men—and that to succeed, confidence matters as much as competence. Here is why, and what we can do about it:
In our jobs and our lives, we walk among people you would assume are extremely confident. And yet there is a growing body of evidence that shows that lack of confidence can be harmful to our careers and hold us back at work. Success, it turns out, correlates just as closely with confidence as it does with competence. The good news is that with work, confidence can be grown. Which means that the confidence gap can be bridged.
Data1 shows that women applied for a promotion only when they met 100 percent of the qualifications. Men applied when they met 50 percent. Compared with men, women do not consider themselves as ready for promotions, and they generally underestimate their abilities. This disparity appears to stem from many factors. Success correlates just as closely with confidence as it does with competence.
Areas where CONFIDENCE IS CRITICAL:
- The decision to apply for a larger role in your company: Women don’t consider themselves as ready for promotions as their male counterparts.
- The ability to negotiate salaries: Men initiate salary negotiations four times as often as women do, and that when women do negotiate, they ask for 30 percent less money. 2
- The skills required to communicate with impact: Confident people display expansive body language, a lower vocal tone, and a tendency to speak early and in a calm, relaxed manner.
- Your career and leadership development discussions: Senior managers can become frustrated when women do not communicate clear career aspirations. It is not enough to keep your head down and work hard, hoping someone will notice. Having the confidence to explore career options and discuss leadership development with your supervisor is critical.
From my PERSONAL EXPERIENCE:
When we act with confidence and behave assertively, there can be a whole other set of consequences. Attitudes toward women are changing for the better, but I have experienced professional challenges for acting in a way that is seen as aggressive. Be prepared for negative reactions from some people when you offer unsolicited opinions, speak up first at meetings, or initiate a salary discussion. But I believe it will benefit you, your team, your boss, and your organization, to learn how to grow your confidence skills and effectiveness as a leader.
Research shows that CONFIDENCE CAN BE GROWN:
- Confidence is not just feeling good about yourself. If women simply needed a few words of reassurance, we would have conquered the confidence gap long ago. Richard Petty, a psychology professor at Ohio State University, who has spent decades focused on the subject, asserts, “Confidence is the stuff that turns thoughts into action.” 1
- Confidence accumulates—through hard work, through success, and even through failure. Taking action can bolsters our belief in our own ability to succeed. To become more confident, we need to stop over-thinking so much and take action.
- Seek out broader responsibilities and stretch assignments in your current role. Don’t wait for the “big” promotion to grow new skills and your confidence. Constantly be aware of the key initiatives in your organization and raise your hand when opportunities arise.
- Get field experience – no matter what career path you are on. From my perspective in the forest products, timberland management, and procurement business, field experience has been pivotal. Roles overseeing company logging & trucking crews, log yard management, scaling, road layout, GIS mapping and timber cruising, allowed me to learn priceless career and leadership skills from others in action. It also provided an opportunity for me to demonstrate my respect for the boots on the ground team members. Over the long haul, field experience grounded my approach to leadership.
- Learn how to talk about what value you bring to your organization. It can be uncomfortable to describe your accomplishments and successes. Find a way to describe your contributions in a professional, confident, humble manner. Marshall Goldsmith, bestselling author, and executive coach, has observed that women who downplay their achievements can be viewed as inauthentic, falsely humble, or lacking commitment. 3,4
- Learn how to build and leverage professional relationships. 3 Successful leaders operate in a strategic way that sets them apart. Spend time observing and interacting with outstanding leaders. Distinguish your relationships between friendships and professional relationships, though they may overlap. It is a two-way street: be intentional about the mutual benefits of your professional relationships, and ensure you are bringing value to the table. Strong peer and mentor relationships will provide feedback and critical support to grow your confidence.
- Prepare for embarrassment, flops, failure, and speed bumps. Redefine “failures” to address them as opportunities to look beneath the surface and learn. Fear of failure and risk avoidance can stop us in our tracks and block us from taking action. Remember your resilience and ability to bounce back can come from many places including your inner strength (aka GRIT), your peer network, and reassurance from family & friends. Finally, if we accept embarrassment is not the end of the world, we can let go of the need to have everything go perfectly.
- Adopt a growth mindset and dig deep to find your GRIT: Perseverance over the long haul and the belief that we can overcome obstacles and learn new things. 5
1 Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, 2014, The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance—What Women Should Know
2 Linda Babcock, 2007, Women Don’t Ask
3 Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith, 2018, How Women Rise
4 Marshall Goldsmith, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There
5 Angela Duckworth, 2013, TED Talk, GRIT: the power of passion and perseverance
Lynn Wilson, WinterTide LLC launches website and #takeyourplace blog
Lynn Wilson is an experienced senior executive with demonstrated ability to make a positive impact in diverse manufacturing and forest products industry organizations. She possesses a strong blend of strategic insight and operational execution with over three decades of senior leadership roles at top tier companies with experience across the U.S., Canada and New Zealand. Lynn has a passion for leadership development, mentoring, and training with a special emphasis on cultural transformation and building high-performance teams. www.wintertidellc.com
The #takeyourplace blog is an opportunity to share some aspects of Lynn’s journey which have been foundational in her career, with the aspiration that it might create a positive impact for someone else. Lynn will focus each post on a new key topic including: Confidence, Building a Development Plan, Mentors, Executive Presence, Leading Courageously, Effective Communication.