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What if the problem is TOO MUCH FOCUS on women’s lack of confidence?

There is so much written about women’s lack of confidence. It’s become a ‘truth’ that men have more confidence than women.

 

  • 2017 Women’s Agenda Ambition report found that just over half (51%) ticked a ‘lack of confidence’ as the obstacles women believe may get in the way of their careers. It was the highest rating and significantly higher than all other options such as caring responsibilities (31%) and employer support (23%).
  • Advancing women in Australia: eliminating bias in feedback and promotions by Chief Executive Women and Bain & Co. found that Women are twice as likely as men to be told that they need to display “more confidence.”
  • The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman share multiple studies showing the confidence gap between men and women
  • Over and over we hear the statistic, “Men are confident about their ability at 60%, but women don’t feel confident until they’ve checked off each item on the list.” (Forbes article Act how to shrink the confidence gap)

 

As a woman, how does it feel to be told that we lack confidence? Does it help you to be more confident?

 

While this may be current reality, focusing so much on the confidence gap is unhelpful and reinforces the confidence gap because:

 

  • The more we focus on our lack of confidence, the more we feel the lack of confidence – it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
  • The more we tell ourselves that we lack confidence, the less we have a go and the less we become confident. It’s a vicious cycle.
  • Telling women to be more confident, back yourself and lean in doesn’t make women more confident, back themselves and lean in (See Don’t tell me to ‘be more confident’)
  • Lack of confidence can become an excuse for not having a go, which makes the matter worse.

 

There used to be a tourism ad for Norther Territory “If you never never go, you’ll never never know.” I believe confidence is the same…

 

If you never have a go, you’ll never know confidence

 

What we need is encouragement to be brave and have a go, even if we don’t feel confident. Listen to the advice of Susan Jeffers’ Feel the fear and do it anyway, TED talks Time to Brave Up by Kathy Caprino and Teach girls bravery, not perfection by Reshma Saujani rather than all the research saying that women need more confidence. Tara Sophia Mohr suggests that women need to believe less in what appear to be the rules (HBR article Why women won’t apply for jobs unless they’re 100% qualified).

 

If you’re trying to help people to build confidence, help them to be brave. For some, taking the first small step is brave. Help them to take that small step. For others, it’s taking larger steps than before. Help them to take that larger step. Even if they fall off the step, or if it takes a long time to get on the step, it’s the having a go that builds confidence over time.

 

When we learned to stand and walk, we didn’t need confidence to do so. We just needed to have a go, keep trying as we failed and the encouragement to keep going. No one got told to “be more confident” to stand and walk. But most of us were pretty confident at walking by the age of 2 or 3, weren’t we?

 

So let’s not focus so much on the confidence gap, let’s focus on being brave and what helps us to be brave.

 

 

Related articles:

Confidence is NOT the answer

Confidence is misunderstood

Appearing confident is over-rated

Why we tell ourselves "I can't" rather than "I can"

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