Evidence shows that women are less self-assured than men—and that to succeed, confidence matters as much as competence.
This important and thought-provoking article, posted in The Atlantic on April 14, written by Katty Kay (any watchers of BBC World will know her) and Claire Shipman (reporter for the (American) ABC) look at how, despite comprising half the workforce in many developed countries, there remains a staggering and hurtful gap between men and women in levels of workplace self-confidence.
Whether it be mostly nurture, or mostly nature, it is manifest. Here’s why, and what to do about it.
Please read and share this must-read for all working women: http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/04/the-confidence-gap/359815/
For what it is worth, derived from a number of sources including Forbes, what follows is my suggested 10-point plan for women to build confidence at work:
10 Steps To More Confidence For Working Women:
Phase One: Eliminating Self-doubt
As with the building of confidence in any sphere, even international relations, there are two distinct phases. The second depends on success in the first.
The first phase involves purging yourself of self-doubt, the mortal enemy of the working woman according to the above article. Frankly, self-doubt is the mortal enemy of all of us.
The second phase entails building up your confidence. Like any task at hand, you should start by clearing the workspace, and your head, and then build on that pristine space.
Here’s the 10-step plan.
Step 1. Understand Its Origins
Self-doubt in women starts in early childhood. As toddlers, we all looked at the power our parents had to control and to do things.
Girls look to both parents for role models. So, seeing mothers suppressed, diminished, or marginalised by fathers is a bad start.
Being hammered by representations of women as products, or only being good to sell products, or being ‘the decorative sex’, eats away at girl’s having confidence in substantive matters.
Girls and women always appearing as the soft, silent, character in a book or film, being rescued by a man, or desiring only to be married to a man, are the sorts of low-power models for girls and women that create low ideals, set low expectations, and set a low bar for women in the public space.
Girl’s toys and clothes being all pink, and seeing boys told pink is weak, diminishes women further. Let’s face it, for girl’s and women’s confidence, the current generation’s push to en-pink girls sucks.
As I read to my 2-year old daughter, it is all I can do to get a thick black pen and change the gender of all the heroes and strong characters to girls and women, and have them rescue a man instead.
So, if it helps to see what society has done to you through conditioning women to be the weaker sex, just pick up any children’s book and go about changing every ‘he’ to a ‘she’. Suddenly, girls and women are the dominant characters, full of self-confidence, effrontery, bravado, and boys become the shy flowers. You will easily, and quickly, see the nature of what this form of conditioning has done to you.
It’s complex, but from the moment we crave power akin to what we feel our parents have, and based on their relationship model and their power and confidence relative to each other, we continually contrast our sense of self with our ego ideal—an imagined, perfect self, derived from our image of our “super-powerful” parents of whom, more often than we might care to imagine, the mother is the less confident or possessed of the least power.
We are how we are raised.
Since no one can live up to the standards set by ego ideals, we spend the rest of our lives (to greater or lesser degrees), plagued by doubt. More so if you are a woman, plagued by doubt also about your role in society and whether it is okay to stand up and be counted, or if that might be criticised as being ‘bossy’. The labels used against us as children, and the gendered labels that for example suggest a boy has leadership qualities while a girl is bossy, set back confidence in girls.
This is sad, but true.
Recognise the role in your lack of self-confidence that is played by the conditioning of girls in our society – and in our families – to be less forward, less confident, and less ‘present’ than boys, and that is the first step in overcoming it.
Step 2. Accept It
Nothing is more true than that everyone suffers problems.
Everybody feels, at various times like a fake or a failure, especially in the workplace.
If that were not the case, if we were all placed only in positions where we had complete command and confidence, there would be no such things as development or progress.
There’s a school of psychotherapy—called “acceptance therapy”—based on the insight that admitting you suffer from a problem reduces the distress it can cause.
Denying the existence of a problem, or beating yourself up for having a flaw, is also always debilitating and, in a competitive workplace where men are conditioned to attack, self-destructive.
Everyone, even superstars, feels like a fake, flawed, or a failure at times. We all have imperfections. Recognizing that those whom you admire most also have insecurities is the trick.
Step 3. Open Up
The odds are that acceptance, step 2, is a long process. These steps are not end on end, but rather some will be gradual developments and, while working on one step, you can move forward on others.
One of the best ways to make clear to yourself that you have an anxiety to confront is to own up to it to someone you trust or love. Open up about it.
But NOT to just anyone.
If you don’t think you command respect, or are nervous about dealing with an issue, ‘workshop’ it with friends or family before you have to do it in the workplace.
Worst case is that whomever you confide in – if you have chosen them well – will give you constructive feedback that you can use to improve.
Admitting your weaker spots, acknowledging what plagues you (and then learning that others feel the same way) will help you realise that, while self-doubt is vexing, no one dies from it.
Step 4. Look At The Facts – Create a ‘Value List’
If anyone with a real phobia is confronted by their fear – sharks, snakes, the air, crowds, elevators, etc, it is almost impossible for them to focus on the certainty that, any minute now, the problem will pass.
Fear and panic simply take over.
The same tendency is true with self-doubt in the workplace, but unlike with many phobias, a few hard facts can help.
So many women who have ‘made it’ in the world workplace, Senators, CEOs, Editors etc all report having wondered at times what on earth they did to deserve a raise, or a title, and often, report they feel ‘lucky’ to have been tapped for that promotion.
If you’ve been promoted somewhat recently, remind yourself why you were tapped. You are of value.
Make a ‘value list’ of all your valuable skills and accomplishments. Read them aloud if you have to.
Read them aloud to some trusted friends.
Share, and vocalise, your ‘value list’
And now, Phase 2: Boosting Self-confidence
Step 5. Know That Nothing Is Inherently Threatening
Perception is everything. If you make a mistake in the workplace, or if you did something you feel very insecure about – submitted a paper, botched a presentation – remember, even the most dreadful events can be made manageable if you tell yourself you have the stuff to cope with it.
And don’t sweat the small stuff. Once the ‘Send’ button is pressed, let it go.
Once the presentation is over, take constructive criticism so you can improve, but then move on.
Step 6. Confront Your Fear…
Fear is one of the world’s most formidable forces.
So, choose to pick a fight with it. There is nothing like the self-confidence of attacking something and coming out the other end as a survivor. Why do you think the army asks people to jump from high towers to what seems like a possible death? To show that you can do it, and survive.
The way to develop self-confidence is to do the thing you fear. Great ladies throughout history have talked about doing something every day that scares the pants off you.
You will fail sometimes. Setbacks are inevitable.
But suck them up. Learn what you can from them and move on quickly. Remember step 5 – never dwell.
Resilience is the steel skeleton of self-confidence.
Step 7. …But Choose Your Battles
Others in the workplace will throw challenges – and crap – at you. In some workplace, venom between co-workers is the rule of the day.
But just because the office is a battlefield, does not mean you always have to bend down and pick up the gauntlet. Don’t fight everything.
Building self-confidence is a marathon, not a sprint.
Take on challenges that you are ready for and, importantly, match your own self-view. Everyone has an idea of who they are, or who they want to be, and what things they are good at, and what things they like to do.
Some tasks – challenges – will simply not ‘be you’.
It is much easier to boost self-confidence by confronting challenges of your choosing than by tackling what someone else tells you to do.
If you pick the battles you engage in because you believe in their aims, your self-confidence will increase along with your success in those tasks.
Step 8. Once You Master It, Stretch It
Nothing erodes self-confidence like doing the same, easy things once you have already mastered them.
Add more challenge to every task you tackle and your self-confidence will grow.
Level off for too long and you’ll be on the slick slope to burnout. Remember that you are in charge of your own development; nobody does it for you. If you get an easy task given to you, augment it. Grow it. Finishing it well will then feel considerably more worthwhile.
Step 9. Never Solicit What You Hope Will Be Confidence-boosting Feedback
One of the worst questions you can ask anyone, if you are on the self-confidence boosting roller coaster, is “How did I do?.
Why is it bad? Because it smacks of insecurity and probably won’t lead to honest feedback. And some callous bastard just might see it as weakness, and not the candour you have shown.
Remember those trusted friends and family you used before to practice on? Use them again for feedback, if you have any of them in the workplace.
Do not fall into the trap of thinking all of your colleagues share your enthusiasm for self-improvement.
Look at me, for example. I have absolutely nobody reading my blog. But do I ask a tag question? Of course not. 🙂
Forget the tag question.
As a strong, assertive, self-confident women in the workplace, assume you did fine, and move on.
Step 10. Beware Hubris
In all things, too much is no good. That goes for self-confidence, too. Believe in yourself – just don’t be a jerk about it.
The world is full of over-confident men, and there are also a few over-confident women. It never looks good. And nobody ever likes them.
Be ‘you’ in the workplace, not the over-confident jerk that probably made you roll your eyes so many times in the past.